Ireland has a long and illustrious literary legacy. This Saturday marks 150 years since the birth of poet William Butler Yeats, one of many talents to have found fame beyond Irish shores. Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw and Samuel Beckett are also among the country’s greatest exports, along with – more recently – Seamus Heaney, Colm Toibin and Roddy Doyle. Ireland’s cultural calendar is packed with events commemorating its famous writers, and there are plenty of places with bookish connections to visit.
Arise and go
Arguably Ireland’s most influential poet, W B Yeats was born on 13 June 1865 in Dublin. However, it’s County Sligo – where he spent many summers – that is most closely associated with Yeats and provided inspiration for his earlier work.
Yeats referred to it as “The Land of Heart’s Desire” and to celebrate the anniversary there are numerous events taking place in the part of the county now referred to as Yeats Country, as well as further afield (yeats2015.com). The subject of Yeats’ most celebrated poem, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”, is a good place to start. This year a special installation, “Square Moon”, will be in place at the jetty of Lough Gill designed by Anglo-Korean practice shindesignworks.
The Rose of Innisfree (00 353 71 911 4266; roseofinnisfree.com) has boat tours of the lake departing from Parke’s Castle for €15(£11)pp. Pay your respects at Drumcliffe Church and Cemetery, where Yeats requested he be buried “…under bare Ben Bulben’s head in Drumcliff [sic] Churchyard Yeats be laid…”. It’s an unassuming gravestone simply inscribed with the epitaph: “Cast a cold Eye/On Life, on Death/ Horseman, pass by!”
WB Yeats (Getty) Hay fever
After the flagship event in Powys, the Hay Festival packs its bags and sets off across the Irish Sea. The historic market town of Kells in the rolling countryside of County Meath, lends its name to one of Europe’s most important illustrated manuscripts, the 9th century Book of Kells. It’s an apt location for Hay’s Irish outpost (hayfestival.com) on 25-28 June.
Highlights include appearances by Lynda La Plante and Roddy Doyle, who will be speaking about his latest book, Dead Man Talking. Brian Eno will also make an appearance.
A heavily ringed date in Dublin’s calendar is dedicated to another of Ireland’s literary heavyweights, James Joyce. Named after Leopold Bloom – the main character in Ulysses – Bloomsday (bloomsdayfestival.ie) on 16 June is the official commemoration of the day in 1904 depicted in the novel. It’s now a five-day celebration of all things Joycean, starting on 11 June. There are literary pub-crawls, walking tours, bus tours, readings and recitals.
A Bizarre Bloomsday Brunch takes place on North Great George’s Street on Sunday 14 June. The culmination is of course Bloomsday proper, when you can don your straw hat and trace Bloom’s much-studied footsteps all over Dublin.
Pay a visit to Dublin’s Trinity College, which counts Beckett, Wilde, Jonathan Swift and Bram Stoker among its alumni. You can take a 35-minute guided tour of the campus, including the Old Library, where the Book of Kells is kept, for €13pp (bit.ly/TrinityTour). These can’t be booked in advance, so simply turn up and wait for the next available slot.
Stones of Aran
Probably best known for his work The Playboy of the Western World, John Millington Synge’s literary bequest is inextricably linked to the dramatic, sea-ravaged scenery of the three Aran Islands. Encouraged by his friend Yeats, Synge moved to the islands and later penned The Aran Islands, based on his experience, as well as setting his play Riders to the Sea there.
Teach Synge (00 353 99 730 36) on Inis Meain is a 300-year old thatched cottage where Synge stayed on his first visit in 1898 and is now a museum dedicated to the writer. Inis Meain is also home to Inis Meain Restaurant & Suites (00 353 86 826 6026; inismeain.com) a five-room retreat where a double starts at €480 B&B for two nights, with picnic lunches.