Are you a Yeats fanatic? Do you regularly lose yourself in a bookshop for hours, or find yourself drawn to literary festivals and events in your locality? Then this literary roadtrip across Ireland could be for you!
Stop in at the school house that inspired Frank McCourt's 'Angela's Ashes', see Ireland's most beautiful libraries – and the manors they come in – browse around Ireland's most quirky and extensive bookshops all on the literary Ireland trail, compiled by us! A bookworm's dream, this trip around the country starts in Dublin, moves on to Wicklow, then Cork, Kerry, Galway, Sligo, Longford and finally Antrim where we visit the sites that inspired C. S. Lewis' famous and enchanting Narnia.
Take the roadtrip in sections or do it all in one go – but give yourself time to see everything along it literature lovers – because trust me, this is the ultimate Irish literature trail!
Starting off in Dublin, Marsh’s library is a good place to start to get a taster for the stunning spots you’ll be hitting up on your time in the city. Located near St. Parick’s cathedral, this perfectly preserved library of the early Enlightenment is in central Dublin. Opened in 1707, Marsh’s Library was the first public library in Ireland, stunningly designed with long corridors of bookshelves and incredibly intricate archaeology by Sir William Robinson it is one of the very few 18th century buildings left in Dublin that is still being used for its original purpose.
The interior of the library, with its beautiful dark oak bookcases each with carved and lettered gables, topped by a mitre, and the three elegant, wired alcoves or ‘cages’ where the readers were locked in with rare books, remains unchanged since it was built three hundred years ago. It’s simply stunning and well worth a visit if you’re on central Dublin.
Trinity college is worth a wander anyway as it’s the site of several scenes in Sally Rooney’s literary treasure ‘Normal People’, but the library’s ‘long room’ was a literary hotspot long before Conall and Marianne hit our screens! The main chamber of the Old Library is called the Long Room; at nearly 65 metres in length, it is filled with 200,000 of the library’s oldest books and is one of the most impressive libraries in the world.
In 1801 the library had been given the right to claim a free copy of every book published in Britain and Ireland. In 1860 the roof was raised to allow construction of the present barrel-vaulted ceiling and upper gallery bookcases, making for a truly beautiful space and a impressive collection to wow any bookworm.
Other treasures in the Long Room include one of the few remaining copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic which was read outside the General Post Office on 24 April 1916 by Patrick Pearse at the start of the Easter Rising. The harp is the oldest of its kind in Ireland and probably dates from the 15th century, making it a great spot for history as well as literary lovers.
Dublin Writers Museum, Co. Dublin
A little out of the way of the traditional tourist trail, this museum is filled with letters, manuscripts, personal possessions, and other eclectic ephemera and a must for literature lovers. An amazing collection from some of Dublin’s most famous literati, you can browse amongst Joyce’s personal letters, Yeat’s and Shaw’s notes and Beckst’s books and portraits. The building is also incredible, an 18th century mansion next to the Garden of Remembrance.
Checkout their exhibitions and have a look at their schedule to see if there are any readings or evens happening while you’re there. See The Book of Kells replica, opening night programmes for Oscar Wilde plays An Ideal Husband and Lady Windermere's Fan, a first edition of James Joyce's Pomes Penyeach; and a first edition of Bram Stoker's Dracula! An absolute-must-see of all the spots listed in Dublin to visit.
Next we move south, down to Wicklow to visit Russborough House, owned and operated by the Alfred Beit Foundation, a private charitable organisation which ensures continuing public access and engagement. The magnificent house, gardens, and ancillary buildings feature collection of paintings, furniture and decorative arts, largely donated by the Beits, but also including loans from the National Gallery of Ireland and the Apollo Foundation.
Russborough sits in the heart of the panoramic West Wicklow landscape and its library was built in the classical design, with perfect scale, architectural detail, and exquisite decoration, making this Palladian jewel the most beautiful Georgian house in Ireland.
The lovely Cork is also a literary hub, with UCC hosting several events and conferences throughout the year, the short story festival being hosted every September and the vibrant cast of writers that readers that attend and raise these events, Cork’s literary culture is at its peak. But one of my favourite spots is the Hayloft, above The Long Valley Bar. Cork’s Ó’Bhéal poetry and open mic events are hosted monthly there, featuring poetry films, a poetry writing challenge and even featured guest poets.
Ó Bhéal is Irish for ‘by word of mouth’, or ‘from the mouth and the group creates an original platform for established and non-established poets and provides the public consistent access to contemporary poetry. Many have engaged in creative writing for the first time at Ó Bhéal, and many of these have remained actively writing and/or have seen their works accepted into print. The event is held upstairs in The Hayloft bar, above The Long Valley, one of Cork’s favourite and most iconic poetry venues. Ó Bhéal is inclusive of all forms of poetry and adult demographic. Be sure to check out Vibes and Scribes bookshop when you’re down there too.
The Blasket Islands, Co. Kerry
I’ve raved about Kerry before and I’ll do it again, particularly the Dingle Peninsula. And our literary stop off here are the Blasket Islands, Ireland’s westernmost point. Aside from the incredible drive along Slea Head to get there, the islands themselves are worth the trek out onto the peninsula for their super rich literary history.
For an island that only housed a small community until the 1953 evacuation, they churned out their fair share of literary hits. Their two best known are Peig Sayers (infamous on the old Irish Leaving Cert curriculum) and Muirís O’Súileabháin (Fiche Blian ag Fás/Twenty Years A-Growing). Both wrote memoirs about their isolated and rich lives on the island, with harrowing accounts of hardship and deep, rich storytelling, all testaments to the tradition of storytelling, collecting folktales and mythologies, all in their native Irish language.
