Updated October 2023–Ireland is known for many things and among them is the sheer number of famous writers who were born there, including James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, W.B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, and J.M. Synge, to name a few.
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If you’re interested in exploring some of the places that house the writings of Irish authors, there are several beautiful libraries that are open to the public, in addition to other attractions that are dedicated to individual writers.
And if that’s not enough, there are scores of independent bookstores around the country where you’ll find all sorts of interesting titles.
You’ll see a list of those at the end of this blog post.
Old Library Trinity College
Most visitors to Ireland have Trinity College and the Book of Kells on their itinerary.
The ancient manuscript is housed within a state-of-the-art case in the college’s Old Library.
Enter through the library shop and then proceed to the Book of Kells “Turning Darkness into Light” exhibition, which introduces the Book of Kells and other religious manuscripts, including the Book of Mulling (Moling) and the Book of Armagh, also known as The Canon of Patrick.
It also describes the lives of the monk/scribes who painstakingly created such beautiful work.
You’ll find many other ancient books – 200,000 in fact – upstairs in the beautiful Long Room, which is part of the Old Library.
The many books in the Old Library are currently being removed as part of an important conservation project.
In addition to housing the Book of Kells, the Long Room is also the place where you’ll find one of the last remaining copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic that was read out by Padraic Pearse on the steps of the GPO, as well as Brian Boru’s harp.
The room is also lined with 40 busts, all men, including the great philosophers and writers of the western world, as well as those connected with the college in its early days.
Four new busts of female scholars were recently added to the library in an effort to better represent today's diverse society.
They include the busts of scientist Rosalind Franklin; the folklorist, dramatist and Abbey Theater founder Lady Augusta Gregory; the mathematician Ada Lovelace, and the pioneering women’s rights advocate Mary Wollstonecraft.
You can also take a virtual tour of the Long Room, but nothing is as good as being there in person.
The Long Library is open to visitors from Mondays through Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sundays from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (May through September).
From October through April, it is open Monday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays, 12 noon to 4:30 p.m.
Information on admission and how you can book tickets can be found on the Trinity College website.
Marsh’s Library, Dublin
While not as impressive as Trinity’s Long Room, this is still well worth visiting if you’re a fan of Irish literature.
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Today, it is known as the oldest public library in Ireland, with evidence to show it.
In fact, you can still see the wired alcoves or “cages” that were created in the late 18th century to prevent the theft of books.
With over 25,000 books and 300 manuscripts, Marsh’s Library is like stepping back in time to the Enlightenment period in Ireland.
The library is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission is €7 for adults and €4 for students and seniors. Discounted joint tickets for the library and the nearby St. Patrick's Cathedral are also available.
National Library of Ireland
While there are plenty of books to look at in the National Library of Ireland on Dublin’s Kildare Street, many visitors are more interested in the museum’s genealogy service, which includes access to census and civil records, as well as the Catholic Parish Registers.
The free genealogy service is available Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and again from 2- 5 pm., excluding public holidays.
For the month of October, the library is sponsoring an in-person tour at the Bank of Ireland Cultural and Heritage Centre on Westmoreland Street in the city center titled Seamus Heaney: Listen Now Again.
It focuses on the life and work of Heaney, including his manuscripts, drafts, notebooks, diaries, and letters that will give you an in-depth look into his creative process.
Visit the museum website for specific opening times for the exhibitions and other events.
Linen Hall Library, Belfast
This beautiful library, established in 1788, can be found in a stunning Victorian building that was once a linen warehouse.
It is the oldest library in Belfast.
The library is best known for its wide-ranging collection of Irish and Local Studies books, ranging from the history of Belfast, including the period of The Troubles (1969-1998), as well as works on the Great Famine and Irish medieval history.
Its newspaper collection alone is impressive, dating from 1738 with volumes of the Northern Star, the newspaper of the Society of United Irishmen, among its finds.
Outdoor tours are currently available starting from the library.
One tour, titled the Linenopolis Tour: A Historic Walking Tour of Belfast's Linen Quarter, focuses on the history of Belfast’s linen trade in the 19th and early 20th centuries and takes visitors to some of the buildings that were built to accommodate this boom time in Belfast’s history.
The Linen Hall Library is free to enter and explore.
Armagh Robinson Library
The Armagh Robinson Library is the oldest public library in Northern Ireland.
Founded in 1771, the library houses approximately 43,000 books, with over 17,000 published before 1800.
One of them includes Jonathan Swift’s personal copy of “Gulliver’s Travels” with annotated corrections by the author.
The library is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.
The place is a treasure trove of other interesting materials, including atlases, coins, gems and more.
Yeats Society, Sligo
If you’re a lover of Yeats’s poetry, you should visit the many tourist attractions associated with him in Sligo.
But you might also want to stop at the Yeats Society building in the center of Sligo town.
The building, designed in the arts and crafts style, once served as a branch of the Belfast Banking Company.
Since 1973, the society has paid homage to literary Ireland and more importantly, to the famous poet by hosting the annual Yeats International Summer School and other events throughout the year, including seminars, poetry readings, and more.
Visitors can enjoy the current Yeats exhibition titled The Poetic Mind of WB Yeats, which is open Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and also at the Hyde Bridge Art Gallery, which is also in the building, from Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Entry to the exhibition is €5.
Seamus Heaney Homeplace, Co. Derry
Seamus Heaney, who was also a Nobel Laureate, has been described by many in literary Ireland as the greatest Irish poet since William Butler Yeats.
Heaney, a native of Bellaghy, Co. Derry, drew much of his inspiration from the place where he grew up, writing about the ordinary things in life, especially his own experiences of rural Ireland.
