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A Cultural Look at What's on in Dublin this Summer

Daragh  Reddin By Daragh Reddin Published on June 19, 2017

Hitting Dublin for a cultural holiday this summer? Here are some attractions that book lovers and art enthusiasts really shouldn’t miss out on over the coming months …

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Vermeer at The National Gallery of Ireland

Following a belated multimillion euro refurbishment, the National Gallery of Ireland, one of the city’s foremost cultural attractions, has just reopened to great fanfare. Highlights of this revamp include a beautifully spruced-up concourse, a new courtyard linking the Dargan and Milltown Wings, and the restoration of several hitherto concealed nineteenth-century windows that utterly transforms a once dim interior. With large swathes of the museum’s historic wings closed for six years during development, it’s only fitting that such an auspicious occasion is marked by a suitably heart-stopping exhibition. Step up Vermeer. Ten of the Dutch master’s paintings – of a total of just 36 in existence – are included, alongside some 50 works by his contemporaries, in Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry, which runs until 17 September.

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Walking Tours with The James Joyce Centre

For die-hard James Joyce aficionados one event eclipses all other in Dublin’s cultural calendar: Bloomsday. The formidable modernist author chose to immortalize 16 June, 1904 – the date of his first assignation with wife-to-be Nora Barnacle – in his experimental masterpiece Ulysses. Bloomsday, which takes its name from the book’s singular antihero Leopold Bloom, is observed on that date each year but if you missed out on the action, don’t worry: the celebrations certainly don’t begin and end there. The James Joyce Centre on North Great George’s Street offers a series of themed walking tours throughout the summer. We strongly recommend the Ulysses option which invites visitors to follow in the footsteps of a food-fixated Bloom as he saunters across the city to Davy Byrne’s pub for one of literature’s most memorable meals: a glass of burgundy and a gorgonzola sandwich with its ‘feet savour of green cheese’.

Nan Goldin at The Irish Museum of Modern Art

The US photographer Nan Goldin is best known for her gritty autobiographical collection, ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’, an ever-expanding slideshow that began life in the late 1970s and would eventually include more than seven hundred images chronicling the lives of troubled souls living in New York’s Lower East Side by the time it was completed in 1986. That work – a devastating 45-minute multimedia affair where the spectre of Aids looms large – is just one of the many included in Weekend Plans, a major new exhibition of Goldin’s output at the Irish Museum of Modern Art that runs until 15 October. The show also includes rarely exhibited drawings and a series of photographs the artist took on two visits to Ireland in the company of filmmaker, Vivienne Dick. Also, be sure to visit the museum’s new first-floor bookshop which stocks an excellent selection of titles on art, design and architecture, as well as a range of limited edition prints.

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The Art of Friendship at the Chester Beatty Library

While it would be an overstatement to describe the Chester Beatty Library as a hidden gem, it’s fair to say this bewitching museum in the grounds of Dublin Castle doesn’t enjoy the kind of attention experienced by the likes of the tourist-teeming Trinity College or the overhyped Guinness Factory. Book lovers will be enthralled by the collection of illuminated manuscripts and priceless artefacts that make up the permanent collection, which also includes ancient Qur’ans, Babylonian clay tablets and some of the earliest known copies of the four gospels. An excellent temporary exhibition, The Art of Friendship: Japanese Surimono Prints, runs until 27 August and features stunning woodblock prints, incorporating both illustration and poetry, that originated in the intimate literary circles of eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Edo Japan.

The Great Gatsby at The Gate Theatre

As any bookworm will agree, there’s nothing worse than seeing a beloved novel horribly mangled in a careless film adaptation. While Baz Luhrmann may have done terrible things to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in his shrill big screen version, a new stage adaption of the venerated Jazz Age classic at Dublin’s Gate Theatre this summer sounds like it could well hit the mark. Under the aegis of award-winning British director Alexander Wright, this audacious, immersive production will see the theatre’s auditorium divested of seating and transformed into a grand 1920s-style ballroom. With an esteemed home-grown cast and guests invited to fetch up in period dress and ‘dancing shoes’, there’s every chance this is one Gatsby that will leave Fitzgerald fans gasping for all the right reasons.

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Independent Book Shops

Any self-respecting bibliophile visiting Dublin this summer should swing by at least a couple of the city’s independent book shops. The Winding Stair, which takes its name from a seminal collection of poems by WB Yeats, on Ormond Quay is particularly inviting and, given its modest size, remarkably well-stocked; while The Gutter Bookshop, in nearby Temple Bar, provides a welcome jolt of culture to an enclave more renowned for boozing than book-buying. Books Upstairs on D’Olier Street is a great repository for literary criticism and periodicals – little wonder given its owner Maurice Earls co-edits the Dublin Review of Books – and it has recently been extended to encompass the building next door, effectively doubling in size. Having opened in early June, Marrowbone Books in the Coombe, a working-class neighbourhood in the south inner city, is the newest kid on the block and, behind its brilliant yellow façade lies a thoughtfully-selected array of competitively priced second-hand titles. 

Daragh is an editor and freelance writer based in Dublin

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