Museum of Literature Ireland: A 21st century museum for 21st century Ireland

The Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI), a joint venture between the National Library of Ireland and UCD, is due to open its doors to the public this summer. Located in Newman House, the original site of UCD, it aims to promote both the literary history of Ireland and the continuation of this legacy in the modern world. Simon O’Connor, the Director of MoLI, granted us at OTwo some of his time so that we can spread the word to UCD students about what their university is helping to do.

Our conversation started with the origins of the organisation. “The idea for the project came about as the result of a conversation between UCD and the National Library, really around the connection that the building had to Joyce, and then the fact that the library had very significant Joyce collections that weren’t on display.” This collection was the result of a two year long display called ‘ReJoyce’ which began in 2004, however the majority of the collection has not been displayed since, despite the libraries desire to find a way to keep it accessible to the general public. “The conversation started then, around 2010, and then a working group was established, which involved a lot of different people from the cultural and heritage sector, people from UCD and academics, and the idea of a Joyce exhibition in Newman House came about.”

Not just to have Joyce, but to have Joyce at the core

Around the same time the working group developed this idea, they received good news in the form of a philanthropic donation, which allowed them to hire an architect to convert the old exam hall within Newman House into a full exhibition space, as well as creating universal access within the site. “Newman House is actually composed of three buildings that were all built at different times, so access was quite complicated.” Due to this, as well as the inclusion of Appelbaum Associates in the project, their aims for the exhibition grew. “Not just to have Joyce, but to have Joyce at the core, but also explore Irish writing from pre-Joyce right up to the present.”

O’Connor did stress the connection to Joyce and UCD, however MoLI’s intentions are to expand outside of that niche focus. “We will also have a really active programme of events, both online and then physically within the site, that look at Irish writing from both the past and the present.”

We hope that the students in UCD will come to recognise the museum as part of their university that’s right in the city centre and that they can get involved themselves.

Outside of just the museum aspect of the project, which is impressive in and of itself, the library aims to host an adult learning programme. When asked if there would be any aspect he would suggest for university students, O’Connor responded, “we’ll actually be working quite closely with UCD on our learning programme.” He later expanded, “the education programme itself is a really big part of what we’ll be doing.” The programme is split between schools and adult learning, with a Transition Year bursary being made available by MoLI which would allow 20 fourth year students to come and take part in an immersive programme over the space of a week. “There’s a suite of educational components available outside of the exhibitions.” For adults and university students, there will be lecture series and seminars, alongside a specialised research library within the museum, which students will be able to access on request. “We hope that the students in UCD will come to recognise the museum as part of their university that’s right in the city centre and that they can get involved themselves.”

A brief look at their website confirms their high ambitions, with one of their main aims, a digital radio station, immediately apparent through both the overhead link, and a banner link at the end of each page. Despite the library not yet being open to the public, the radio has three podcasted shows at the time of printing. This is also an aspect of the library that, as director, O’Connor is greatly excited by. “We’re actually building a small recording studio in Newman House as part of the museum. There will be that facility to really broadcast the activity of the museum around the world.” This will work in tandem with their aims to create digital exhibition to allow a “80% public, 20% back office” style of museum, with the emphasis placed on public engagement and enjoyment.

The Museum of Literature Ireland is due to open its doors this summer. For more information, visit or email at