Few cities boast a literary history to match that of Dublin, which Senator David Norris described as: ‘a city with perhaps a greater concentration of writers than any other on the planet’, writes Brendan Lynch.
Grafton Street is known for its high-end stores and five-thousand euro handbags. But it also boasts a rich literary pedigree, as illustrated in the recently published Dublin’s Graftonia – A Very Literary Neighbourhood.
W B Yeats, Oscar Wilde and James Joyce were first published in the area, which Monaghan’s Patrick Kavanagh christened ‘Graftonia’ in the 1950s. Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley lived at number 17 in 1812. A chance meeting at 116 Grafton Street between Yeats and Tipperary’s John O’Leary ignited the Irish Literary Revival.
Introducing Yeats to Irish literature, O’Leary proclaimed: ‘There can be no political revolution, without a cultural revolution.’ The Revival stimulated artists and writers alike and led to the founding of the Abbey Theatre.
Staged at the Gaiety Theatre in 1901, Douglas Hyde’s Casadh an tSugáin was the first play in Irish to be produced on a professional stage. Artist Beatrice Elvery, mother of popular columnist P-P-Patrick Campbell, wrote: ‘Everyone seemed to be doing something for Ireland, and without shedding a drop of their own or anyone else’s blood.’
‘Poet, painter, novelist and composer, who in the exercise of a genius as distinguished in its versatility as in its power, by his pen and pencil illustrated so happily the characteristics of the peasantry of his country that his name will ever be honourably identified with Ireland.’
Thus reads the St Patrick’s Cathedral monument to artist and novelist Samuel Lover, born on 24 February 1797 at 60 Grafton Street, whose fame rivalled that of Thomas Moore and Richard Brinsley Sheridan, graduates of nearby Whyte’s Academy.
Lover’s mother, Abigail, encouraged his artistic and musical interests. Holidays in Wicklow introduced him to rural customs and traditions which would inform his later writing. Lover’s happy childhood ended at the age of thirteen, when his mother died.
The Dubliner endured four office years, before leaving to seek an uncertain living as an artist, writer and book illustrator. He studied music and exhibited miniatures and landscapes at the Royal Hibernian Academy. Following the Dublin Literary Gazette’s publication of his first features, his interest in folklore led to his debut 1831 book, Legends and Stories of Ireland, after which he moved to London in 1834.
Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own