Dublin and its writers


Go into a pub and listen well If my voice still echoes there

IT is not only Patrick Kavanagh (who wrote those words in his poem If Ever You Go to Dublin Town) whose voice still echoes there – in the streets, on the canal banks and in the pubs too, but a host of other writers have also left their traces in every corner of the city. Writing and writers, it seems, have been central to Dublin’s identity and character.

With its rich heritage and so many indelible literary associations, the naming of Dublin as a Unesco City of Literature might come, therefore, as no great surprise. But this honour and endorsement had to be won and the campaigning committee, led by Dublin City Public Libraries, deserves praise and gratitude for staking this claim for our “Strumpet City”.

The submission to Unesco goes straight to the point when it states that “Dublin’s chief credentials as a City of Literature lie in the historical body of work that has come from its writers over the centuries and from the equally acclaimed contemporary output of writers native to, or living within, the city’s confines”.

Sometimes out of rejection or disillusionment with the home place, but often for economic reasons, many of those same writers chose escape and exile: Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Bram Stoker, Wilde, Shaw, O’Casey, Beckett and most famously the author who declared that if the city were to vanish overnight it could be reconstructed from the pages of his quintessential Dublin novel Ulysses.

But there are others who stayed or finally settled in the city and that litany of names is equally illustrious: Mangan, Yeats, Behan, Flann O’Brien, Kinsella and Austin Clarke who, like Swift, returned after years spent in London.

As well as the writers native to the city, many others, by making it their home, have enriched its literary DNA: McGahern came from Leitrim, Kennelly from Kerry, Cronin from Wexford and Heaney from Derry.

When he once remarked that the city had its share of “assassins whose weapons are the tongue and the typewriter”, the poet Brendan Kennelly, no doubt, was in a playful mood. But the sense of Dublin as a writers’ city is all-pervading and the tradition lives on in the many contemporary novelists, poets and playwrights who today continue with the task of helping us in our self-understanding as a people. “Strumpet City” can indeed hold her head high as a city of literature.