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How a Little-Known Dublin Book Fest Transformed Into an A-Lister Summer Favorite

Seeing Tom Hanks and U2’s lead singer Bono together, without being swarmed by selfie-seekers, seems unlikely. But there they were, walking down a quiet street in an Irish village, heads down and chatting. Locals gave them space. Somewhere nearby are Bono’s bandmates, the Edge and Larry Mullin Jr., as well as British actor Stephen Fry, authors Colm McCann, Roddy Doyle and Richard Ford, as well as dozens of other art luminaries from Ireland, the UK, and the US.  

No, it’s not Cannes or the Oscars. But in the world of star-studded events, the Dalkey Book Festival—set in the quaint, seaside village south of Dublin—punches above its weight, precisely because it’s so damn low-key. No less than Salman Rushdie called Dalkey, “the best little festival in the world,” and increasingly, it’s a premier literary event that’s being penciled into the calendars of jet setters the world over.

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Dalkey Book Festival
U2’s Bono and Tom Hanks were headliners at the Dalkey Book Festival. Also in the photo are Sian Smyth, co-founder of the festival and Andrea Catherwood who interviewed Hanks.

Started as a pop-up in 2010, featuring mostly Irish authors, today it’s a four-day cultural extravaganza, running from June 13 to 16, with music, comedians, movies, and more, attracting some 20,000 people. It follows a similarly high-brow event called The Borris House Festival of Writing and Ideas, which runs June 7 to 9 at an 18th-century country estate in Carlow. Together, the fests make Dublin a red-hot ticket for the month of June with value-adds that include 17 hours of daylight, temperatures in the 70s, and pub life that’s in full swing.

Dublin’s swishest stay during any event is the Westbury Hotel just off tony Grafton Street—where starting rates can spike to $2,000 per night—with an unbeatable prime central location, upscale amenities and genuine sense of Irish welcome. Its competition is the more historic Shelbourne on St. Stephen’s Green and the InterContinental Dublin in the leafy, affluent suburb of Ballsbridge.

Borris House
Meanwhile, a half hour away at the Festival of Writing and Ideas, actor Jeremy Irons reads poetry.

At the Westbury, the afternoon tearoom and the Sidecar cocktail lounge are the social hubs where you’ll spot the best of the fest. The rooms lean modern, but retain an early 20th-century feel with signature teacups with Tiffany Blue stripes, marble bathrooms, Liddell linens, and large windows overlooking Balfe Street. The Westbury recently opened 18 lavish new suites, including a mega-suite named after the hotel’s founder, PV Doyle.

Having checked in here and with literary pursuits top of mind, take the five-minute stroll to Trinity University, a walled enclave founded in the 16th century. Trinity’s big draw is the legendary Book of Kells, located in the historic Long Room library near works by Irish writers and Trinity alum like Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, and Jonathan Swift.

Dublin Ireland Temple Bar
Post-festival, Dublin’s city center is the place for foodies and nightlife.

At the other end of Grafton Street is St. Stephen’s Green, an 18th-century park with benches, duck ponds, and sculptures of Irish historical figures. Both make great timeouts from the crowded luxury retail district.

For newcomers, the Guinness Storehouse, St. Patrick’s and Christchurch cathedrals, Dublin Castle, the National Museum and Art Gallery are classic guidebook stopping points. But for those who want to get off the beaten track, the Iveagh Gardens (with the Museum of Literature), Powerscourt Center, the Hugh Lane Gallery at Trinity, and the Little Museum of Dublin will pack out your day.

Dublin City Center
June is the best time to visit Dublin, with 17 hours of daylight and warm temperatures.

After, refresh at one of the city’s top-of-class bars and restaurants—the fine-dining scene in Ireland has never been better. Rosa Madre in Temple Bar and Peploe’s on Stephen’s Green are reliable stops for Italian and French, respectively, but Michelin-starred eateries Liath and Chapter One are reservation musts. For pubs, the big tourist draws are The Cobblestone, Toners, McDaid’s, and The Brazen Head. But to drink like a local hit The Confession Box, The Bleeding Horse, and The Celt in the city center.

A trip by ferry to Howth, accessible from the Dublin quays, carries you into a very different environment—a quaint fishing village that used to mark the northernmost point of Dublin. Home to Dublin’s old money, Howth has a collection of excellent seafood restaurants like Aqua, overlooking the moody Irish Sea.

Westbury Hotel Sidecar Lounge
Pub life can range from traditional speakeasies to The Sidecar craft cocktail lounge in the Westbury Hotel.

The newer money sloshes south of Dublin in coastal enclaves like Dalkey—although it has retained its village charm with pubs that pack shoulder to shoulder during the Book Festival, small cafes, and, of course, bookstores.

The Irish have a way of combining high-brow ideas with belly laughs. At last year’s Dalkey Book Festival, Hanks hit it out of the park in a standing-room-only church. He spoke about his breakout role in Splash with Darryl Hannah, throwing in a killer impression of director Ron Howard, and then about his last time in Ireland, in 1997, shooting the Normandy beach scene for “Saving Private Ryan.”

Hanks, appropriately dressed in all black like a budding novelist, also waxed literary about his book, The Making of Another Major Motion Picture—which he wrote on a manual typewriter. “What thrills me about typewriters is that they are meant to do one thing only and with the tiniest amount of effort, maintenance, it will last a thousand years,” he said.

Merrion Square
Beyond its bustling streets, Dublin also has large green spaces like St. Stephen’s Green with, naturally, busts of Irish literary figures.

Afterwards, celebrity physicist Brian Cox was interviewed by The Edge, in a talk entitled “Particle physics, dark matter and guitar riffs.” Dozens of other presentations, comedy skits, readings and Ted-style talks took place during the four-day event.

At Borris, the Festival of Writing and Ideas has a similar eclectic mix of authors and celebrities, but a mood more like a medieval carnival, with tents, sheep wandering around, and colorful banners on the grounds of the old Irish mansion, Borris House. A mini Irish answer to Davos, topics ranged from how AI will impact the US presidential election to true-crime writing techniques, along with readings from the likes of Jeremy Irons.

Sure, it’s not the Monaco GP or the Met Gala, but for A+ highbrow schmoozing without the crowds, Dublin is currently offering the world’s best bang for the buck.

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