DUBLIN -- Given the choice -- which he isn't, given that he's been dead for 16 years -- would Samuel Beckett celebrate his 100th birthday in France, where he lived for more than half a century and wrote his eclectic oeuvre, or here in Ireland, the land of his birth and the place that produced in him the angst that made for such great art?
An absurd question -- of course. But to understand Beckett, you have to start here. And given how fond he was of the incongruous, what better time to travel to Ireland than for the centenary of his birth on April 13.
As it happens this year, that date is Holy Thursday, when the Roman Catholic Church marks Jesus' Last Supper with his Apostles. It's also Passover, when Jews celebrate the Hebrews' liberation from slavery in Egypt. And it is just a few days before Ireland resumes, after a 35-year hiatus, a parade to commemorate the Easter Rising of 1916, when a band of patriots took on the British Empire in a quixotic rebellion that ultimately succeeded because it so spectacularly failed.
Impending doom, everywhere. Beckett would love it.
There are Beckett centenary events in Paris, London, Tokyo, and New York. But where better to be than in Dublin, which hosted Beckett festivals in 1981 and 1986, to celebrate Beckett's 75th and 80th birthdays. He died in 1989, 20 years after being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
If Paris was Beckett's studio, Dublin was his canvas.
''In all his work," observed his biographer, Anthony Cronin, in ''Beckett: The Last Modernist," ''there is a city by the sea, a small coastal plain and mountains behind it."
That would be Dublin.
The granddaddy of all Beckett commemorations will be a symposium here April 5-9 at Trinity College, where Beckett was a student, teacher, and pretty good cricket player. The list of speakers is eye-popping, from Cronin to poet Paul Muldoon to actress Fiona Shaw to playwright Frank McGuinness, to writer Declan Kiberd.
But that's not all. The Gate Theater will stage his work simultaneously with the Barbican in London (''Endgame," along with poetry and prose readings, will be on at The Gate during the symposium). Films of Beckett's works will be shown at the Irish Film Institute. And there will be exhibits at the National Gallery of Ireland, the Royal Hibernian Academy, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, and the Douglas Hyde Gallery at Trinity. Radio Telefis Eireann, Ireland's national broadcaster, has commissioned radio and TV plays.
Beyond a roundtable talk about Beckett and the visual arts on April 9, the National Gallery has scheduled a Beckett exhibition from June 15-Sept. 17, appropriate because he spent so much time there during his Dublin days.
The streets of Dublin, meanwhile, will be infused with Beckett's characters, as street performers play out scenes from his work. Jenny Holzer, an American artist, will project quotations from Beckett's writings onto Dublin landmarks, so you can literally read the writing on the wall of Ireland's greatest nonliteralist.
One of the best things about Beckett in Ireland is that unlike James Joyce, he hasn't been crassly commercialized or overexposed. Here in Dublin, everybody lies and says they have read all of Joyce (a few questions about ''Finnegans Wake," which Beckett helped Joyce produce, will force the truth: They know the song of the same name). But even in the pubs, hardly anyone claims to have read all of Beckett, though everybody is familiar with ''Waiting for Godot."
Perhaps that is because while Beckett was from Ireland, he was not necessarily of it. Like Yeats, Wilde, and Shaw, he was a Protestant from the Anglo-Irish tradition. Born in 1906 and coming of age during the country's most tumultuous era of the 20th century, it was not the fervent nationalism in his homeland that shaped him as an artist as much as his experience with totalitarianism under the Nazi occupation of his adopted home. Nonetheless, Ireland is central to Beckett's consciousness, and to understanding the man.
There was nothing Left Bank about Beckett's youth. He grew up in Foxrock, an affluent suburb in south County Dublin. Cooldrinagh, his family's sprawling Tudor-style home, is still there at the corner of Brighton Road and Kerrymount Avenue. There are many Foxrock characters in Beckett's writing. Mr. Farrell, the persnickety railroad station master in the Foxrock of his youth, is Mr. Barrell in ''All That Fall." If much of Dublin has changed almost beyond recognition in the last 15 years, Foxrock has not. It is remarkably like what it was a century ago, the bastion of Dublin's well-to-do.
Something that also has not changed is the Dublin Mountains, which aren't really mountains, and which Beckett and his father, Willie, tramped through regularly. If there is one treasure that visitors to Dublin probably ignore most it is the Dublin Mountains, which lie just beyond the city. Head out the Glencullen Road, toward Three Rock Mountain and Prince William's Seat, and you'll be retracing Beckett's steps, places and memories that surface so often in his writing.
There are nonliterary ways to commemorate Beckett. You can play a round of golf at Portmarnock, the famous links course just north of Dublin. Beckett, who played the courses at Portmarnock and Royal Dublin often in his youth, at one point carried a handicap of 6, something he probably didn't brag about to his avant garde buddies.
Walking through the archway at the Front Gate into the main quadrangle at Trinity, you will see the same things -- gray cobblestones, patches of verdant grass, the imposing Campanile -- that Beckett did when he first went there in 1923. In the previous seven years, starting with the Easter Rising, Ireland had gone through a rebellion, a war of independence, and a civil war. But it all touched Beckett lightly, primarily because of his privileged background.
Trinity's walled campus is an urban oasis smack in the middle of Dublin's southside. Tourists flock to the Book of Kells in the Old Library. Less sampled is a walk to The Pavilion, a pub overlooking the College Park cricket pitch. Beckett liked his pints, but usually avoided the more famous literary pubs around Grafton Street, preferring the working-class pubs of Pearse Street and Westland Row.
When I lived in the Dublin suburb of Dun Laoghaire in 1997 and 1998, one of the great simple pleasures was walking the East Pier with my wife and sons. We would watch the ferry from Wales, which the old folks still call the mail boat, slide into or out of the harbor. Watching the mail boat is something Beckett did often. There has been considerable academic debate about the ''creative revelation" that Beckett had in 1946 while visiting Ireland. In the interest of keeping the deep and profound somewhat shallow and brief, let's just say the relevation led Beckett to replace omniscience with uncertainty in his writing. Many assumed that revelation came to him on the pier in Dun Laoghaire, because in ''Krapp's Last Tape" there is a vivid description of waves crashing over a granite causeway.
Beckett later told friends the revelation took place as he stood on a small jetty in Killiney Harbor, a few miles south of Dun Laoghaire. Both places are worth visiting, if only to see what Beckett saw.
Beckett wasn't as bitter about Ireland in general and Dublin in particular as, say, his friend Joyce. But after leaving it, he found it increasingly difficult to return for visits. He had a difficult relationship with his mother, and he dreaded his annual visit to Foxrock.
Beckett believed the Dublin of his time -- poor and conservative and insecure -- sapped the creativity of many. He once assured Martin Esslin, the theater academic and critic, that he had nothing against Ireland. Then why, Esslin asked, did Beckett live in Paris? Beckett replied, ''Well, you know, if I were in Dublin, I would just be sitting around in a pub."
Contact Kevin Cullen, the Globe's former Dublin bureau chief, at email@example.com.