Go west, old man – said my list of stores to see and books to buy. So just before we locked ourselves in our homes, I locked the car’s seat belt and hit the road for Kerry and Tipperary. It really wasn’t that long a way to Tipp. My arrival was marked by a unique sense of déjà vu. My exit with a minor case of synchronicity.
One of Cloughjordan’s claims to fame is its award-winning Ecovillage, something I didn’t know about until I did my homework, which as is my habit, I never do until after I’ve been someplace. My welcome to this town of 431 people came from a friendly dog lying in the middle of its main street. It would occasionally move from one side to the other to greet a pedestrian on the footpath or a driver leaving their car, like me. Greeting complete, he returned to his sunbeam on the street. He put my memory into a time machine, to a hamlet in upstate New York called McDonough [population in those days of 700-800]. I had a client there that I visited a dozen or so times a year. Like Cloughjordan, its main – and almost only – street was home turf to a friendly dog. I still remember hot summer days where the dog moved with the shade of the massive oak tree adjoining the street, preferring the shade to hot asphalt, but still wanting to control his turf. Wintertimes he sought the sunny patches.
We simply drove around him.And here’s where the sort-of-synchronicity comes in. Cloughjordan is the birthplace of Thomas MacDonagh, one of the heroes of 1916’s Easter Rising. A signatory of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, he was executed by the British in May, 1916. While the New York hamlet’s name predates him, the similarity of the names and my experiences in the two places made me feel right at home in a place I’d never been before.
Oh yes. I stopped into Sheelagh na Gig Books while I was there, as well. Had a great cup of coffee and browsed through one of the best collections of books by western and third-world authors on politics and ecology that I’ve seen this side of Berkeley. In addition to a few regulars from the Ecovillage, I also shared my coffee with a couple of women who were bicycling through town along the Beara-Breifne Way, which runs 500km from the tip of the Beara Peninsula to Cavan.
While I felt seriously at home and could have stayed there indefinitely, it was time to move on up the road to Listowel, where Brenda Woulfe’s store has her name on the door and her personality throughout. She noticed me working my way through her display of Very Interesting Books and asked about my reading tastes. I told her the truth. That I had no preconceived notions and was just looking for something to jump or fall off the shelf at me. A few questions later she recommended a Robert Harris book. I knew his name but since I’d never read any of his work, I bought it. Then, while making small talk I learned that many years ago she’d worked in Cork’s Vibes and Scribes, mentioning names of people who either aren’t there anymore or who I may know, but not by name. [I’m one of those people who never forget a face, but rarely remember a name.] So I naturally needed to buy another book from her, 101 Reasons Why Cork is Better than Dublin. To borrow a phrase, “I’m lovin’ it.”
Later that day I was playing tourist in Listowel and noticed what I’d missed on my way to her store – she’s next door to a major book chain’s franchise store. I’d come from the other direction and hadn’t noticed it before. I put my head back in the door and asked her what life was like sharing a wall with a competitor. She said all the polite things you’d expect about them not really being competition and serving two different customer types. To myself I wondered if I’d be so diplomatic. After trading some more stories about writers, readers and the state of the bookstore world I went next door and saw that she’d been telling me the truth. Where Brenda loves books, knows her inventory and customers, the franchise store was manned by a couple of teenagers who occasionally interrupted their texting to ring up some office supplies. The store did stock a selection of best sellers, but could be anywhere on the planet. Its generic window poster didn’t even mention books, where Woulfe’s display window was full of books clearly aimed at a local audience. Oh…and Woulfe’s bulletin board overflows with local events. She’s been here since 2006, leaving school supplies to her neighbor while taking care of Listowel’s literary needs, which includes being a sponsor of Listowel’s annual Writer’s Week. [ https://writersweek.ie/woulfes-bookshop-listowel-one-of-irelands-best-loved-independent-bookshops/ ]
Brenda didn’t treat me like a customer, but as a friend. Does book-loving qualify as a basis for instant friendship?
Dingle Bookshop – No need to talk about déjà vu here, since I’ve been here – and spent money here – a number of times through the years. My surprise of the trip? The number of people wandering Dingle’s streets on a cold, wet, windy miserable day months before tourist season begins. Hope they’re spending money with the local retailers. There’s a wonderful table of new releases at the door that had me considering how many books I could carry home. But then I remembered that I still have well over a dozen more stores to visit on this pilgrimage, so I’ll save some of my money for them.
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.