Will our Nobel laureates scare us off a new Irish ‘literary experience’?

The Irish Literary Trust wants to set up a ‘definitive’ attraction. But its research suggests we’re not keen on parts of our cultural heritage

Within the next 18 months Dublin could have a significant new literary-themed tourist attraction. That's the plan of Eoghan O'Mara Walsh, the head of the proposed development, which will be known as Alive: A Literary Ireland Visitor Experience.

O'Mara Walsh, whose background is in travel and tourism consultancy, set up the Irish Literary Trust last year. He is chief executive of the company, which will manage Alive, and The Irish Times has seen a copy of the business plan. The project will cost €4.75 million to set up.

“This new literary attraction was my idea,” he says in his Merrion Square office. “I felt that the area of literary heritage was neglected. We don’t celebrate it and honour it as we should. It can appear to be niche and highbrow, and it should be targeted at the mainstream. We did a lot of research, and it showed there is significant demand for an attraction of this nature. We’re aiming for a world-class visitor attraction.”

The trust, which is overseen by a voluntary board, is negotiating to secure a 15- to 20-year lease on a warehouse-style building in central Dublin. “We’re looking to lease a single storey up to 20,000sq ft, as we want the attraction to be all on one floor. It will be interactive and experiential, done in a thematic fashion. It’s not going to be object or artefact led; it will use digital technology throughout.”

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The trust is having "ongoing conversations" with the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Fáilte Ireland and Dublin City Council about the project. "They have all seen the business plan, and they are positively disposed to it. The hope is that at least one of these will come on board with us," says O'Mara Walsh.

The company hopes to raise money from the State, businesses and philanthropists. The admission fee will be €10 for adults and €7 for children. “It’s a commercial enterprise, and an expensive proposition. It will need to cover its own costs.”


Financially sustainable
O'Mara envisages having 13 employees in the first year, rising to 16 in the third, by when he hopes the operation will be financially sustainable and attracting 100,000 visitors a year – a "modest and achievable" number consisting of overseas and Irish visitors, including schoolchildren.

“There will be no delay with the project once the funding is secured. It can be set up within 12 to 18 months,” he says. The intention is to advertise for the key job of curator, who will work with a panel of literary advisers – many of whom have already been approached – and to put “the technology bit” out to tender, “especially if there is public money involved”.

The building will be laid out thematically. Among the 10 proposed galleries will be Patriots and Heroes, World of Narnia, Poets and Playwrights, Humour and Terror, Stage and Screen, Modern Writing and Tir na nÓg. “We will include all genres, and it will be pitched at a mainstream audience,” O’Mara Walsh says.

“The business plan incorporates various pieces of research with potential visitors, both international and domestic.” Under “Nobel Laureates”, the report notes, “The Nobel Laureates theme is among the toughest to sell to domestic visitors . . . Undoubtedly these writers have an important part to play in the Irish literary landscape. However, they scare the average person away.”

Copyright costs have also been factored into the budget, as the work of several of the writers who might feature – such as Paul Howard, author of the Ross-O'Carroll-Kelly books, the novelist Cecelia Ahern and the late Maeve Binchy – remains in copyright.

“Once the material has been chosen, permission will have to be sought for its use,” O’Mara Walsh says. “We’re not naively saying this is going to be easy and straightforward.”

irishliterarytrust.com