Literary Ireland, some personal favourites, by Sarah Kenny, Tourism Ireland Amsterdam & daughter of the legendary Kenny Clann of Kenny’s Book Shop in Galway
3 of Ireland’s top literary spots
While the Ireland map is dotted and peppered with literary gems too many to mention, I’ve picked out some of my favourite spots to give you a taster..
During a recent visit to Listowel, one of Ireland’s great literary towns, I immediately sensed the town’s respect and celebration of its writers, past and present. The writer’s centre there is an affordable must see, appropriately called ‘Seanchaí’, the Irish for storyteller. A statue of John B. Keane keeps everyone company in the main street. Sitting in John B.Keane’s pub surrounded by celebrations of his works, we sat at the bar as the locals told us of the amateur plays of his stories which the townspeople put on in the pub or writer’s centre several evenings a week.
The renowned stories of Peig Sayers and the other islanders of the Blasket Islands come to life when you step on The Great Blasket off West Kerry. To make the experience most worthwhile, visit the Writer’s Centre in Dún Chaoin in advance, where you will receive a ceád míle fáilte and see the celebration of the native language which produced these literary achievements.
It’s no wonder that the capital is a UNESCO city of literature – ask a local about McDaid’s pub and they will tell you it’s where Brendan Behan used to drink. Walk down the canal and you can sit beside a musing Patrick Kavanagh. Step into Sweny’s Pharmacy in Merrion Square, and you step right into the pages of Joyce’s Ulysses, where the book’s description of the pharmacy stands to this day. Dublin satisfies every literary desire.
For a good natter, visit the Dublin Writer’s Centre where you can sit and have a coffee with the staff who will talk about anything literary. If museums are your thing, pop next door to Dublin Writers Museum where portraits, possessions and rare editions of the likes of Stoker or Synge bring you into the the lives of Dublin’s great authors. The Long Room library in Trinity College has a wow factor that really lives up to expectations, after which you can wander into the Book of Kells. And for that quiet corner where you can read with your coffee that we all wonder about, The Winding Stair on the Quays houses the perfect nook.
Kenny’s Bookshop celebrates Irish writers past and present with old photographs throughout the store of many who have clearly passed through the shop, like McCourt, Binchy or Dahl. Be sure to go to the back and see the antique cabinets filled with rare editions and bindings, amidst the thousands of books make it a browser’s paradise where the family still run the shop. Within the city, the nooks, crannies and creaky floorboards in Charlie Byrne’s bookshop make for hours of happy browsing – this shop is a great place to pick up secondhand paperbacks.
If you are going to Galway, try and plan it around what is arguably the country’s best literary festival – Cúirt. Every April, new and upcoming writers from around the world come to Galway to read in theatres, centres, museums and shops.