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The National Library – Fountain of Knowledge

National Library

National Library

As a nation in love with words and writing, the National Library of Ireland is the vault where all the treasure is kept. Irish writers have made a significant and profound contribution to the world for centuries, and much of their original works are safeguarded in the building on Kildare Street that opened its doors in September 1890. It was designed by the architect Thomas Deane and proved to be very popular from the start.

The library traces its history from the Royal Dublin Society which was founded in 1731 ‘..for improving husbandry, manufactures and other useful arts and sciences’. A Royal Charter, which included an annual allowance, was granted in 1749. In 1836 a Select Committee recommended that the library should not just be accessible to a select few but opened as a National Library. At that time most of the library’s books were of a scientific nature, and future acquisitions included books with a more general nature and, of course, those with an Irish interest. In 1840 one of its earliest purchases was the collection of 17th century Irish pamphlets which was bought from the London bookseller Thomas Thorpe.

The library is open to one and all and is for reference purposes only – you cannot borrow books! The building’s main space, The Reading Room, is spectacular and definitely worth a visit. In recent years with the surge of public interest in tracing Family History, the Genealogy Department has become an important part in the search.

Reading Room

Reading Room

With such a large amount of material available the library holds many exhibitions and lectures. The WB Yeats exhibition is permanent affording the visitor a ‘comprehensive view of the great poet’. The library also holds many important papers belonging to James Joyce (early workings of Ulysses) and those of Roddy Doyle, Seamus Heaney, Colm Toibin and Brian Friel.

The library also holds the National Photographic Archive which is based in Meeting House Square, Temple Bar. Over 20,000 negatives have now been digitised and they are available online.

WB Yeats Exhibition

WB Yeats Exhibition

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Second Hand, First Class!

Although the city has lost many of its favourite, second-hand bookshops in recent years, it’s good to see that quite a few have sprung up to fill the gap. In these straitened times it’s great news that readers can buy books at the ‘right price’, and long may it continue. These second-hand bookshops serve a growing need  and, in the process, are establishing themselves with their appreciative and growing, customers numbers.

Sweny's Pharmacy

Sweny’s Pharmacy

Some shops sell a range of genres while others serve a niche market. One such shop is Sweny’s in Lincoln Place  which  specialises in Irish books, where you can get anything from Roddy Doyle, Sebastian Barry to William Trevor, James Joyce or Oscar Wilde. The shop was, in a previous life, a pharmacy and it still retains many of the original features. It has its own unique place in Irish literary history as it is mentioned in Joyce’s Ulysses. In fact, they hold weekly readings of the great man’s work, which is worth considering if you, like many others, have trouble in getting to grips with reading the difficult but ultimately rewarding book. And, there’s always a complementary cup of tea on offer!

Sweny's - living history...

Sweny’s – living history…

All these shops have their own unique atmosphere, something which makes browsing all the more interesting. Some are small, almost hidden away upstairs in old shops or markets, all vying for much-needed attention and trade. On the other hand, Chapters (Parnell Street) is probably the biggest of them all, and it has plenty of reduced new titles on sale. Upstairs is the second-hand section and it is well laid out and stuffed with books. The shelves are full and there are a few seats where readers can sit and ‘dip-into’ a  book before buying. It’s a nice feature, and something that I have often taken advantage of. Also, the shop will do ‘trade-ins’ of your old books, either for cash or credit, and that can’t be bad.

Chapters

Chapters – stuffed with books!

So, check out the second-hand shops, either in town or in your locality, they are worth a visit and, more importantly, worth supporting.

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Crime Pays Off!

Hi there,

Congratulations to Dublin writer Gene Kerrigan for winning the CWA’s Gold Dagger for his book The Rage. If you want gritty realism and a brilliantly paced crime thriller with believable characters then Kerrigan is your man –  and this is a real cracker. It’s a first-rate effort! If you haven’t read any of his work then check him out – you will not be disappointed. Well done!

Next week sees the opening of the Dublin Book Festival which promises to be a highlight for all literary fans. There will be a full programme of events  for all ages in various locations; workshops; interviews and readings from the great and good including Roddy Doyle, Jennifer Johnston, Fintan O’Toole, Declan Hughes and many others. It should be well worth checking out.

