This is a piece I wrote about spending a day in Dublin, and visiting the W B Yeats exhibit at the National Library. It is still there and well worth the trip. This was published on the http://www.writing.ie site as part of their Mining Memories series.
By Kathleen Dixon Donnelly
So I said to My Irish Husband Tony, ‘You want to be in Ireland for Dallan’s first birthday, I know. But we’re allowed to be tourists, too. After we stay out in County Cavan with Naomi and Neil, let’s book into beautiful Howth, right on Dublin bay, for three days, two nights.’
The family time overlapped into our romantic getaway, but, after babies and dogs, I had one day, all day, for the rest of Dublin to myself. Tony wanted to spend more time with his daughters, so drove off for the suburbs and points north. I walked from our Howth B&B to the DART station to go into city center and visit some exhibit about William Butler Yeats I’d found listed on the internet.
The train from Howth to the city sped past the rich houses of Sutton and the less rich houses of Raheny. The Irish have come through unprecedented (for them) prosperity in an unprecedented (for any Western country) short time. Dublin’s streets teem with immigrants moving in and emigrants finally coming home. There are lots more cars now, fancier cars funded by fancier jobs.
I got off at Tara Street Station, to head to the exhibit at the National Library, up Pearse Street, passed Trinity College. But it had been so long since I’d been in the town center. Which way was Kildare Street from Dawson?
Found it. Up the steps, where the poet ‘AE’ (George Russell) first met a young James Joyce and advised him to ask Lady Augusta Gregory to fund his trip abroad. The security guard motions me into the room on the right. Admission free.
There were a few display cases with facsimiles of letters from the 19th century. (Will libraries of the future ever display e-mails?) Interesting. But these aren’t from Yeats. Wait—the exhibit is through there.
I enter a huge room, broken into smaller cubicles, each one chronicling a different aspect of his life. I am surrounded by W B Yeats’ words.
In front of me is a bench to sit on while watching his poetry projected as Irish actors read his lines. Over there are photos of his unrequited love, Maud Gonne, six feet tall and stunning. On the wall next to her hangs framed fabric with Celtic lettering embroidered by his sisters along with pastel portraits painted by his brother.
The next room is plastered with Abbey Theatre posters while a documentary runs on a monitor. Photos of the lake isle of Innisfree succeed one another while Yeats’ own gravelly older voice reads his younger poetry. A display case holds the joint passport issued for him and his wife Georgie to travel to Sweden to accept his Nobel prize. (‘How much?’ he asked, when he got the call.)
All the rooms are brimming with his words, his poems, his plays, his prose. Projected on the floor and walls, overlaying images from his seven decades.
I emerge invigorated. This is the feeling I remember having in Dublin when I was still discovering it, seeking out the places where Yeats and his contemporaries wrote and talked and argued.
After cleaning out the gift shop I head for the downstairs ladies’ toilet. Whoa! Bright white and green mosaics on every wall! Is this some Edwardian tiler’s fantasy of Ireland? How did I miss this in my previous walks?
Back out into Kildare Street, I make my way through the tourists clustered outside Trinity’s gate, and the newly affluent Dubs sunning themselves in Temple Bar outdoor cafes.
After crossing O’Connell Street Bridge, I push my way up to the Ambassador theatre which is now filled with rock concerts—but only Megadeath is marked ‘Sold Out’—towards the Gate theatre, showcasing Noel Coward.
On to the Writers’ Museum, for a frittata in the café and another gift shop spending spree. For my journalist niece I buy a collection of Flann O’Brien’s (Miles na Gopaleen’s) columns for the Irish Times. He writes about ‘the brother.’ Tony always says, ‘The brother wouldn’t eat an egg.’ The egg doesn’t bother me, but why the ‘the’? ‘The Phoenix Park’? ‘The Commitments’? Must be some Gaelic code.
I walk back downhill to Parnell Square, where Yeats restrained Maud Gonne from rushing out to address the crowds in the Jubilee Riots of 1897. ‘What will you say to them?’ he asked. ‘I don’t know until I get there!’ she answered.
The city is ‘changed, changed utterly.’ But, it’s the same Dublin, the same characters. The kids who had fluorescent hair before anyone envisaged a mohawk. The mammies trudging home with the messages in a cart. The old fart riding a bike with his butt crack hanging out.
Joyce didn’t have to make anything up; he just wrote it all down.
It’s still Yeats’ Dublin. Joyce’s Dublin. My Dublin.
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