Dublin's underground literary scene
Get some literary inspiration at Toner’s, a favourite haunt of Patrick Kavanagh. (Martin Moos/LPI)
The world is well versed in the enormous literary talent Dublin has spawned, from Beckett and Wilde to Behan and Joyce. But they are all long dead. However, a sophisticated – and very much alive – literary scene in the clubs and bars of Dublin continues the oral tradition and compulsion to storytell that is knitted into the psyche of the city.
- Related article: Top 10 places to hear traditional Irish music
A modern twist on the Seanachaí (storyteller in Gaelic), Chaos Thaoghaire (pronounced Theory and rhyming with Dun Laoghaire, a Dublin suburb) is a raucous evening of themed storytelling "dedicated to the earnest pursuit of ludicrous things". Its founders (ironically, two Americans), with a love of spoken word and good old fashioned rabble-rousing, decided to formalise what was already happening on bar stools across the city. So formalise they did, but not in a formal sense, thankfully. Anyone can join in the regular Victoriana-inspired Chaos Thaoghaire nights, as long as you can stand in front of a crowd and spin a yarn that is vaguely rooted in reality - and do so without notes. It is not entirely random though, and to prevent giving license to pub bores, stories are vetted and themes chosen in advance. It is not all listening either. Between stories the audience splits into small teams for absurdist language games with obscure rules where cheating, ad libbing and quarrelling are actively encouraged. Both a "repository and factory of stories", anecdotes are archived and everyone goes home with a happy head full of stories and ideas for the next chaotic outing.
Dubliners love a good argument. It is not only in the debating halls of Trinity College and University College Dublin where lively opinion-bashing can be heard. Walk down Moore Street, hop in a taxi or switch on day time radio to RTE's most popular show, Liveline (or Whineline as it is known) and they are all at it. Everyone has an opinion and wants to bandy it about.
Economics graduate Naoise Nunn recognised a public need to rip up the "cosy consensus" of the status quo and offer Dubliners some robust debate to sink their teeth into. So he hatched a mighty plan. How about putting together a night of big thinkers and big ideas? An evening to hear and join in on chunky intellectual debate but, in Irish spirit, in a darkened candle-lit room over a pint or two. Invitations were issued to big wigs of divergent views, tickets sold like hot-cakes and thus Leviathan Debate was born.
Chaired by author and broadcaster David McWilliams (who allegedly coined the phrase "Celtic Tiger"), the monthly Leviathan nights now pop up as much in muddy festival fields as proper theatres. Like a Roman arena, conflicting speakers - Peter Mandelson, Irvine Welsh, Naomi Klein, Michael O'Leary and Sebastian Barry have already rowed in - are thrown to the pit to try to convince the largely attentive audience of their beliefs. Old chestnuts such as Islam vs the West, and the Role of Faith in an Economic Crisis, have had their day out with much good-humoured heckling and post-show audience debate at the bar. Issues may remain unsolved but we come away remembering it is good to talk.
If the walls could talk in Dublin's oldest watering holes they would no doubt have some colourful stories to reveal about the city's literary greats trying to release the muse over a few pints. Dublin Literary Pub Crawl, the only tour that "simultaneously replaces brain cells as it drowns them", running for more than 20 years, takes you on a half-mile amble round some of the atmospheric old bars immortalised by Dublin writers, with a drink at every stop. Led by a pair of well-read actors, you can soak up witty and irreverent literary anecdotes delivered with typical bawdy Dublin humour. You might drop into Davy Byrne's where Behan was arrested and Joyce's Leopold Bloom in Ulysses stopped to have a gorgonzola sandwich and a glass of burgundy. Or head to Patrick Kavanagh's local, Toner's, not far from his beloved Raglan Road where WB Yeats would also sit and sip a sherry. The tour often ends at Mulligan's, adopted canteen of the nearby Irish Press where Flann O'Brien had a column and is the stomping ground for would-be writers hoping to bump into the editor. Education at its best.