An important place to visit, if you’re literarily inclined, is the Dublin Writers Museum on Parnell Square (you’ll also want to check out the Garden of Remembrance complete with the gorgeous sculpture “Children of Lir”). Divided into two rooms, the museum tells the story of Ireland’s rich literary history. From Gulliver’s Travels, Bram Stoker, and Wilde to famous 20th-century Irish writers like James Joyce, the museum does an excellent job of creating a timeline as well as putting things into historical perspectives, and I revel in the first editions and artifacts strewn throughout.
My last day in Dublin, I say goodbye to my tour group, and I check into a more modern hotel, The Dylan, a boutique, five-star, Preferred Pride hotel that’s about a 20-minute walk from St. Stephen’s Green in D4, (“the poshest neighborhood in the country,” one local tells me). The hotel is fantastically new, friendly, and spacious. It surprises me how off-balance I feel getting back to modern times, because the Dublin I know so far has been written on pages over a century ago. But history is never too far behind in the European capital, and as I open my window I see children freely playing in a centuries-old church courtyard, enjoying the springtime sunshine.
I too enjoy my newfound freedom, and I walk back to the city center, passing flower stands and cute boutiques, and taking in the sights and sounds of a bustling city. I meet with Scott De Buitléir, a young man who created a gay publication called EILE, which is Irish for others. We sit at Café en Seine where I learn about the challenges of creating a publication for the diverse LGBT population in Ireland and Northern Ireland. “Ireland has become wonderfully progressive in recent years, despite it’s Catholic, conservative traditions, so now the challenges facing EILE (www.eile.ie) are similar to almost any other venture,” he says. “How to make it, and keep it, financially viable,” Scott adds matter-of-factly. He then happily walks me through the vibrant Dublin streets where street performers, shoppers, and early-afternoon pub-goers cram the layed-brick pedestrian thoroughfare of Grafton Street.
It’s in a small nearby section of the city called the Italian Quarter that I’m introduced to two Dublin locals, and gay roommates, Tom and Oisín. They take me to gay-owned café Lemon Jelly. “It’s one of those rare Irish days where the sky is blue,” Tom says with a smirk through his salt-and-pepper beard. We sit outside, and over a bottle of white wine talk about life in Dublin. “We may not have a gay area or loads of gay clubs, but it’s more integrated with the straight scene,” Oisín says taking a bite out of his mozzarella panino. “We have the youngest population in Europe, so it’s still up and coming. The immigration we have experienced in the last few years has made it more dynamic and has brought a new energy to the scene!” he proclaims with a raised glass for a cheers. Tom is quick to also point out how quickly Dublin and Ireland as a whole have changed. “There has been a revolution in the last 20 years. We’ve gone from homosexuality being a crime to a drag queen hosting a daytime game show to several of our top newscasters and broadcasters [Derek Mooney and Michael Murphy] being openly out and even civil partnered,” Tom says.
The boys are happy to take me out to their local watering holes: The Front Lounge, The Dragon, and to the famous Panti Bar. But, I’m meant to catch an early flight, and I begin my walk back to my hotel. On the way, I look over at Oscar in the park, still eying his home, and I try to fixate on exactly which part of the home he’s looking at. The cloudless sky allows the moon to reflect a cool blue from the corner window, reminding me of the matching stained glass that graces the first floor, and I watch as college students weary from a night out stand outside the front door smoking cigarettes.
My week in Dublin has given me a new understanding of our own collective gay history as well as Ireland’s. I walk past these students, I hope and wish that they too will one day see their school, Dublin, Ireland, and the world, with a new perspective. “Anybody can make history; only a great man can write it,” I think of Wilde writing in The Critic as Artist, and I tip my hat to a man that, as his mother unknowingly wrote, has become a defiant hero, a conqueror, a martyr, and a diety for the modern gay community.
OSCAR WILDE TOURS
The founder of Oscar Wilde Tours, Andrew Lear, knows his stuff. Professor Lear holds a B.A. from Harvard and a Ph.D. from UCLA and has a storied history as a professor of classics at world renowned institutions like NYU and Harvard. His love of teaching, history, literature, and travel have all found a home in his new com- pany, and his indefatigable excitement permeates the discussions throughout the tours. He sits down with us to share some things about his tour company, Oscar, and, of course, Dublin.
Why is there a need for a tour company like Oscar Wilde? Do you think a historical lens is missing from modern-day gay travel?