Next you’re making you way inland to Limerick city. An interesting one to check out if you’re passing through, The Frank McCourt Museum is a museum dedicated to the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Angela's Ashes. The Frank McCourt Museum is based in Frank's former school in the Georgian Quarter of Limerick City.
Leamy House (formerly known as Leamy School) is a tudor-style building with an interesting facade, complete with tower, turrets, ornamental chimneys and splendid gargoyles carved in limestone and sandstone, adorning a fine street. The museum aims to raise awareness of all McCourt’s achievements and his journey from poverty to literary fame, showcasing the classroom of the 1930’s where Frank and his siblings attended as pupils in real life.
Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop & Kenny’s Bookshop, Co. Galway
Galway is our next stop, for two of Ireland’s most stunning and expansive bookshops: Charlie Byrne’s and Kenny’s. Charlie Byrne’s bookstore is a true wonder to behold for all book lovers. Windy passageways of endless books means that there’s no end to the browsing that can done in this magical bookshop. They have expanded over the years in the Cornstore and now occupy 6 separate rooms and houses a stock of over 100,000 books on every conceivable subject and has become one of the most cherished retail and cultural spaces in the city.
Located in the heart of Galway city, Charlie Byrne’s flagship shop on Middle Street stocks secondhand and remaindered books so there’s always something new to be found on the shelves – it’s one of the cosiest and most inviting bookshops in the country.
Kennys Bookshop is based also based in Galway, though it’s not quite as central as Charlie’s. They opened in 1940 and they are an independent, family run business who are also big supporters and users of the Irish language. Their book emporium is well worth the visit.
Moving up into Yeats' country, The Yeats Building is centrally located on Hyde Bridge, in Sligo town centre, was donated to Yeats Society Sligo by the AIB Bank in 1973 as a memorial to the Yeats family. This impressive building is the headquarters from which the Society keeps in contact with members all over the world, and from where the Yeats International Summer School and Winter School are administered, as well as the day-to-day running of the Society.
After 40 years, the Yeats Building continues to be a hub for literary culture and the arts and their doors are always open to those who love the arts and who are keen to keep celebrating the Yeats family and those poets, artists and writers who have drawn inspiration from them. The impressive building houses the Yeats Exhibition which is open 11-3 Tuesday to Saturday, the Hyde Bridge Gallery, open from 11-4 Tuesday to Saturday and the Penny Café where you can grab a bite to eat and soak up the atmosphere!
Pay a visit to the poet himself at his gorgeous and famous resting place in the peaceful churchyard at Drumcliffe in County Sligo, located at the foot of his beloved Benbulben mountain. The graveyard has the remains of a round tower and a high cross constructed in the 11th when there was a Christian monastery on site, founded by Saint Columcille (Columba) in 574. Drumcliffe Tea House and Craft Shop offers good wholesome food together with mouth-watering home-made cakes and desserts.
While Yeats died in France it was his wish to rest: “Under bare Ben Bulben’s head In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid. An ancestor was rector there long years ago, a church stands near, By the road an ancient cross. No marble, no conventional phrase; On limestone quarried near the spot by his command these words are cut: Cast a cold eye On life, on death. Horseman, pass by!” Saint Columcille, is also commemorated here with a statue located in the church yard. There is also a cafe and gallery located on the grounds and large car park, but the incredible views alone are all worth the trip.
To break up the trek between Sligo and Belfast, a stop in the Maria Edgeworth Centre is a great shout. Maria Edgeworth was a pioneer, as an educator, as a novelist and as a woman. In conjunction with her father, step-mothers and family she worked tirelessly on the family estate, she wrote frequently to family and colleagues, she prompted the education of women and wrote books, plays and poems that influenced many key writers of the 18th and 19th Century. She was a welcoming hostess to scientists, educators, authors, travelling from Britain and the Continent and they, in turn, welcomed her visits. Even in her later years she sought to alleviate the suffering endured by the Irish during the Great Famine.
The aim of the Edgeworth Society and the Maria Edgeworth Centre, through the displays and artefacts, audio tours and walking tour is to position Edgeworthstown, home of Maria Edgeworth- one of the 18th and19th centuries most celebrated novelists, progressive thinker and a pioneer in the field of education, as a key tourist attraction within Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands. Visitors will experience a combination of audio, imagery and interactive displays the Centre that tell the story of the Edgeworth family and the history of Early Education in Ireland.
Enter Belfast with a bang, starting out with this gorgeous trail to Narnia. This trail is a wonderful initiative inspired by the Narnia writer, C.S.Lewis who was born in Belfast. It traverses the city to find spots that inspired the young author and marked his literary life, stopping off at 'The Searcher' sculpture outside Holywood Arches Library on the Holywood Road and includes sites such as C.S. Lewis Square (containing 7 Narnia inspired sculptures), St. Mark's Church, where his grandfather was rector and where Lewis himself was baptised, and No. 47 Dundela Avenue where a Blue Plaque marks where the writer was born.
Find the magic of Narnia in Belfast city, by following the journey of one of their most famous literary sons!
Finish up in the beautiful Linen Hall Library, a truly unique institution. Founded in 1788, it is the oldest library in Belfast and the only remaining library in Ireland that still generates a proportion of its income from membership. The library is free to enter and enjoy, and is housed in a stunning Victorian former linen warehouse in the picturesque Donegall Square, across from Belfast City Hall.
It is renowned for its unparalleled Irish and Local Studies Collection, ranging from comprehensive holdings of Early Belfast and Ulster printed books to the 350,000 items in the Northern Ireland Political Collection, the definitive archive of the recent ‘Troubles’. The Linen Hall Library is one of the most popular cultural centres in Belfast. Situated in the heart of the city, across from Belfast City Hall, it is free to enter and explore. A good way to sample the library is to attend one of the many cultural events or attend a tour.