I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Humanism Comes to Town

Toby Barnard
Dublin: Renaissance City of Literature, edited by Kathleen Miller and Crawford Gribben, Manchester University Press, 256 pp, £80, ISBN: 978-526113245 These essays arose from the wish to buttress Dublin’s claim to be a city of literature, recognised by UNESCO in 2010. The explorations seek to trace a bookish ancestry back to the Renaissance of the sixteenth century. Given the position of Ireland as a part of western Christendom and its constant traffic – in ideas as well as commodities – with much of Europe, it would be surprising indeed if Dublin had not participated in such a pervasive international movement. Yet, as the essayists and editors admit, there were obstacles. Most obviously, Ireland’s position on the edge of Europe may have delayed the arrival of novelties, whether goods or notions. Dublin, unlike Paris, Rome, Antwerp, Augsburg or Rotterdam, was not a staging post on longer journeys, nor a particularly popular destination in itself. Accordingly the buzz which came from strangers who passed through or lingered was not loud. Yet wars and their aftermath, notoriously the expansion of the apparatus of English authority in the kingdom, drew soldiers and administrators, many of whom already knew the Low Countries, Central Europe and even Italy. Moreover, St Patrick’s Purgatory lured intrepid pilgrims, including at least two from Hungary. The account of one of these pilgrimages undertaken in 1411 and compiled by a Dublin bureaucrat named James Yonge is discussed by Theresa O’Byrne. She suggests that a brisk demand for scribal publications, such as Yonge’s, existed among educated Dubliners. Turbulent politics, with English rule regularly resisted and then forcefully reimposed, were not in themselves an impediment to intellectual innovation. Indeed, as many continental cities suggest, they could stimulate speculation. But, as this volume concedes, some of the features that elsewhere assisted or resulted from the Renaissance were missing from Dublin: no vibrant centre of learning; only an attenuated court to patronise learning and literature; a slow and feeble development of local printing. Yet the place was populous and, for a minority, prosperous. Traders, administrators, soldiers and clerics arrived from overseas, as did manuscripts, engraved images, and – gradually but in increasing quantities – printed books. It was the pace at which the Renaissance might infiltrate, and the depth to which it might penetrate, that were – and remain – uncertain. Also, and here the collection is less forthcoming than might be wished, what the…



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