Arts & Culture in the City of Dublin

By: Anna McAlpine (Visiting Student)

Departments at Trinity: School of English

Home Institution: St. Andrews, English Literature and Philosophy MA (Hons)

I have lost many an hour wandering through the weird yet glorious patchwork blanket of culture that envelops modern Dublin. Stitched through time, the thread meandering, following the winding streets of the city. Each place touched by the yarn being spun its own narrative – its tale to root it in Dublin’s cultural heritage. This is perhaps the best reason to study abroad in Dublin. If you have a penchant for the arts it is impossible not to feel the undercurrent of creativity that sweeps you through the city.

The heart of Dublin beats in its theatres. Every bus journey to Trinity there seems to be yet another new poster for the latest production being put on in one of the city’s fine establishments. I have no doubt you could happily busy yourself with a new play each day of the week if you so decided (no such luck for me – Erasmus does entail some studying after all).

Dozing along the now familiar roads into Trinity one morning, but unable to fully nap for the morning sun blindingly streaming through the window pane, I absent-mindedly observed the people on the street rushing around in the middle of their morning commute. Following their trajectory my eyes were led to the backdrop of their morning scene… a large billboard containing many posters for events in town. There was one production in particular that caught my eye, I knew I had to see it. Those familiar with drama will find it no surprise that it was a production of one of Samuel Beckett’s plays, namely, All That Fall.

Beckett is possibly one of the most famous Dublin dramatists and his presence is one that can be felt all over this city. Having read some of his plays back home I was familiar with his work but I could not have anticipated how celebrated he would be throughout Dublin. Each day I pass his bust as I walk the stairs to the literature section of the Ussher library. Relaxing over drinks at the weekend, his portrait looms over the bar in one of the central clubs. Even in the deprived areas of the city I have seen his work spray-painted onto the side of an abandoned terraced house. For an English Literature student this is the stuff of dreams.

The play was being shown at the Abbey Theatre, one of the giants of Dublin’s theatrical past. As I waited in the reception, I was aware of the history of the building – modernised now but still retaining some of its old charm. The audience was an extremely diverse bunch of people – you would never have put us together as a group – but it illustrates the binding force of art in the city and the fact that, unlike some other places I have visited, it really is appreciated by people of all ages and backgrounds. The production itself by the Pan Pan Theatre Company was fantastic. We were led up onto the stage (my new fun fact for ice breakers) and sat in rocking chairs and left in darkness to experience the incredibly powerful and thought-provoking piece that is Beckett’s audio play, All That Fall.

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Theatre is not all that Dublin has to offer in terms of cultural pursuits. The National Library is also a great place to experience when studying abroad at Trinity. It lies only ten minutes up the road from campus and is a very impressive building to take in. Being slightly over-keen and very naïve, I went in and asked to view Seamus Heaney’s manuscripts (on research for one of my classes). I was informed that I would need permission and a reader’s pass in order to access them – which in hindsight seems like a very sensible precaution. Feeling disheartened I thanked the receptionist for his time and went to leave. However, he was not prepared to let me go without experiencing what else the library had to offer. He was obviously well-versed in the history of contemporary Irish literature as he began to regale me with the details of Heaney’s relationship with Yeats – it is wonderful to meet so many people with a genuine passion for literature here. The library had a very detailed and well-curated exhibition of Yeats on at the time, which I then walked around – expecting to look for half an hour and ending up staying for two.

Finally, to complete the trio, Dublin does have it all: theatre, literature and art. The National Art Gallery is relatively small compared to other national galleries I have visited in other European capitals. However, it is a nice spot to wander around nonetheless. They have some permanent collections of medieval art alongside a space for temporary collections that change periodically. I find that if ever I am too early for class I can easily pass the time by visiting either the National Gallery, which lies a stone’s throw from my classes on Nassau street, or if I am more pressed for time, I visit the art gallery right on Trinity’s own campus. The Douglas Hyde Gallery is a light, open and airy space that is like a secret haven of calm to escape to when classes are a little stressful. Again, this gallery changes its exhibitions regularly which means that there is always something new to discover…and always an excuse to go back.

The rich artistic culture within Dublin is a great reason to stay in the city and a fantastic way to pass the time after classes are done for the day. As an English student at Trinity it is so nice to have a practical experience of what you learn in class each day. Instead of having isolated knowledge of obscure Irish literature – suddenly this is a currency for striking up new conversations with the literary population. Never has an English degree felt so practical.


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