It was a miserable, blustery, sideways-raining several days. Minutes of glorious sunshine punctuated rolling black storm clouds emptying themselves on all of us stuck below. Or, to put things another way, it was just a normal winter’s day in the west of Ireland.
Weather like this is one of the reasons I wear glasses. [Besides the fact that I’ve never been able to work up the courage to poke a finger into each eye every morning]. Oh, back to the weather-related reason: I’m of average height, which means that whenever I’m walking down a street nearly everyone’s umbrella is at my eye level. My glasses have saved my vision more times than I can count.
Having said all that, braving the storm was not the reason for my journey. Visiting old friends, haunts and bookstores in Galway and Clifden was.
When Galway was my home away from home I haunted both Kennys and Charlie Byrne’s Bookshops. They were my go-to resources for both academic and casual reading. Then I was gone for a few years. I returned to find an empty space in the streetscape and a bigger one in my heart when I saw that Kennys wasn’t there anymore. I chalked it up to another casualty of the digital/mail order era, even though I knew of their world-wide mail-order business. I thought that, like all good things, it came to its end.
Then I was thrilled to learn I was wrong. Terribly wrong. Kennys had simply moved to a suburban office/industrial park, just a 20-minute walk from their old city centre location. The new location is much more suited to handling their massive international mail order business. I imagine that the large open floor space also makes things a bit easier for the staff and customers to navigate. And Charlie Byrne’s still satisfies my need for a rabbit’s warren of rooms and cubbyholes, full of treasures waiting to be discovered. Sure I wandered their more “serious” aisles, discovering and rediscovering some old resources. While my old room-sized collection now sits in a university library, each store still has volumes I remember along with others I would have loved. But that’s a past life. And besides, nearly all the books are used. While I’m very willing to contribute to the stores’ bottom line, I also want to buy something new, to contribute a few pennies to the author’s wallet, as well. And, in each case I bypassed the usual selection of new releases and best sellers. I can find them in smaller, rural stores. Here my mission was to take advantage of their inventory to find hidden [to me] treasures.
Enough of my history. Even if you never get to Galway, get to their websites. You’ll see why Charlie Byrne’s was named 2019’s Independent Bookshop of the Year by Bookseller Magazine. Both Byrne’s and Kennys are repeatedly long-listed, short-listed and winners of national and international awards. On second thought, get yourself to Galway, it’s a wonderful town for food and things to do, no matter what time of year you’re there.
It’s been a while since I’ve been in Clifden. And, since my memory is tied to landmarks rather than street names, it seemed like nothing much had changed since the days when I was learning wonderful facts about the trans-Atlantic flight of Alcock and Brown, which happened quite a while before my first visit there.
But once we open up our memories for examination, we usually find that things have changed. In this case, it’s been for the better: Clifden Bookshop opened in 1997. And even though it was a cold, rainy day with nary a tourist in sight, there was still a steady stream of locals through the doors for gossip and books. I gave up trying to overhear snatches of conversation because my remaining brain cells were more focused on the liquid filling my ears and sinuses. So I focused on the available books and made my selection. Book in hand, waiting in the queue, I had a sudden realization that I already owned it, sitting in my bedside to-be-read pile. So…back to the shelves. And when in doubt, rely on those handwritten recommendation cards taped to the shelf. I wound up with a crime novel which had been long-listed for a Man-Booker. Sounds like it might be a step up from my usual airport reading – and the addition of another author to my list.
And when you get to Clifden – be sure to stop by the café next door to the bookshop. Their soup is delicious – and it worked wonders on my head cold.
This piece is just one of a number I’ve written about my long-term love affair with books. If you’d like to see more simply click on the “Books” category below. You can also subscribe, so that you’ll see these blogs as they’re written, as opposed to social media’s algorithms. As the saying goes, if you like my writing, tell your friends. If you don’t, tell your enemies.CLIFDEN