Sure, they’ll pay tribute to George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde and so on, but it’s Joyce that they’re really bang on about, mainly because he set his most famous works here, thereby introducing the civilized world to this place.
One of the things I brought along here was a paperback copy of Ulysses, which is arguably Joyce’s magnum opus. It’s a measure of the way Joyce fascinates people that, while I was visitng the James Joyce Centre, I wound up purchasing a new copy of the work, mainly because it has footnotes. (Note: if you’re one of those people who want to tackle Ulysses as a summer reading project, I strongly recommend that you get the Annotated Student Edition. Trust me; the endnotes make getting through the text much, much easier.)
One of the reasons why Joyce is still celebrated here, really, has to do with the fact that Ireland was neutral during the Second World War. That meant that the country never got the carpet-bombing treatment that the Luftwaffe were dealing Great Britain, and that means that a lot of the landmarks that appear in Joyce’s novel (as well as the short story collection Dubliners) are still around, and walking tours and pub crawls are organized, every day, to see them.
Tomorrow I’ll be going on one of these walking tours. The pub crawl, on the other hand, I’m still trying to make up my mind on.
A great deal of that modesty has to do with the location. It’s in a converted residential house, and the structure is well preserved enough that there simply isn’t room for a lot of displays, and there’s a limit to how you can configure the structure to do the dramatic sort of presentation that you’d get at, say, the exhibition space at Trinity College for the Book of Kells.
That said, though, it does do a very good job for its mandate, which is to highlight Dublin’s writers in history, from Swift to Joyce (who fortunately doesn’t dominate here as much as he might have, mainly because there’s a James Joyce Centre specifically geared towards him) to some of the 20th and 21st-century writers and poets on the scene. (Well, even though we may not have heard of them, the modern-day writers are bound to get a mention, mainly because there’s a Writer’s Union next door.)
This Museum has made me wonder if it’s possible for Canada to have its own Writer’s Museum. I’m sure there’ve probably been attempts at establishing one with a national mandate, but I’m not sure that CanLit is one of those subjects where the public interest is big enough to warrant a full-blown museum.
The price of admission does include a pint of Stout, which can be drunk either after the beer-pulling demonstration (where you’re taught to pull a pint properly), or at the top floor of the experience, a glass structure known as the Gravity Bar where you can take in a panoramic view of Dublin.
It’s a fascinating way of addressing a subject, somewhat akin to the NASCAR Experience in Charlotte in that you’re essentially doing a walk-through tour of the history of the Guinness Brewery, as well as the stout-manufacturing process. There’s enough happening that you don’t feel bored or tired, even though you’re expected to go through five floors’ worth of information.
One tip: if you buy your ticket online, you get a discount off of food which is served at the cafeteria on the fifth floor. Actually the food is pretty good, with a number of dishes showing how Guinness can be used in cooking. And of course they’ll be happy to sell you their signature product.