Dublin is a long-standing literary city, producing greats like James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, Samuel Beckett, and Oscar Wilde (to name a few). So it’s fitting that a city like Dublin would create the forthcoming Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI) to commemorate its history, impact, and support for the future of Irish literature. With the very first copy every printed of Joyce’s Ulysses as part of the permanent collection, the museum is poised to be a top destination for visitors and locals alike. “To see the very first copy of a book that changed writing forever is a thrill, and very moving,” says Simon O’Connor, MoLI’s director.
For those unfamiliar with MoLI and its surroundings, we tapped O’Connor to understand the best that MoLI and its neighborhood around St. Stephen’s Green has to offer. Below, he shares his best tips and insight on what to see, do, eat, and drink in Dublin’s City Centre.
“We are a collaboration between University College Dublin (Ireland’s largest university) and the National Library of Ireland. The museum is housed in the original home of UCD, Newman house, a really spectacular collection of period buildings smack in the middle of Dublin City Centre. We’ll be displaying really special items from the Irish State’s literary collections, courtesy of our partners in the National Library, and opening up the houses and gardens to the public.
When you go, don’t skip the Ulysses and some of Joyce’s original working notebooks. Then, I would head straight to our ‘Riverrun of Language’ installation, which is a quite amazing immersive digital installation that surrounds visitors with the ‘sound’ of Irish writing from folklore to the present. From there I’d check out our Literary Cities exhibition (we open with a focus on Paris), and from there pop upstairs to our contemporary gallery space to see our newly commissioned film response to Ulysses by Alan Gilsenan, one of Ireland’s best film makers.”
“We’re in the south side of the city centre, which is quite an old Georgian part of town. There are a lot of other cultural institutions around here, but for the center of a European capital, it is quite a chilled out and relaxed part of town–a lot of green space, culture, and great local shops and cafés off the main thoroughfares.”
“Aside from iconic St. Stephen’s Green, the restaurant at MoLI will be one of the most beautiful places to be in the city. The café opens out into our courtyard garden which is a silent, south facing sun-trap. If you are lucky, you might be able to grab the seat underneath the 200-year-old strawberry tree and listen to the birds singing while you have your breakfast. You can also walk through a gate in our garden into Dublin’s secret park, the Iveagh Gardens, and pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist for a while.”
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“We are finalizing menus right now, but we can tell you that there will be a focus on Irish food provenance, so the best local ingredients and suppliers, with the chef’s putting a contemporary spin on traditional Irish food, alongside great vegetarian and vegan options. We anticipate some special pastries and sweet treats too.”
“Their coffee is excellent (and do one of the world’s greatest toasted cheese sandwiches).”
“Across St. Stephen’s Green, this is my favorite spot for breakfast, just below the Little Museum of Dublin. It’s not a healthy breakfast, mind you, but they make one of the best bacon sandwiches you will ever taste, using a type of bread from Waterford called a Blaa. Decadent but worth every bite.”
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“For a quick lunch, this place does the most delicious morrocan wraps and bowls and they are staffed by very lovely people.”
“This is my pick for a serious sit-down lunch on Merrion Row. They are a small but perfectly-formed place which you might describe as contemporary Italian, but that doesn’t do it justice. If you go, you have to try their Mussels and Nduja soup, or their Prunes and Mascarpone, two dishes that I’m sure someone, somewhere is dreaming of right now.”
“Our go-to spot for groups of guests is l’Gueleton on Fade Street. This is quite a bustly and really consistent French bistro that has great staff, good prices (for Dublin) and lots on the menu to keep everyone happy (not to mention very big windows for people-watching). A good but small wine list, but most especially they are one of the only restaurants in Dublin that sell Pineaux de Charentes as a digestif – not ideal for the next day but completely delicious.”
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ARTS & CULTURE
“I have to say this little place, which I helped a very good friend of mine set up a few years back, is one of the most charming house museums in the world, and locals absolutely adore it.”
“Wonderful to visit, especially their beautiful reading room. They just opened a very moving and near-spiritual exhibition on poet Seamus Heaney down at College Green.”
“I must say every time I go to our National Gallery I just tingle with pride, the folks in charge are bringing it from strength to strength.”
“This is our favorite bar near the museum (on Leeson Street) which has remained the same as long as I can remember.”
“Not far from Hartigans’s, this another great Dublin pub which also has one of the city’s great ‘snugs.'”
“On the other side of the park, off Grafton Street, Neary’s is a beautiful old Victorian bar, dubbed a UNESCO City of Literature Bar.”
“One of my favorite things to do is read while having a quiet pint in Fallon’s near St. Patrick’s Cathedral–it’s my local, and there is a reason it was the only Irish pub included in a recent Guardian ‘Best Bars in the World’ list.”
“I think I have to recommend Ulysses, which is not difficult at all, but you’ll need to take your time, there’s a lot in it. A whole city, in fact, and so much of what Joyce describes in it still exists, from the buildings to the nuances of the speech and the psychology of the people. But if you don’t manage that, pick up a copy of his short story collection Dubliners. It’s a beautifully written collection and I think communicates so much about the city and its people, warts and all.
In contemporary terms, I really enjoyed Belinda McKeown’s novel Tender, which painted a Dublin I was completely familiar with from my student days, and gives a really intimate feel for a city that has changed hugely yet stayed the same in so many ways.”