His writings also dealt with modern Northern Ireland, both the countryside and its cities, as well as the people in them who were all affected by the region’s civil unrest.
You’ll learn more about the life and literature of this incredible poet when you visit the Seamus Heaney HomePlace, an arts and literature center located in the village.
The center, which is housed in a building transformed from an old, heavily fortified RUC police station, is a 45-minute drive from either Derry or Belfast.
During your visit, you’ll find a permanent exhibition documenting Heaney’s life and poems, including many personal artifacts such as a duffel coat and dozens of family photos.
Adding to the Heaney story are recordings from friends and neighbors, as well as world leaders and cultural figures. There is also audio of the poet himself reading from one of his poems.
You’ll also see the desk that Heaney used when writing his works, as well as a large selection of books from his home, all donated by his family.
The center is open 7 days a week. Admission for adults is £10; £6 for children 8 and over, and £24 for families. Children 7 and under are admitted free.
Maria Edgeworth Centre, Longford
While Maria Edgeworth wasn’t born in Ireland, her impact on the local Longford community that she lived in and on literary Ireland was powerful.
Equally as prolific as Jane Austen but not nearly as famous, Edgeworth, the daughter of a wealthy landowner in Edgeworthstown, wrote several adult and children’s books during her lifetime.
In fact, she was one of Europe’s first realist writers in children’s literature and is considered a key figure in the evolution of the novel.
You can learn more about her at the Maria Edgeworth Centre.
The interpretive center includes original exhibits that date to the 18th century and uncovers the history of Ireland’s early education system as well as the role that Edgeworth and her family played in its development.
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Nearby is the Edgeworthstown Community Library housing an extensive archive of her works, including her groundbreaking 1798 book, Practical Education.
You can also get tickets for the local historical tour that delves into the life and works of the novelist.
You’ll visit the grounds of her home and the 1840s schoolhouse built by the family.
Patrick Kavanagh Centre, Co. Monaghan
The Patrick Kavanagh Centre in the heart of beautiful County Monaghan is where you’ll discover more about the prolific poet and his role in literary Ireland.
The center’s main exhibition celebrates the different stages of Kavanagh’s life through touchscreens, memory boxes, letters, and other artifacts.
You can take a self-guided exhibition tour or a guided one.
An enhanced exhibition tour includes four stops on the Kavanagh Trail with a Kavanagh expert.
Admission for the self-guided tour is €10, with children under 7 admitted for free. The guided tour costs €15 and the enhanced tour costs €20.
More information can be found on the website.
There is also a guided coach tour of the Kavanagh Trail.
It covers 10 sites, including the Inishkeen Parish Hall, which was an important social gathering point during Kavanagh’s time growing up in the village, Kednaminsha National School, where he attended school, and other important sites.
Below are just a few of the wonderful independent bookstores that you’ll find across the island of Ireland.
This is by no means a complete list.
Independent Bookstores to Visit in Ireland
Scéal Eile Books, Ennis – this delightful bookstore with the Gaelic name meaning “Another Story” and pronounced “scale-ella” sells everything from new, used, and bargain books. You’ll find rare, out-of-print editions there, too. Check it out when you’re traveling in the Burren/Cliffs of Moher region.
Dingle Bookshop, Co. Kerry – the location of this lovely bookstore in the heart of Dingle is enough to want to stop in and browse its many genres of books, including many Irish titles. Ships within Ireland and around the world.
Vibes and Scribes, Cork – this is Cork’s oldest independent bookstore stocking new, used, and bargain books.
The store is known for its range of Irish interest titles and its huge selection of art, photography, and design books. Give it a look when you’re visiting Cork. Ships within Ireland and internationally.
John’s Bookshop, Athlone, Co. Westmeath – this small bookstore “with thousands and thousands of books” specializes in antiquarian titles. Visit the website to see what’s available. Shipping worldwide is free, so if you see something you like, take advantage of this great offer.
Kenny’s Bookshop, Galway – this is an institution in the City of the Tribes. Opened in 1940, you’ll find everything from used/secondhand and rare books to the latest Irish and international titles. The store claims to sell thousands of books for under €5. Worth a look while you’re staying in this lively city. Kenny’s ships to over 120 countries. Shipping is free within Ireland.
The Reading Room, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim – this popular bookstore offers an eclectic selection of books and hosts many book-related events throughout the year too. The store also runs an affordable book subscription service.
The Book Lady, Boyle, Co. Roscommon – touted as Ireland’s smallest bookstore, you’ll see piles of books from floor to ceiling in this tiny space. The store specializes in second-hand books.
Liber Bookstore, Sligo – if you’re in search of Yeats books, Liber stocks a wide variety of titles related to Ireland’s beloved poet. But it offers much more than that too, including everything “from cooking with surfers and foraging for seaweed,” say the owners. Free delivery on orders over €50 within the Republic of Ireland. For international deliveries, email [email protected] or call 0719142219.
Little Acorn Bookstore, Derry – with over 25,000 books in this wonderful store, you’ll find everything from new to second-hand books. The store specializes in books specifically related to Ireland. There’s also a new typewriter museum on the premises. How cool is that?
Tertulia Books, Westport, Co. Mayo – this is a relative newcomer to the town of Westport, and what a delightful bookstore it is. You'll find everything from Irish fiction books to local history, nature and the environment, social sustainability, travel titles, as well as a selection of rare and second-hand books, just to name a few.
Are you a lover of Irish literature and literary Ireland in general? Let me know in the comments section below.