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Literary Ireland

Many folks will no doubt have planned or be planning their holidays, including about where they will be intending to visit, in 2005. Some will take bus tours around the major cities of the country they go to, visiting placeís of noted interest. For others who may be disposed to move at a more leisurely pace, and who have a particular interest in literary history, and who might be contemplating visiting Ireland, I would like to recommend a walk-about in Dublin's Merrion square and its adjacent streets, on the east side of Dublin town.

Flanked to the west by Leinster House, the seat of government, and the National Gallery of Ireland, it features a fine open park to which members of the public have access, and where lots of Dubliners often recline on warm sunny days. The adjacent streets, Clare street, South Leinster street, and Westland Row reflect an importance for their literary connections with the following authors, viz., James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Oscar Wilde. And for those who visit Dublin a leisurely 30-minute casual walkabout in this area would be well worth their attention. Later you can then visit the National Gallery. This can be entered from Clare Street and contains a fine restaurant where lunch, or even just a cup of coffee can be purchased for your heartís desire.

(I think Iím beginning to sound like a tour operator!)

Oscar Wilde was born on October 16th 1854 at 21 Westland Row, just up from number 13 where James Joyceís father worked in the early part of this century. Sir William Wilde, Oscar's Father, was a famous medical consultant, who also had a special interest in the antiquarian movement. He was knighted in the 1860's for his many achievements in public life. The family fortunes improving, the Wilde family moved to number 1. Merrion Square where they remained until Sir William died in 1876, after which they moved to London.

Oscar's mother, Jane Francesca Wilde, was quite a famous lady in her own right. A poetess who wrote under the pen name 'Speranza' she had numerous poems published in the 1840ís, notably in the ĎNationí newspaper, edited by Sir Charles Gavan Duffy. Some were quite revolutionary in character, which did not escape the notice of government sources! However she avoided being sent to jail! Of her brilliant sonís wit and repartee, who can ever forget the following: "To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable." The Picture of Dorian Gray. Or, "Good heavens! How marriage ruins a man! Itís as demoralising as cigarettes, and far more expensive." Lady Windermereís Fan.

In 1867 his younger sister, Isola died. She was just 9 years old. Oscar was shattered. After visiting her grave he wrote what was perhaps one of his greatest poems, 'Requiescat' in her memory.

Thread lightly, she is near
Under the snow,
Speak gently, she can hear
The daisies grow.

All her bright golden hair
Tarnished with rust,
She that was young and fair
Fallen to dust.

Lily-like, white as snow,
She hardly knew
She was a woman, so
Sweetly she grew.

Coffin-board, heavy stone,
Lie on her breast,
I vex my heart alone,
She is at rest.

Peace, peace she cannot hear
Lyre or sonnet,
All my lifeís buried here,
Heap earth upon it.

Just across the street, in number 8 Clare Street, to be precise, Samuel Beckett's father had a building consultancy business, and because Samuel was continually having altercations with his mother, he once spent a week living in the attic room of this house. Here he worked on some of his writings. Beckett became a famous playwright, producing such works as Endgame, Murphy, Waiting for Godot. In 1969 he won the Nobel prize for literature. He was also a close associate of Joyce when they both were in Paris in the thirties, helping him with his literary work, notably Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake.

From number 8 Clare Street it's just a short hop to South Leinster Street, where, in number 1&2 was located Finbarís hotel where Nora Barnacle, once worked as a domestic. On June 16th 1904 they walked out together thus setting the stage for Joyce's epic novel Ulysses. Having arranged to meet her at the corner of Merrion Square he was "stood up" as we say in Dublin, or in other words left standing, for Nora never showed up! But being a persistent man he soon corrected that! It wasn't long before he again came hotfooted up Nassau Street, and, as the saying goes, "They went out walking in the evening summer sunshine," they were eventually married in London in 1931.

South Leinster Street, Clare Street, Lincoln Place, Merrion Square, all have a certain magic. You intuitively feel a link with the past when you walk these streets. Blending the old with the new, the architecture of the buildings reflect the past and the present - another age, another time. Also there is a bookshop, Greene's, of Clare Street that sells new and second-hand books where you're sure to pick up a bargain. Anytime I walk there and browse I sense the ghosts of these writers hovering about my shoulders - including Jack. B. Yeats the painter, or W.B. Yeats, the poet, both of whom resided and walked here, in times past, no doubt doing their browsing, too.

With three fine hotels located nearby, the Davenport, Claremont, both next door to number 1 Merrion Square, and the Alexander hotel just around in Cumberland Street, accommodation requirements are well catered for. And as I said above, if youíre feeling peckish after your stroll there is the restaurant in the National Gallery where you can get a meal or just a cup of coffee.

Oscar Wilde's former home is now a museum to his memory and may be visited daily. (For opening hours and other details log on to The Museum.

If any of the societies members are visiting Ireland we would be delighted to show them around literary Dublin. So keep in touch Folks.

Regards to all, Desmond O'Malley, Chairman Dubliners Literary Circle. e-mail: demondatdublin@hotmail.com Top of page