An introduction to 9 of Dublin’s best writers, old and new
Recognised as a UNESCO City of Literature since 2010, Dublin has produced its share of successful writers, novelists, playwrights, and poets. The city’s rich literary heritage can be seen in its museums such as the Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI) and the Dublin’s Writers Museum, its many independent bookshops, and conventions such as the International Literature Festival Dublin. But who exactly are those writers who wrote from Dublin? What was or is their relationship to Dublin? Though not all authors mentioned in this list are originally born in Dublin, all have at some point in their life called it home, some even using their experiences in the city to write their greatest masterpieces.
- Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)
Jonathan Swift is best known for his satires, the most famous of which is Gulliver’s Travels. Born and raised in Dublin, Swift eventually became an Anglican Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, which still exists and is currently being renovated. In fact, Swift was buried in his own cathedral. As a prolific satirist, Swift elaborated many stories full of irony criticising politicians, the treatment of Ireland by the English, and the living conditions of the Irish. Swift also wrote various poems, although these are not as famous.
- Bram Stoker (1847-1912)
Bram (Abraham) Stoker is the author of the infamous horror novel Dracula. He was born in Clontarf, Dublin, but wrote most of Dracula in England, where he is said to have been inspired by the coastal town of Whitby. It is said that his biggest literary influence was Sheridan Le Fanu, another Gothic writer from Dublin (not featured on this list). He wrote a number of other novels and short stories, like Miss Betty and The Primrose Path and was for a time best known as theatre critic. Some have suggested that Stoker was a repressed homosexual, notably due to some passages of not-so-straight action found in Dracula.
- Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
Oscar Wilde is probably remembered by many as an English martyr rather than a Dubliner, which is unsurprising considering he grew up in an Anglo-Irish family and was keen on being more English than the English themselves. He studied at Trinity College Dublin and then Oxford, and lived most of his adult life between England and France. Some of his most famous works are The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest, one of the plays which made him London’s most popular playwright. Wilde was homosexual and prosecuted for “gross indecency” by the father of his lover Lord Alfred Douglas. Sentenced to prison and hard labour, Wilde came out broken. He died in Paris, where his body is buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery. A memorial to Wilde can however be found in Merrion Square, next to the National Gallery of Ireland (Have a look at our article on Wilde’s sculpture in Merrion Square).
- W.B. Yeats (1865-1939)
William Butler Yeats (pronounced Yates) was a poet and dramatist from Sandymount, Dublin. He grew up in a Protestant, Anglo-Irish family but as a fierce Irish nationalist, developed a fascination with Irish legends and spiritualism. Both themes are recurrent in his early works, where Yeats used folklorical stories and Irish fairytales as inspiration. After some flirtations with politics and rebellion against English rule in the 1910s, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923. He is remembered for his extensive use of symbolism in his poetry – the most famous of which is The Second Coming.
- James Joyce (1882-1941)
Of all of the writers on this list, James Joyce is possibly the most readily associated with Dublin. This is unsurprising considering that although self-exiled from 1904 onwards, Dublin remained the centre of his life and work. Stories like Ulysses or Dubliners take place in the city itself, and readers familiar with Dublin probably recognise most of the stories’ settings. From the European continent, Joyce remembered his homeland which he never saw again after 1912 through his works, writing with melancholy about its vices and problems. Aside from prose, Joyce also wrote extensive collections of poetry and a play called Exiles.
- Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)
Although spending most of his adult life in France, Samuel Beckett was born and grew up in Dublin, and did his studies at Trinity College. For his novels and plays, Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1969. Some of his most famous works include Watt and Murphy, as well as the play En attendant Godot (Waiting for Godot). The latter was written in French, which Beckett had studied at Trinity, and translated into English by Beckett himself. Like Joyce, which he met in Paris, Beckett only spent a small amount of time in Ireland after graduating from university. In fact, he joined the French Resistance during World War 2, for which he received a military decoration (Read more about Samuel Beckett and his life in this previous article).
- Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)
Seamus Heaney was internationally recognised as one of the world’s greatest poets during his lifetime. Having studied at Queen’s University Belfast, he taught at both Harvard and Oxford. His poetry volumes include The Death of a Naturalist and Field Work. He received many awards for his work, among which was the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature. His poems often featured references to the Irish natural as well as political landscape. Hailing from Northern Ireland, the poet often included symbolic references in his work to the Troubles. Heaney was not originally from Dublin, but lived in Sandymount for decades and died in Blackrock.
- Colm Tóibín (b.1955)
Although not from Dublin either, Colm Tóibín studied in University College Dublin and currently lives primarily in Dublin. An ex-journalist, his work focuses on topics such as Irish society and homosexuality. He is known for his rigorous self-discipline, not allowing himself to sit on a comfortable chair when writing. Some of his famous works include The Master, Brooklyn and The Heather Blazing.
- Sally Rooney (b.1991)
Sally Rooney was born in Mayo, but studied English at Trinity College and currently lives in Dublin. At only 30 years of age, Rooney has released an impressive amount of highly-praised work such as Conversations with Friends and Normal People. The latter was adapted as a television series in 2020, and tells the story of two Trinity students who fall in love. She has also written poems and short stories, and her new book Beautiful World, Where are You is due to be released in 2021. The youngest writer on this list, there is little doubt that Rooney’s career can only develop.
Did you know that Dublin was once home for all of these writers? Have you read any of their works? Many of their novels or poems were directly or indirectly inspired from their life in Dublin, so we definitely recommend their works to anyone in Dublin!