Ireland is home to some of the greatest writers in history. From novelists to playwrights, there’s an argument for Ireland having one of the greatest literary traditions in the world. Celebrate Irish history before the St. Patrick’s Day festivities begin by learning a couple facts about five of the most iconic Irish writers and their timeless literary achievements.
Bram Stoker is most famously known for his masterpiece, Dracula, but few people know that he was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland in 1847. Stoker attended the famous Trinity College in Dublin with a degree in Mathematics, and spent the majority of his working life as a civil servant, small-time theatre reviewer and theatre manager. In his spare time, he wrote and published several horror tales, first as short stories and then as novels. It took him decades to finally write what is known today as one of the most iconic horror novels, which was finally published in 1897. Unlike many great writers who are only appreciated after their death, Stoker found instant success with Dracula. He died in London in 1912.
An obvious contender for the title of “Best Writer of the Twentieth Century”, James Joyce was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1882. Coming from humble origins, Joyce managed to work his way into University College Dublin, where he focused on studying modern languages. Publishing his first short story at the age of 22, Joyce left Ireland to travel and experience the world, earning his way by teaching English in foreign countries, which wasn’t difficult given the fact that he would learn over 17 languages in his lifetime. All this time, he wrote, and in 1914 he published his first collection of short stories, Dubliners, following the well-received book with a novel, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It wasn’t until 1922 that he published his masterpiece, Ulysses, which completely redefined the modern novel.
George Bernard Shaw
Initially aspiring to be a novelist, George Bernard Shaw eventually found his calling as a playwright. Born in Dublin, Ireland in 1856, Shaw suffered through several failed attempts at writing novels before he fell in love with the theatre. Starting, like Stoker, as a critic, he began writing his own plays and found major success. Man and Superman (1903), Major Barbara (1907) and Pygmalion (1913) are just a few of his most famous works. In 1925, Shaw was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, one of four Irish writers to ever receive the award and the second after W.B. Yeats (1923). Years later, Shaw would also receive the Academy Award for best screenplay, adapting his play, Pygmalion, for the 1938 film.
Born in Dublin in 1854, Oscar Wilde was essentially destined for success. The proud son of a knighted father and a linguist mother, Wilde excelled in his studies, eventually earning a prestigious scholarship to Trinity College in 1871. He received some of the college’s top honors during his studies, earning himself yet another distinguished scholarship, this time to the University of Oxford, where he would go on to collect even more awards. Drawn to poetry, Wilde started publishing poetry collections while delivering lectures on topics such as classics, literature, and most notably, aesthetics. During this highly productive time, he also wrote some of his most famous literary works, including The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), his best novel, and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), his most iconic play.
Those who aren’t familiar with the name C.S. Lewis have likely heard of his most famous fantasy epic, The Chronicles of Narnia. Born in Belfast, Ireland in 1898 (as Clive Staples Lewis), he fought and was wounded in WWI, and eventually went on to receive a degree from Oxford University. He spent most of his life teaching at the university level, became an esteemed writer and lecturer of Christianity, conversed on a regular basis with J.R.R. Tolkien, and finally wrote the series that would drive his legacy, beginning with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe in 1950. As great a theologian as he was a fantasy writer, Lewis finished his career teaching at Cambridge University until his early death in 1963.