“Special Offer Today! Free Ride In A Police Car!" screams the hand-scrawled notice in the newsagent's window. In smaller print comes the punch line: "Shoplifters Only". In Ireland's capital city of Dublin, the streets are alive with the sound of scribbling, and the little note in the window offers a favourable omen as I begin my jaunt through Dublin’s literary landmarks.
Ploughing my way through legions of shoppers and tourists, I reach the top of O'Connell Street, the sweeping boulevard often described as Dublin's Champs Elysees. At its head I find not the Arc O'Triomphe, but a monument to the written word.
The Dublin Writers' Museum is one of the legacies from the Irish capital's year as European City of Culture in 1991. Inside the splendidly restored Georgian townhouse are books, letters, photographs, and memorabilia that bring Dublin's literary heroes to life. At times, it's a bit like exploring the Irish national attic.
There's James Joyce's piano and here's Patrick Kavanagh's typewriter. With enough first editions to make a bibliophile's heart sing, this is surely the only museum in the world where you'll find Dracula rubbing shoulders with Ulysses. I'm almost tempted into the museum's bright and airy café, but with no time to tarry, I must press on to my next literary attraction.
Ireland is known as the land of saints and scholars. At Trinity College both are in evidence. Leaving behind the din of traffic on College Green, I find myself in an oasis of academic tranquility. The College's main courtyard, with its handsome bell-tower, is largely unchanged since Oscar Wilde swept across these cobblestones. My quest will take me much further back in time than that.
Photographs can't do justice to the jaw-dropping beauty of the illuminated manuscripts displayed in the College library. The glorious gold leaf, elegant lettering, and quirky illustrations bear witness to the skill, ingenuity, faith, and humour of monks who devoted their lives to these magnificent masterpieces. The famous Book of Kells seems as resplendent now as on the day it was completed eight centuries ago.