The literary landscape in Ireland has a new addition, with the opening last year of MoLi, or the Museum of Literature Ireland in Dublin’s Newman House. Positioned between St Stephen’s Green and the stunning Iveagh Gardens, Newman House is a striking Georgian building, which was once the site of University College Dublin and is the spot where a young student – James Joyce – completed his studies.
MoLi has been created initially to house the James Joyce artefacts from the National Library of Ireland’s collection. Most impressive of these is the irreplaceable ‘Copy 1’ of Ulysses that is housed in a glass case below the immortal last lines ‘Yes I will yes’.
The museum also includes Joyce’s notebooks, which make for a fascinating insight into the workings of his most famous of work and a collection of translated copies of Ulysses from around the world, which climb up to the very ceiling of this stunning building.
Museum can feel like the wrong word for MoLi, as it is such a fluid and accessible exhibition. Although Joyce’s work sits at the heart of the space (the name MoLi evoking the wonderful Molly Bloom), the space celebrates a wide range of Irish literature over the past few centuries.
The museum celebrates Ireland’s literary and cultural heritage by using cutting-edge multimedia exhibitions, and it tells the story of Ireland’s literary heritage, from the earliest medieval storytelling traditions to contemporary writers entering the international literary scene in recent years.
While winding through the maze-like floors of Newman House, traditional displays and artefacts sit alongside more immersive installations, such as ‘Dear Dirty Dublin’, which explores the city in Joyce’s time through sculpture, sound and film.
Changing exhibitions mean that MoLi can explore a wide range of authors and genres. The opening exhibition was on literary activist and writer Kate O’Brien, curated by her grandniece Kathy Rose O’Brien. When I visited, there was a thematic exhibition taking inspiration from the life and work of Eva Gore-Booth – Poet and playwright, suffragist, workers’ rights campaigner, social revolutionary, pacifist and lesser-known sister of Constance Markievicz.
These celebrations of lesser-known writers, a programme of readings and talks and even their own radio station, makes MoLi feel fresh and exciting and it is interesting to see so many contemporary writers celebrated within the Irish canon.
Like all good museums, MoLi has a gorgeous café and restaurant – The Commons – and a carefully curated gift shop. The Readers Garden is another highlight, offering a lush, green, peaceful space within the heart of the city.
I was there on a gorgeous crisp day and it really is a lovely spot. It includes the ash tree where James Joyce had his graduation picture taken and leads into the Iveagh Gardens through a gate marked with a quote from Maeve Binchy.
MoLi is a truly fascinating addition to the literary landscape of Ireland, which looks forward while it looks back and feels like a centre that will change and adapt with the times.
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!