Literary Ireland: From Yeats' Drumcliffe To Joyce's Dublin

27 June 2015
Read Time: 2.4 mins

Ireland has a long and illustrious literary legacy. This month marked 150 years since the birth of poet William Butler Yeats, one of many talents to have found fame beyond Irish shores.

Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw and Samuel Beckett are also among the country's greatest exports, along with – more recently – Seamus Heaney, Colm Toibin and Roddy Doyle. Ireland's cultural calendar is packed with events commemorating its famous writers, and there are plenty of places with bookish connections to visit.

Arise and go

Arguably Ireland's most influential poet, W.B. Yeats was born on June 13, 1865, in Dublin. However, it's County Sligo – where he spent many summers – that is most closely associated with Yeats and provided inspiration for his earlier work.

Yeats referred to it as "The Land of Heart's Desire" and to celebrate the anniversary there were numerous events taking place in the part of the county now referred to as Yeats Country, as well as further afield.

The subject of Yeats' most celebrated poem, The Lake Isle of Innisfree, is a good place to start. This year a special installation, Square Moon, will be in place at the jetty of Lough Gill, designed by Anglo-Korean practice shindesignworks.

 The Drumcliffe church and cemetery where Yeats lies buried (images: Getty)

The Rose of Innisfree has boat tours of the lake departing from Parke's Castle for €15 ($A22) a person. Pay your respects at Drumcliffe Church and Cemetery, where Yeats requested he be buried "...under bare Ben Bulben's head in Drumcliff [sic] Churchyard Yeats be laid ...".

It's an unassuming gravestone simply inscribed with the epitaph: "Cast a cold Eye/On Life, on Death/Horseman, pass by!"

Hay fever

After the flagship event in Powys, the Hay Festival packed its bags and set off across the Irish Sea. The historic market town of Kells in the rolling countryside of County Meath, lends its name to one of Europe's most important illustrated manuscripts, the 9th Century Book of Kells.

It was an apt location for Hay's Irish outpost. Highlights included appearances by Lynda La Plante and Roddy Doyle, who spoke about his latest book, Dead Man Talking. Brian Eno was also due to make an appearance.

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From here to Bloomsday

A heavily ringed date in Dublin's calendar is dedicated to another of Ireland's literary heavyweights, James Joyce.

 Dublin's James Joyce Bridge

Named after Leopold Bloom – the main character in Ulysses – Bloomsday on June 16 is the official commemoration of the day in 1904 depicted in the novel. It's now a five-day celebration of all things Joycean, with literary pub-crawls, walking tours, bus tours, readings and recitals.

A Bizarre Bloomsday Brunch takes place on North Great George's Street and the culmination is, of course, Bloomsday proper, when you can don your straw hat and trace Bloom's much-studied footsteps all over Dublin.

An education

Pay a visit to Dublin's Trinity College, which counts Beckett, Wilde, Jonathan Swift and Bram Stoker among its alumni. You can take a 35-minute guided tour of the campus, including the Old Library, where the Book of Kells is kept, for €13 ($A19) a person. These can't be booked in advance, so simply turn up and wait for the next available slot.

Stones of Aran

Probably best known for his work The Playboy of the Western World, John Millington Synge's literary bequest is inextricably linked to the dramatic, sea-ravaged scenery of the three Aran Islands. Encouraged by his friend Yeats, Synge moved to the islands and later penned The Aran Islands, based on his experience, as well as setting his play Riders to the Sea there.

Teach Synge on Inis Meain is a 300-year-old thatched cottage where Synge stayed on his first visit in 1898 and is now a museum dedicated to the writer. Inis Meain is also home to Inis Meain Restaurant & Suites, a five-room retreat where a double starts at €480 ($A700) B&B for two nights, with picnic lunches.

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This article was written by Aoife O'Riordain from The Independent and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Aoife O'Riordain

Aoife O'Riordain is a freelance travel writer and editor.