By Sharon Whitley Larsen
DUBLIN, Ireland –“When food is scarce and you see the hearse, you’ll know you’ve died of hunger!”
Our group of 16 laughed as we sipped Guinness in The Duke pub. We were being serenaded on this weekday evening in a small upstairs private room (called a “snug”) by actors Frank Smith and Eimear Morrissey. As they sang a rousing rendition of “The Waxies’ Dargle,” we cheered them on, toasting with our glasses. Donning black bowlers, the duo then performed a scene from Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” to our hearty applause.
This was my first visit to Dublin — the formerly gritty, now glowing city of some 1.6 million and home since 1769 to world-famous Guinness (today a popular tour attraction). Besides Beckett, the city has produced such famous writers as James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw.
And what an introduction to the city! My husband, Carl, and I had signed up for the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl, which sounded intriguing. We figured this literary pilgrimage would be a fun way to sample some history and culture — as well as some spirits.
This is reportedly the only city in the world to produce three Nobel laureate authors — Beckett, Shaw and Yeats — and it boasts some 800 pubs. So it seemed the perfect place to follow in the footsteps of these literary giants and to sip a whiskey or Guinness in some of the same watering holes they frequented. We were told there would be a simple quiz at the end of the tour with the grand prize a Dublin Literary Pub Crawl T-shirt.
Smith gave our group a tagline of Joyce’s “Ulysses” — “It’s about different Dubliners who come in and out of Dublin on that particular day” — which was set on June 16, 1904 (“Bloomsday”), the day that Joyce (“a thick-skinned man”) had his first date with Nora Barnacle, who eventually became his wife.
Sipping my Chardonnay, I recalled suffering through this work in college, and I felt vindicated after Smith, with Morrissey, performed a first-chapter scene, then winked at us and noted, “Few people get beyond the first part, including Irish people!”
As we chuckled, Morrissey dramatically recited Molly’s monologue at the end of the book: “… so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”
“Now you don’t have to read it!” Smith bellowed as we laughed with relief.
As Colm Quilligan notes in his guidebook, “Dublin Literary Pub Crawl” (available for purchase on the tour), it took Joyce seven years to write the epic, and “it took this writer seven years to read it.” So I wasn’t the only one who had suffered.
“There have always been pub crawls in Dublin,” Quilligan said. “As far back as the 17th century, Trinity students earned a reputation for rampaging through the city’s taverns, no doubt declaiming from the works of Virgil, Ovid and Homer. Dublin’s reputation as a literary city derives partly from the period just after the Second World War. The pub has always been the center of local life.”
It was Quilligan who founded this pub-crawl version in 1988 with several actors, and it grew mostly by word of mouth.
“Dublin is a great word-of-mouth city,” observed Smith. Since then — with the help of brochures, newspaper articles and the Internet — the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl has been a popular, award-winning, year-round tourist draw, accommodating up to 60 people on a tour.
And they’re not all literary scholars.
“Sixty-five to 70 percent wouldn’t know about Irish writers at all or what they’re getting into,” Smith explained of the participants. “They’ve come from Mexico, New Zealand, Australia — all over Europe.”
During the evening we would visit three other pubs, spending about 20 minutes in each to grab a bite of “pub grub” and/or another drink. We would stroll about a half-mile through the narrow cobblestone streets, and it would take just over two hours — “depending on how slowly you walk — or how quickly you drink!” chuckled Morrissey.
“We won’t be too drunk — but not too sober,” Smith said with a smile. “We’re literary enthusiasts.”
And so our enthusiastic literary group — this evening ranging in age from 20 to 70, with several retirees from England and a couple from Wisconsin — set down our glasses, gathered our coats and headed out into the brisk air. Next stop: Trinity College, Ireland’s oldest university, founded in 1592.
“A culture stop with no drink,” chuckled Smith, who pointed out that Joyce had described the fortresslike buildings as “the grey block of Trinity set heavily in the city’s ignorance.”
We gathered in a circle in the courtyard in the dark evening amid students walking quickly past us with their backpacks, and Smith told us a bit about Wilde, who was born nearby, a student here before he graduated from Oxford’s Magdalen College. Wilde had referred to his fellow Trinity students as “a dreadful lot,” he said, and never got along with them.
Wilde later visited more than 20 U.S. cities on a lecture series and, in 1882, was invited to the small silver-mining town of Leadville, Colo., where he lectured on two of his favorite topics, art and aesthetics. His talk didn’t set too well with the miners, who quickly grew bored, but flamboyant Wilde prevailed.
“He drank them under the table!” proudly exclaimed Smith, who then recited a humorous anecdote that Wilde wrote describing the experience — which included the mention of a sign that Wilde had noticed over the piano: “Please do not shoot the pianist, he’s doing his best.”
“And now we’re off to a drink stop with no culture,” said Smith, “with quality drinking time — 20 minutes!”
We next stopped at O’Neill’s Bar and Restaurant, which has been on the same site for more than 300 years. We filed into the warm, crowded pub, glad to be out of the cold, and headed for a bar stool or chair. Each stop gave us a chance to chat with others in the group.
As the evening wore on, it was fun to learn tidbits about these colorful authors, how Dublin influenced their work — and about the history of the city and its pubs. With our Irish literary appetite whetted, Carl and I planned to do a follow-up to the pub crawl by visiting The Writers Museum and James Joyce Center the next day.
A short walk away was The Old Stand, also in its same location for more than 300 years, where Michael Collins, the leader of the Irish War of Independence, gathered information about the British Secret Service.
We ended the tour at Davy Byrnes — described in “Ulysses” as a “moral pub” where fictional protagonist Leopold Bloom ordered a Gorgonzola sandwich and a glass of Burgundy — something Joyce fans continue to do today.
It was here where Beckett lived upstairs while a student at Trinity College — and where playwright and novelist Brendan Behan, who had started drinking at age 8 and died at 41, gave his famous quote: “I’m a drinker with a writing problem.”
As Quilligan summed up: “You can take the writer out of Dublin but you cannot take Dublin out of the writer.”
I’ll drink to that!
IF YOU GO
For more information on the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl tours: www.dublinpubcrawl.com
The Duke: www.dublinpubs.ie/pub.asp?id=208
ONeill’s Bar & Restaurant: www.oneillsbar.com
The Old Stand Pub and Restaurant: www.theoldstandpub.com
Davy Byrnes: www.davybyrnes.com
Dublin Writers Museum: www.writersmuseum.com
James Joyce Center: www.jamesjoyce.ie
Guinness Storehouse: www.guinness-storehouse.com
Sharon Whitley Larsen is a freelance travel writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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