Dublin UNESCO City of Literature- one year on

By Lisa Marie Griffith

  Last week Dublin City Council launched the festival programme for this the Dublin Writer’s Festival 2011. A quick look at the schedule shows that this year’s festival, which takes place 23-29 May, is bigger, brighter and more ambitious than ever before. The festival will include some of Ireland’s finest writer’s including Anne Enright, Dermot Healy, Roddy Doyle, Colm Tobin, John Boyne and Seamus Heaney (I could go on).  The International lineup is also excellent and includes Michal Palin, Paul Theoroux, Paul Harding (Pulitzer winner for Fiction 2010) and Czeslaw Milosz (a Nobel laureate)There will even be a link up with other UNESCO literary cities by a live link-up. The festival will be covered by Sky Arts.

So the festival is maturing and growing up. Quite naturally of course considering that Dublin became a UNESCO City of Literature nearly one year ago (26 July 2010).  This was greeted with great enthusiasm as it has the potential of show-casing further Ireland’s literary talent, encouraging the arts and of course it might bring in a few more tourists! So a year on how is the city faring with its new title? Well on the surface things look good. Despite the struggle for funding everywhere festivals like the Dublin Writer’s Festival seem to be doing well. They seem to be getting funding and more publicity. The April ‘One City, One Book’ is still going strong and the book chosen this year was Ghost Light by Joseph O’Connor emphasises that the city’s literary figures are not all dead and that the literary output of Dublin writer’s is strong. The international IMPAC awards have announced their short list to 10 books with 3 Irish writers included. There also is the Dublin Book Festival and the Strokestown International Poetry Festival. So the city has continued and built up festivals which were already running- great! The arts have lost enough so the title has ensured that for the time being they lose no more.

But lets not stand still- surely we should be thinking of where to next and how best to capitalise on the UNESCO title? Festivals and book promotions are fantastic for those who are already interested in writing and reading and those who live in the city but what about those people, Irish and other, who arrive in Dublin on a cold, wet Tuesday in November and who want to see what this literary city is all about? Well there is the Abbey, the Gate and the Project Arts Centre. These are not always accessible to everyone and of course only a small minority will seek out the nearest theatre.

How do you reach the man on the street? My first suggestion to any tourist who asks is the Literary Pub Crawl. Witty and entertaining, you walk away having seen plays been enacted and with a sense that you will remember what they told you. But the tour is very much a ‘potted history’ of the city’s literature and in two hours it can’t be much more. There is the fantastic Yeat’s exhibition at the National Library, the Pearse Museum and even the Joyce Centre. But they are scattered and don’t present a full picture of the city’s writers. The closest that we have is the Dublin Writer’s Museum which is as someone put it to me recently a celebration of ‘dead white guys’.

For those of you who are not familiar with the museum it is on Parnell Street adjacent to the wonderful Hugh Lane Gallery. I set out to visit the Gallery one Monday a few years ago and annoyingly discovered that the gallery was shut every Mondays. I decided to visit the Writer’s Museum instead. It has been a while since I was that annoyed to hand over 7.50 euro to a museum. The exhibits were squashed into 3 rooms with some of the posters which explained the exhibit blue tacked to the wall (and coming away). The museum was sorely disappointing. While there are some events run by the museum throughout the year I must admit I am not familiar with them, still embittered at my last visit (I spent 7.50 which could have gone a book that would have explained more about the city). I visited Edinburgh’s small but excellent (and free) writer’s museum in December and the visit really drove it home to me how we need an equivalent. It doesn’t have to be flashy, just thought about and well put together.

When tourists ask me if I would recommend the museum I am afraid I usually say no. There is a need for a space in the city which brings the history of the city’s literature to life (small as it is the Wax Museum’s exhibit on Irish writer’s was much better) along with the work of live writer’s, a space which visitors to Dublin and locals alike can enjoy: some thing that will bring home the achievements of the city’s writer’s as well as sending their message abroad. Devoting a space to this will show that the city has a deep appreciation for its writer’s and for the communication of their message. For now I am happy to enjoy the literary festivals but I hope that over the next few years there is a movement towards creating that space.

One Response to “Dublin UNESCO City of Literature- one year on”

  1. thelittlereview Says:

    Great post Lisa, I was at the writers museum a few years ago and I was really disappointed by it. Given dublin’s literary heritage, it really has potential to be so much more. hopefully, the unesco designation will offer new impetus to give dublin a proper literary museum. The yeats exhibition is an excellent example of what can be done. Niamh

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