Dublin Writers Museum & American Writers Museum: Contrasts of Place

From Chicago to Dublin and back, I have seen the likes of two nations’ writers museums, and, as they would say in Ireland, it was craic (crack)— “the serious work of play.”

Angie Klink and Malcolm O'Hagan at the AWM
Me and Malcolm O’Hagan at the AWM

The idea for the American Writers Museum (AWM) spawned from the influence of The Dublin Writers Museum. The two museums are unacquainted cousins from across the pond. Malcolm O’Hagan is the forethinking founder of the AWM that opened in Chicago in May 2017. An Irishman born the day before St. Patrick’s Day, O’Hagan toured The Dublin Writers Museum and then wondered why America did not have a museum dedicated to celebrating its writers. That experience launched O’Hagan on a seven-year journey to create the AWM, the only museum of its kind in the United States.

My first trip to Ireland was scheduled last June as a chaperone with my son’s high school concert choir, which was touring the country to perform in cathedrals, including St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. During an AWM preview day for the press and bloggers, O’Hagan had suggested I visit The Dublin Writers Museum and recommended the exhibit, Yeats: The Life and Works of William Butler Yeats at the National Library of Ireland.

The facade of the Dublin Writers MuseumThe Dublin Writers Museum opened in 1991 in a former home at 18 Parnell Square originally owned by Lord Farnham who lived there in the late 1700s. The Dublin Writers Museum is “old world.” Display cases are filled with books, manuscripts, photographs, and artifacts highlighting Ireland’s famous authors. Visitors read descriptions and stories on panels or listen to a hand-held audio device. By contrast, the AWM is very much “new world,” filled with innovative, dynamic and interactive digital exhibits.

The Dublin Writers Museum is located in what was once a grand home with ornamental columns and a gilded frieze, but it is rather dark and stiff. (Perhaps it is filled with the energy of Irish writers’ downtrodden angst—after all, Ireland has been through a lot.) Writers such as Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, and Kate O’Brien are featured. On display are a first edition of Bram Stocker’s Dracula, Samuel Beckett’s specially designed telephone, and the piano of James Joyce. The Irish Writers Center is located next door.

Conversely, the AWM is a light-filled modern space on Michigan Avenue (perhaps filled with the energy of American writers’ naïve optimism). The AWM celebrates all types of writing from advertising copywriting and journalism to novels and biographies. The place is hands-on and fun—full of craic!

Exterior advertisement for the Yeats exhibit at the National Library of IrelandHeeding O’Hagan’s suggestion, I toured the Yeats exhibit at the National Library of Ireland. William Butler Yeats carried an unrequited, thus painful, love for Maud Gonne, and she was the ever-present muse for his poems. Yeats was a central figure in the Irish literary revival, and Gonne was a political activist, ardently involved in the struggle for Irish Independence.

The National Library of Ireland preserves the largest collection of Yeats Manuscripts in the world. Yeats was a Celtic mystic. He said, “I believe in the practice and philosophy of what we have agreed to call magic …” In a letter to John O’Leary, Yeats wrote, “The mystical life is the centre of all that I do and all that I think and all that I write.” Yeats was instrumental in establishing the Irish National Theatre Society (INTS). Gonne, also a mystic, was active in the society, as well.

Entrance to the National Library of Ireland

The exhibition brochure tells us that Yeats “revered the book.” He collaborated with other artists to achieve his vision of a book of poetry: Text, paper, type, colour, illustration and binding design combined to craft a singular work of art in which all elements were balanced. The Tower is considered to be his ultimate achievement and his most influential volume of verse. Learn more at the Yeats online exhibition.

Writers are influenced by their sense of place. The Dublin Writers Museum and the American Writers Museum are shaped by that same sense. In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg discusses “going home” as writers: “So go home. Not so you can boast, ‘My uncle was a colonel in World War II,’ but so you can penetrate quietly and clearly into your own people and from that begin to understand all people and their struggles.”

It was nice to visit the emerald Isle, learn about Irish authors, and compare writers museums yet, I returned to America ready to be home, claim who I am, and write—my most “serious work of play.”

– Angie Klink

Angie Klink at the AWM



American Writers Museum. American Writers Museum Opens in Chicago May 16. N.p.: Heron Agency, 2017. Print.

Brady, Margery, The Love Story of Yeats & Maud Goone (Cork: The Mercier Press, 1990)

O’Hagan, Malcolm E. “Conversation at Preview Day.” Interview by Angela R. Klink, Writer, May 15, 2017.

“The Dublin Writers Museum.” Exhibit brochure, Failte Ireland, National Tourism Development Authority. Obtained 14 June, 2017.

“YEATS: The Life and Works of William Butler Yeats.” Exhibit brochure, National Library of Ireland. Obtained 14 June, 2017.

2 thoughts on “Dublin Writers Museum & American Writers Museum: Contrasts of Place

  1. Dr Vivien Igoe says:

    I have just read with great interest about the American Writers Museum. MoLI (the Museum of Literature Ireland) has opened recently in Newman House, St Stephen’s Green.

    I was the first curator of the James Joyce Museum, Sandycove. I am a founder member of the Francis Ledwidge Cottage Museum in Slane, Co Meath, and the Pensioners Museum at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham was set up by me.

    To get to the point, when I was working for Bord Failte, the Irish Tourist Board, I had the pleasure of taking James T. Farrell around Literary Dublin in 1974. I took him to the Joyce Tower. When he was coming out of the Tower down the iron staircase, he tripped over. I may add, he was carrying his portable typewriter!I was in front of him and broke his fall. He said I saved his life! We got on extremely well, as we had a lot in common re our interest in Writers and poetry.

    James sent me signed copies of his books, and I also have some correspondence from him. An American University was interested in what I had, but. I never followed it up.

    I have often read that James Farrell never received the acclaim that he should have received as a writer, so am delighted that he will be represented in your museum

    Please let me know if you would be interested in the signed copies I have.(I can send you list of them, and the correspondence.

    Google MoLI and see just what they have accomplished converting 85 & 86 (Newman House) into a wonderful museum of literature.

    I didn’t have Dr O’Hagan’s email address and would be glad if you would pass this message on to him.

    With many thanks,

    Vivien Igoe


    • American Writers Museum says:

      Hi Vivien,

      The American Writers Museum is not a collecting institution and as such we do not have the proper facilities to be able to care for the books and letters in your collection. You could always try reaching out to the university that previously showed interest, they may still be interested! I hope you are able to find a safe home for the books and correspondence.

      Ari Bachechi, Data Operations Coordinator

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Skip to content