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Howto get closer to your literary heroes

It appears that there are two main reasons for people making the trip to our lovely city. One is the craic, a desire to sample Dublin's legendary nightlife. And the second, is our literary heritage. Whether you're a fan of James Joyce or Maeve Binchy, each year tourists flock to our shores eager to find out more about their favourite authors while roaming the streets of Dublin.

Dublin's Writers' Museum is somewhere I've been meaning to visit for a while so I decided to see what it had to offer the literary tourist.

The first thing that hits you when you walk in the door of this elegant 18th-century house at the top of Parnell Square is a large, colourful stained-glass window specially made for the museum by Maurice Judd in 1991, when the museum opened. It depicts literary characters such as Gulliver and Dracula, as well as Oscar Wilde and Joyce, so it's a fitting start to the visit.


Downstairs, two elegant rooms house a rich collection of literary memorabilia. In Room 1, we are treated to a History of the Irish Literary Tradition and then famous writers such as Jonathan Swift, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Oliver Goldsmith (don't miss the beautifully illustrated copy of his poems), Maria Edgeworth (author of Castle Rackrent -- the first novel written by an Irish author on an Irish theme), that old romantic Thomas Moore, Oscar Wilde (a book of Wilde's Salome is on display with illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley) and playwright George Bernard Shaw.

I found the section on romantic Ireland in the early 19th century very interesting.

In the wake of the Act of Union, the former 'wild Irish' civilisation became a safe subject for the blossoming antiquarian movement, nurtured at first within the salons of polite society. Lady Morgan, a colourful figure in this momement entertained writers such as Samuel Lover (who wrote Handy Andy) and Charles Lever, a well-travelled doctor and novelist, who wrote "proflifically for the sake of income".

Clontarf man Abraham 'Bram' Stoker and author of Dracula, quite rightly gets his own section here under Masters of Sensation and there is even a letter from Bram when he was manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London offering two seats to a journalist by the name of William Courtney, which just goes to show things don't really change.

As you move through the museum, things get more contemporary and the objects on display, more quirky.

There's a fascinating (and easy to read) letter from Brendan Behan to his half-brother Rory, written during a visit to Hollywood and detailing a night out in Frank Sinatra's night club, letters from Lady Gregory on Abbey Theatre notepaper, a first edition of The Aran Islands by John Millington Synge with drawings by Jack B Yeats, a watercolour set design by Micheal Mac Liammoir for The Playboy of the Western World, the yellowing front page of the Evening Herald from May 1916 detailing more executions, an inscribed copy of Juno and the Paycock, motoring and flying goggles owned by Oliver St John Gogarty, a manuscript notebook and pipe used by Frank O'Connor, the typewriter owned by Patrick Kavanagh, a first edition of At Swim Two Birds by Flann O'Brien, the telephone used by Samuel Beckett in his apartment in Paris and Brendan Behan's NUJ card. Phew!

The museum was the brainchild of journalist and author Maurice Gorham (hence the Gorham Library upstairs) and as you go through the elegant rooms with their ornate ceilings and old-fashioned display cases, you get a real feel for the building as a family home.


Its last owner was George Jameson, a member of the whiskey distilling family and it was he who commissioned a magnificent salon out of two rooms on the first floor (now the Gallery of Writers).

Right at the heart of the building is the beautifully appointed staircase overlooked by two magnificent stained-glass windows.

The Gallery of Writers on the first floor with its decorated door panels, ornate ceiling and colonnades is quite simply beautiful.

It's a quiet, elegant, peaceful room in the heart of the city and, as its name suggests, it pays homage to Irish literary figures with portraits of Yeats, George Moore and James Stephens and busts of John B Keane and Frank McCourt (there's even a piano that once belonged to James Joyce).

However, it's the ghosts of the former house that I could feel around me. Ladies and gentlemen who once took a turn around the salon, while discussing literature and setting the world to rights.

>Admission €7.50, open Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm, Sundays and public holidays, 11am-5pm