Literature in Ireland
For centuries, this small island has inspired a host of poets, playwrights, writers and storytellers to compose some of the best literature in the world
Ireland’s literary heritage
Ireland’s rich literary tradition dates back to early tales of mythical heroes such as Cú Chulainn, and continues right up to prize-winning modern authors such as Anne Enright, Anna Burns and Colm Tóibín.
Literature is most definitely in our blood. Early Irish literature is thought to be the oldest vernacular literature in western Europe, and you can still see examples of Ogham inscriptions on stones in the counties of Kerry, Cork and Waterford. Wherever you go on the island, be it an Atlantic outpost or a thriving modern city, you can connect with plays, poetry and prose, as well as experiencing the landscape, culture and history that inspired the greats.
Dublin: city of literature
Dublin is famous for its vibrant street life and quirky characters, and it has been home to some exceptional writers over the years. In this UNESCO City of Literature, you can almost hear the words of James Joyce, Flann O’Brien and Sally Rooney echo through the streets. The city has produced three of Ireland’s four Nobel Prize winners for literature, and it continues to be a hotbed of creativity.
Pull up a bar stool in one of the city’s famous “literary” pubs such as Davy Byrne’s – immortalised in Joyce’s Ulysses – or join the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl. Explore the Dublin Writers Museum at Parnell Square, the Museum of Modern Literary Ireland (MoLI) on St Stephen’s Green, and visit the award-winning WB Yeats exhibition at the National Library, described by the New York Times as “dazzling”.
Seeking out CS Lewis
Belfast’s literary heritage reverberates through its historic streets – this grand Victorian city was the birthplace of The Chronicles of Narnia author CS Lewis. The CS Lewis Tour takes in key locations in the author’s life, as well as exploring some of the influences on his writing.
The landscapes that cradle Belfast are also a source of inspiration – Cave Hill, overlooking the city, is believed to have given rise to Jonathan Swift’s creation of the giant in Gulliver’s Travels. Swift was born in Dublin but was a clergyman in the parish of Kilroot, County Antrim. Push out into County Down and you’ll come across the Mourne Mountains, thought to have inspired Lewis to create Narnia.
Any trip around the island of Ireland uncovers endless places associated with playwrights, thinkers and poets, from small islands to craggy mountains. Who knows what inspiration this land might unlock in you?
That part of Rostrevor which overlooks Carlingford Lough is my idea of Narnia.CS Lewis, in a letter to his brother
Great literary festivals
Ireland's literary adventures
Don't miss these things to see and do
Museum of Literature Ireland
Whether you are new to Irish literature or an expert, you will be inspired and surprised at MoLI – The Museum of Literature Ireland. Located at 86 St. Stephens Green in the historic UCD Newman House, where James Joyce once studied, MoLI is an interactive celebration of Irish poets, playwrights and novelists. It is a must-see for anyone interested in Irish literature. The Commons Café and MoLi Shop are free to visit.
The James Joyce Centre
The James Joyce Centre is housed in an 18th-century Georgian townhouse in Dublin City. It aims to foster an appreciation of Joyce through exhibitions, education, outreach and activities. The Centre also organises the annual Bloomsday festivities on the 16th of June.