Happy Birthday, Dublin Review!

By Christina Morin

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the founding of The Dublin Review, a self-described ‘quarterly magazine of essays, criticism, fiction and reportage’. Established in 2000 by Brendan Barrington, a New Yorker born to Irish parents, the magazine was intended to fill the gap Barrington perceived in the Irish literary marketplace when he first moved to Ireland in the 1990s. As reported in The Sunday Business Post in July 2002, Barrington said, ‘There was nothing that seemed to answer my idea of what a general Irish literary magazine should be, which is to say a combination of critical writing, creative writing and non-specialist, non-academic writing – magazines to which the same international writers contribute regularly’.

The magazine’s first issue appeared in 2001, with much assistance, financial and otherwise, from the Arts Council, and featured a veritable ‘who’s who’ of the Irish literary world; Terry Eagleton, Anne Enright, Medbh McGuckian, and Colm Tóibín all contributed. The second issue, appearing in Spring 2001, similarly boasted a strong line-up, with Terence Brown, Roy Foster, Seamus Heaney, Declan Kiberd, and Colm Tóibín, amongst others, supplying a fascinating collection of essays, poetry, and fiction. Subsequent issues have built on these auspicious beginnings, featuring pieces by prominent Irish writers, critics, and academics, as well as by newer, less-established voices in the Irish literary scene.

A brief glimpse through the archives on The Dublin Review’s website suggests that Barrington has achieved his goal of creating a general literary magazine that both appeals to a diverse audience with its generic variety, and provides a non-academic forum to which Irish writers within academia and without contribute with dependable regularity. Each issue contains a stimulating mix of fictional and non-fictional pieces, prose and poetry, with the current (Summer 2010) issue including, for instance, short stories, essays, a memoir, and reportage pieces by, among others, Kevin Barry, Robert Cremins, and Daniel Finn. Moreover, many of the same contributing names appear again and again over the magazine’s ten-year history. Writers Molly McCloskey and Colm Tóibín seem to contribute at least once every year; other frequent contributors include Anne Enright, George O’Brien, Greg Baxter, and David Wheatley, to name just a few. Such re-appearances suggest the magazine’s appeal to Irish writers as well as its ability to reach readers; as early as 2003, the magazine had a respectable circulation of approximately 1000 people. This number is sure to have risen in subsequent years, especially on the back of Bernard O’Donoghue’s favourable review in the TLS in February 2002.

As suggested by the wide array of contributors and their subject matters – in the current issue, topics range from the Irish health care system to water shortages in Uganda and ‘the new Latino face of Catholic America’ – The Dublin Review is by no means limited to Dublin-based writers or concerns. In fact, the name was chosen as a kind of generic catchall, one that would encourage as many people as possible to contribute regardless of genre, style, or literary interest. As Barrington notes, ‘The fact that Dublin is in the title does not signify any Dublin focus in the magazine itself. I hope it will be taken that this is a magazine emitting from a metropolis in the same way that the New York Review of Books comes out of New York but is not about New York’.

Currently working as a commissioning editor for Penguin Ireland, while also editing The Dublin Review, Barrington clearly has his finger on the pulse of the Irish literary scene. With the current crisis in arts funding as well as an obvious need to battle cultural ignorance of Irish literature, if the blank stares greeting the recent award of UNESCO City of Literature to Dublin are anything to go by, The Dublin Review’s tenth birthday is a reminder of the importance of supporting Irish writers and Irish literary production. What better way to celebrate, therefore, than to pick up the latest issue of The Dublin Review and get reading?

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