Thanks to author, Felicity Hayes-McCoy for the following article on visiting Dublin, and the wonderful Jack B Yeats in The National Gallery.
When you finish a draft of a novel, you experience an overwhelming rush of relief, but often, fuelled by adrenaline, you’re gripped the following day by an urge to dive straight into a major edit. Experience has taught me that this is the time to close my laptop firmly, and go and do something completely different before changing a word. So, recently, when I’d finished a draft of a book that comes out next year, Wilf, and I decided to take a winter break in Dublin to see Jack B. Yeats: Painting & Memory.
I’m going to have to struggle not to turn this piece into a fan-letter, both to Yeats and to the National Gallery’s curators of this stunning exhibition. To curb my excitement, I’ll begin with our drive to Dublin from our home in Kerry, on which we stopped for lunch in charming Adare. In summer, Adare can be thronged with visitors, making finding a parking-place slightly stressful. At this time of year, life slows down and the winter sun had made the town park a lovely place for a stroll. In fact, the weather was so crisp and pleasant that we picked up a couple of sandwiches from a deli and scattered crumbs for the birds that came hopping around our park bench.
It was dark when we arrived at The Address Connelly, the city-centre hotel we’d booked through Golden Ireland. By then, rain was falling and we were glad of our warm welcome at Reception. I never cease to admire how staff can convey such friendliness even when masked, and do so much to ensure that guests feel happy, safe and well-cared for in these strange times.
Our comfortable room was on the seventh floor and, to my delight, had a splendid view of the clock above the entrance to Connelly Station. I’m old enough to recall frantic family gallops down Talbot Street, my parents staggering under the weight of suitcases, and my siblings and I hefting tartan “grips” crammed with sandwiches and flasks of tea, for a train journey to Sligo or Rosslare. Wilf and I had a far more relaxed start to our two-night break at The Address. Guests in the hotel’s seventh floor rooms have access to the Club Lounge and a small rooftop terrace. When we’d unpacked and settled in, Wilf and I sat on the terrace with cups of fragrant coffee, enchanted by the night-time panorama of the city, while little, lit-up trains, like jewelled caterpillars, curved past each other far below.
The following morning, we opted for Continental breakfast on the terrace, and planned our day over coffee, yoghurt, fruit and flaky croissants, with a birds-eye view of imposing Georgian chimneys and soaring, modern, concrete and glass. All central Dublin’s tourist sites are within easy walking distance of The Address, and, if you fancy a walk on a beach or in the mountains, the commuter DART line, which passes through Connelly Station, will whisk you out to Howth or Bray, Greystones or Malahide. You could even take a “proper” train for a day-trip down to Wexford, or up to Newry or Portadown.
Having booked our tickets on the gallery’s website, we had a brisk, winter morning to spend enjoying the city centre. I was born and grew up in Dublin, and can testify to the pleasure of simply sauntering round its streets. Wilf and I made our leisurely way to O’Connell Street, where we window-shopped before cutting through backstreets, strolling along the boardwalk, and crossing the Ha’Penny Bridge to the south side of the River Liffey. (Incidentally, in 1924, Yeats’ painting The Liffey Swim won a silver medal in the – now sadly defunct – arts and culture segment of the Summer Olympics in Paris, making him the first Irish Olympic medallist.) By now, all thoughts of my book were behind me. There was time for early Christmas shopping in little boutiques, jewellers and craft shops. We wandered up Grafton Street, with its big stores, buskers, and the familiar sight of Bewleys Oriental Café, and passed under Fusiliers’ Arch to St Stephen’s Green. At the lake, people were feeding swans, as I did as a child, and, tucked away among trees where I used to sit as a student, was Henry Moore’s ‘Knife Edge’, the focal point of a memorial to the poet William Butler Yeats, brother of the artist whose work we’d come to see.
From there, we walked to Merrion Square via the National Library in Kildare Street. A beautiful building, and home to a fascinating exhibition on W. B. Yeats, its café is one of Dublin’s best-kept secrets. You can eat indoors and out at The National Gallery too where, on the day we visited, people were sitting at tables on the forecourt enjoying croques monsieur and pastries, served from a little food truck that also offered teas, coffees, and vegan and vegetarian toasties.
And so, to Jack B. Yeats: Painting & Memory, which coincides with the 150th anniversary of the artist’s birth. Bringing together eighty-four pictures, mostly on loan from private collections, it’s the largest exhibition of Yeats’ oil paintings in fifty years. He began as a commercial illustrator in London in the late 1880s, became a watercolourist, and came to oil painting in his thirties. More than half of his oils were produced in his seventies and eighties, during the last fifteen years of his life, and the older he got, the braver he became. The works in this exhibition are the phenomenal result of a lifetime of looking, thinking and remembering. I’m a novelist, not an art critic, so I won’t try to describe them. I’ll only say that each room revealed new wonders of perception, reflection, texture and colour, and that, given the opportunity, I’d return again and again. The exhibition, which opened in September, continues until 6 February 2022. If you can possibly get to see it, I urge you to drop whatever you’re doing and go.