In her Diary, Virginia described “the perfection of Irish conversation,” the “character and charm” of “half squalid” Irish life, and her fascination with the “rocks and the desolate bays” she saw on her travels. In fact, the Woolfs were so smitten with Ireland that they even considered buying a house in Glengariff, County Cork.
When I traveled to Ireland in February of 2004, I photographed the sites I visited that Woolf mentioned in her diary. You’ll find some of those photos on this page, paired with quotes from Woolf’s 1934 diary entries.
You can also read more in a previous post.
Into the West: County GalwayDiary, 30 April 1934
Left: A lonely Irish cottage in County Galway in western Ireland, an area in which Woolf spent some time during her 1934 trip to the Emerald Isle with Leonard.
“the sea blue, stone coloured or deep black: the waves tossing their hair back.”- Diary, 4 May 1934
“No, it wouldn’t do living in Ireland, in spite of the rocks and the desolate bays.”-Diary, 6 May 1934
During their stay in Galway, Leonard and Virginia stayed at the Great Southern Hotel in Galway City. Builtin 1845 and located in Eyre Square, it was recently renamed the Hotel Meyrick.
“G. Thompson whom we found sitting before his Greek books in a little room looking on the sea came to the hotel after dinner … He teaches 6 [?] Galways Greek in Irish.”Diary, 4 May 1934
In Travels with Virginia Woolf, Jan Morris explains that Thompson was a lecturer in Ancient Classics at University College, where Gaelic — or Irish — is still extensively used (145).
“So on to Galway which has 2 great bookshops, otherwise wild, poor, sordid.”- Diary, 4 May 1934
Below: Galway City has changed dramatically since Woolf was there. It is now a lively, growing place with new construction on the outskirts and young people everywhere. It still has great bookshops, including Kenny’s Bookshop on High Street, a longtime Galway fixture, although it has changed locations over the years.
The Woolfs visited Dublin on the final leg of their journey. Jan Morris tells us they stayed at the now defunct Russell Hotel on St. Stephen’s Green.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
One of the highlights of their stay in Dublin — and a sight that merited a long entry in Virginia’s diary — was their visit to the Protestant St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Its exterior is pictured below.
Dean Swift’s grave
Of particular interest to Virginia was the grave of Jonathan Swift, who served as dean of the cathedral from 1713 until his death in 1745. Relics of Swift kept at St. Patrick’s in the “Swift Corner” include a death-mask, some of his written works, a chair that he used in the deanery, an altar-table from his church at Laracor and a pulpit he used.
“…Over the door are the tremendous words: & in front of the door a diamond shaped brass, to mark the dean’s tomb.”- Diary, 8 May 1934
Jan Morris translates the “tremendous words” above the door as “Where Save Indignation Can No Longer Tear the Heart.”
Above: Swift’s grave and the diamond-shaped brass piece set in the floor to mark it.
Below: Swift epigraph, which hangs to the right of his grave.
Stalls of the Knights of St. Patrick
“…the old verger…showed us the stalls of the Knights of St Patrick, with their helmets & arms, one the Prince of Wales’s another the Duke of Connaught’s `but they dont come here now’…”-Diary, 8 May 1934
The Knights of St. Patrick was founded by King George III in 1783 as an honour for influential peers in Ireland. The last great ceremony held in Saint Patrick’s was in 1868 when the Prince of Wales was invested as a knight.
St. Stephen’s Green
“The scene is St Stephen’s Green [Dublin], an Irish attempt at Lincoln’s Inn fields, just as Merrion Squareattempts Bedford Sqre & so on.”-Diary, 8 May 1934
Below: Entrance to Archbishop Ryan Park in Merrion Square in Dublin. The Georgian-style Merrion Square was laid out after 1762 and largely complete by early in the 19th century.