Literary Landmarks to Explore in Dublin, UNESCO’s 2010 City of Literature

Kerry Dexter's picture

Jonathan Swift, George Bernard Shaw, Cecilia Ahern, Brendan Behan, William Butler Yeats, Bram Stoker,  Seamus Heaney, Jennifer Johnston, Ann Enright: those are but a few of the writers who have connections, on way or another, with Dublin past and present. There are statues of playwright Oscar Wilde and poet Patrick Kavanagh in the city center. James Joyce said that Dublin was written on his heart, and there are tours, celebrations, and a museum in the city devoted to his work. Dublin City has a strong literary tradition, an active present, and prospects for a continuing future in the world of words. All that has been recognized by UNESCO, which recently named  Dublin as a UNESCO City of Literature. It joins the varied and vibrant ranks of Iowa City, Edinburgh, and Melbourne in receiving this honor.

Looking for Dublin literary landmarks to visit?

Literary Landmarks to Explore in Dublin

The Dublin Writers Museum, on the north side of the Liffey just past the end of O’Connell Street, will give you a short and interesting course in the big names of Dublin literary history and lesser known ones too. While you are in the neighborhood, stop a moment at the statue of The Children of Lir, which commemorates an event in Irish history history and Irish myth, both of which have often been fertile sources for Dublin writers.

The Winding Stair, a bookstore and cafe near the Four Courts, has long been known as a meeting and working space for Dublin’s writers. A change of ownership and refurbishment a few years back caused questions as to its future, but both the bookstore and the cafe have survived.

As for pubs with literary history, McDaid’s in Henry Street  and Davy Byrne’s in Duke Street are places to stop, as is Toner’s in Lower Baggott Street, said to be the only pub Yeats ever visited. There’s also a literary pub crawl tour, with actors taking on the personae of well known authors as you travel their favorite haunts. That tour starts in Temple Bar.

Yeats is the subject of a massive exhibit at the National Library of Ireland, which is in Kildare Street, south of the Liffey,  and near Leinster House and the National Museum of Ireland. If you’d like to visit the reading room at the NLI you may apply for a reader’s ticket, but a ticket is not needed to explore the Yeats exhibit, or to visit the library’s bookstore or cafe . There’s an extensive interactive Yeats exhibit online at the library’s web site, too, as well as a guide to the library’s collections.

As a musician, I tend to think of Dublin’s songwriters as part of its literary heritage too, although I have  a feeling that’s not quite what UNESCO had in mind. In any case,if you are up for a bit of serious research into Irish music,  the Irish Traditional Music Archive on Merrion Square is a place to consider visiting. If you’re up for a bit of  listening to Irish music done live, Cobblestone, McHugh’s, and The Celt. all north of the river, are places to stop in for the real stuff.

While you are south of the river, though, Dawson Street and the area around it, also in the museum neighborhood, holds many bookstores. In the ever changing world of retail book selling, the ones I saw on my last visit could very well be different by the time you get there. Hodges Figgis is one that has  been around for years and has a large collection of material on Irish history, Irish authors, and Irish language.

Then there’s the Book of Kells. Dublin claims this as part of its literary history too. It is certainly one of the most visited attractions in the city, and it is a book, an illuminated manuscript of the four gospels to be exact. Begun by monks on the island of Iona in Scotland in the the eighth century, finished by monks at the monastery in Kells in County Meath, stolen by Vikings, parts of it buried in a bog, restored to Kells, and then taken to Dublin, the book has a traveling history. It’s been at Trinity College since the 1660s. To see the two pages on display while you are there  (they are changed every couple of months), go early, the lines can be very long. The Book of Kells is in the Old Library at Trinity College, and on the way to it you’ll go through an exhibit called Picturing the Word, which will get you up to speed on what the monks who copied the gospels were doing, how they did this, and why it was and is important. You’ll also get to see several other illustrated books from the same time period, as well as what’s known as Brian Boru’s harp, though it may actually be a bit more recent in time than the days of the legendary king. It is the model for the harp which you’ll likely have in your pocket, the one which appears on the Irish version of euro coins.

Dublin is, of course, the site of many other literary landmarks you can visit, and those you will not see as well: all those places where folk are out there writing their own new books and plays and poems.

Want to know more about Dublin as a City of Literature?

Dublin City of Literature official site

Dublin Writers Museum

The National Library of Ireland

The Winding Stair

Irish Traditional Music Archive

Mountain to Sea Literary Festival (in Dun Laoghaire, just south of the city)

Poetry Ireland, whose web site has a good listing of Irish literary resources, in Dublin and elsewhere across the island

Robert Todd Felton's book, A Journey Into Ireland's Literary Revival


And, of course, our 28 favorite bookstores in Dublin!


Kerry Dexter is the Music Editor for Wandering Educators.
Kerry’s work has also appeared in VH1, CMT,  Strings, Symphony,The Encyclopedia of Ireland and the Americas, and other print, broadcast, and electronic media. She also writes about the arts and creative practice at Music Road. You may reach her at music at wanderingeducators dot com.


Note: this article was originally published in 2010 and updated in 2018