I was at a music recital last week – Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart – and it was most enjoyable indeed. Listening to Mozart I was reminded of another evening when I went to the National Concert Hall with my mother, which sometime later inspired me to write a short story. It’s called Mum & Mozart and please let me know what you think, thanks.

Mum & Mozart

‘If music be the food of love play on’ always makes me smile, especially when I think about my mother. She was a music fan, a lover indeed, and this famous line from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was something that she truly, deeply believed in. Our house was never quiet when mum was around. The sounds of opera and orchestras drifted from big 33 1/3 rpm records she treated like family heirlooms. They were her pride and joy and she loved nothing more than tearing the cellophane from a new disc and placing it reverently on the turntable. I remember the look of anticipation on her face as the needle dropped, scratched and hissed momentarily, before the strains of violin, piano, soloist or quartet made her smile the broadest of smiles. It was transfixing and one of my earliest, and happiest, childhood memories.

It was no wonder then that growing up with such a lover of music I was encouraged to get involved and for many years I took piano lessons. Although I practised hard, and recall the touch of her hand gently squeezing my shoulder as she whispered ‘That’s nice, really nice’. We both knew that I was never going to be the next Mozart. It didn’t matter to her as long as I tried and I grew to love the Austrian maestro and his many wonderful works. Of all the great composers she introduced me to on my musical journey, Mozart’s warm, inspiring and exuberant music is something that has stayed with me and for which I am always and happily in her debt.

She did not come from a very musical home herself but they were very enthusiastic for their daughter. She was taken to singing lessons and concerts whenever possible and this was something of a treat for such a young girl. She would recall the old gramophone with its box of needles. The records were heavy, black vinyl plates that all too often became scratched and cracked. She spent hours in record shops and got to know the best places to go. Sometimes the owners gave her free records recognising her great love of music. She collected music by all the great composers and was as knowledgeable of classical music as anybody I have ever known. I found a few of her old records recently in the attic, the sleeves dusty and torn, and wondered how many times did she slide them out and put them on her record player? Countless, no doubt, I thought, as I gently clean them off and place them beside my own CD collection. They look out of place but they sound just as good.

As I grew up pop and rock music became a bigger part of my life. I listened to the radio and discovered The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Wonder and countless other bands that now I cannot remember. Their music made an impression some good, some bad, and it was discussed endlessly with friends late into the night – our own musical rite of passage. Some of us were fans of one band or another and we took great delight in defending our own personal favourites. We were committed to the music and I came to understand why my mother had such a love of this mystical medium. You cannot touch it, taste or smell it, but you can certainly feel it. Music inspires and lifts the soul, expressing happiness and sadness that words could never hope to do. The magic of music is wonderful and it always had the power to surprise and make me feel better throughout my life.

In later years I accompanied my mother to concerts and operas in the National Concert Hall and The Gaiety Theatre, nights out that I remember fondly. The one that stands out for me and the one which illustrates her love of music was a Mozart night in the National Concert Hall. The foyer was abuzz with excitement long before the start. We sat with our drinks and my mother was bubbling excitedly looking at the happy faces and listening to the friendly conversations around her. ‘Isn’t it wonderful?’ she asked and I grinned a reply.

When we were seated she immediately leaned forward to look over the balcony at the milling crowd below and the stage beyond. She sat back in her seat, clasped her hands tightly and nodded her head slowly in response to some inner rhythm. With the seats filled and the doors closed the lights were dimmed and the performers took to the stage. Silence descended and you could almost hear the audience breath as one waiting for the music to begin.

It opened with a rousing version of the Overture to the Marriage of Figaro which was loudly applauded. There followed some beautifully played piano concertos and his Clarinet Concerto, which is my own personal favourite. Every so often I would glance at my mother and see the concentration and happiness on her face, but it was when the singers took the stage that I saw what I can only describe as a transformation. She was  in her eighties then, but the singing seemed to unlock something within her and I was privileged to see it. During the Sull’aria, from the Marriage of Figaro, I heard my mother sing very quietly, like the whisper over my shoulder from a lifetime ago. I had never heard her sing like that before and I was immensely proud. When I glanced at her again I didn’t see an old woman sitting beside me but a young girl lost in music, bright-eyed with her whole life ahead of her.

When it finished she smiled at me and it took all the strength I had not to cry. It was a magical moment and I’m sure even Herr Mozart would agree that he had struck the right chord and that music is indeed the food of love.

Herr Mozart

WA Mozart

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