Yes! There are a lot of gay tours available, including many cultural tours, but aside from a few walking tours in certain cities, there are no tours that focus on gay history. It’s as if gay people were only interested in going to discos, or as if homosexuality didn’t really exist before 1975. But, we all know that something gay was going on in ancient Greece, and that there have been all kinds of important gay artists etc. throughout history (e.g. Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci). At least every- one knows about Oscar Wilde, and aside from being charmed by him, that’s why we chose him as our patron spirit.
What’s one thing you hope that your guests will take away from your tours? From Dublin?
I think the thing I want people to take away from my tours is a sense of how rich the past of same-sex love is. Many famous people you know about loved people of their own sex; many famous places (including castles and palaces) are associated with these loves; many famous artworks were inspired by them. Because our culture, despite some improvement, is still profoundly hetero-normative, this gay history is still hid- den, but I hope that people will see that it’s amazingly rich and present in our lives and thoughts, closer than you think. At the same time, of course, I want the tours to be fun, full of amusements and pleasures—beautiful places, great food, etc.
From Dublin, I hope they will take away an impression of an Ire- land that’s more urbane, arty, and gay than they would expect. Ire- land is not all lawn leprechauns and pints of Guinness. An astonishing number of the heroes of the 1916 Rising were gay, and a number of key figures in Ireland’s fabulous literary history were (or are) gay as well. I’d also like them to take away a slightly changed sense of Oscar Wilde. People mostly think of Wilde as an English writer, and that’s partly because they associate his aesthetic, decadent (i.e. gay) sides with London. But he was very Irish, witty and chatty in a particularly Irish way, and had a whole host of important Irish associations (starting with his amazing family). Also, I think I’d like people to know how pretty a city Dublin is, what a great theater city it is (with some very gay sides in that regard), and what a great foodie city it is!
Do you think Oscar and Lady Wilde would be impressed with modern-day Dublin?
I think Oscar and Lady Wilde would both be thrilled by Dublin today. Lady Wilde was a famous Irish patriot, and Wilde himself, although he didn’t talk about it much, was always for what was then called ‘home rule.’ They would be thrilled to see Ireland a free country and Dublin so lively. One should also remember that both of them died at the most depressing possible moment, when Wilde was in dis- grace, his works not performed, etc. How happy they would be to see a statue of Wilde in front of their house, and to know that Oscar is one of the most famous and admired historical figures in our culture—seen as a martyr, not a disgrace. And although Wilde wasn’t 100% out of the closet, in the modern sense, I think he would be thrilled to see how free people are about homosexuality now. Neither the UK nor Ireland has sodomy laws any more, and it seems as if Ire- land may have gay marriage pretty soon (knock on wood). Attitudes toward homosexuality have changed a LOT since Wilde’s time, and I’m sure if he came back to life, it would take him a moment to understand what people think nowadays, but he was always for personal freedom, so I’m sure he would be very happy about it, and to learn that his own tragedy contributed to the change that has taken place in our society.
The next Oscar Wilde Tour will take place October 25-November 3 and will follow Oscar Wilde’s complete life from Dublin and London to Paris. www.oscarwildetours.com
WILDE DUBLIN RESOURCES
The Dylan, Eastmoreland Pl. Tel: +353-1-660-3000. This Preferred Pride Hotel is located in one of the most fashionable districts in Dublin, and you’ll feel right at home in their contemporary-chic boutique-style rooms. Rooms from $240. www.thedylan.ie
The Merrion Hotel Dublin, Upper Merrion St. Tel: +353-1-603-0600. Another prestigious hotel that has a world-renowned art collection and an artful high tea. Rooms from $375. www.merrionhotel.com
The Shelbourne Dublin, a Marriott Hotel, 27 St Stephen’s Green. Tel: +353-1-663-4500. This grand dame hotel is where Oscar Wilde and famous writers have stayed for over a century. Rooms from $481. www.marriott.com
SEE AND DO
Dublin Writers Museum, 18 Parnell Square. Tel: +353-1-872-2077. This fascinating look at Ireland’s rich creative spirit has plenty of information to help create a full picture of the country’s immense literary contributions. www.writersmuseum.com
International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival is an annual event that invites theatre troupes from all over the world to put on gay-themed performances with Oscar Wilde serving as its main muse. 2015 dates to be announced. www.gaytheatre.ir
Café en Seine, 40 Dawson S. Tel: +353-1-677-4567. A Parisian-style café with a location that can’t be beat near Stephen’s Green that offers scrumptious French bistro-style bites. www.cafeenseine.ie
Lemon Jelly Café, Millennium Walkway. Tel: +353-1-873-5161. Gay-owned restaurant in the Italian Quarter that offers quick bites and smooth drinks. www.lemonjellycafe.ie