I’ve heard it said that we can’t live on organic bread alone. Accepting that, I went to Ennistymon, a tiny town that – on a per capita basis – probably has more locavore artisan chefs preparing wonderful food in tiny cafes and restaurants than most places on the planet. By the way, it’s just a short walk from the ocean.
And how did I find this piece of heaven? Why else? I was looking for a bookstore on the Irish Times list. But more on that later. The town, like its food, may be an acquired secret taste. The morning I left for there I was chatting with the barista making my second cup. After she learned my destination, she gave me one of those quizzical looks that ask why in god’s name would anyone want to go there. Her words were slightly more polite. And this in a town just an hour’s drive away from Ennistymon. I realized then that I should expect either a big disappointment or a hidden treasure in the first truly new destination on this journey. I’m happy to report the latter. As politely as she could, the barista had also told me that the beach at Lahinch well worth the walk if I didn’t want to just stay on the bus through Ennistymon to go directly to Lahinch.
Through the years I’ve been lucky enough to wander through a bunch of towns like this, wonderful food, magnificent local art that I’d love to buy but have no place to put, and generally a nice ambience in a scenic part of the world. Ennistymon has all of these, including the cascading River Cullenagh.
The town’s only bookstore has the usual eclectic collection of used books, including a shelf full of German books that includes the collected works of Sean O’Casey. Naturally you’ll find children’s books in a child-sized alcove under the steps and cook books sharing shelf space with other subjects in the kitchen. If the weather’s nice there’s a wonderful garden, as well.
But the store’s real reason for being is poetry. Going under the name of The Salmon Bookshop & Literary Centre, the store is the retail face of the Salmon Poetry imprint. Their collection of new books of poetry is impressive. Among their earlier editions is Irish President Michael D. Higgins’ first collection of poetry, 1991’s Betrayal. While it wasn’t in stock on the day I was there, I was intrigued by – and bought – Birnam Wood, by Jose Manuel Cardona. Its title caught my eye, the first few verses my heart. I’m looking forward to reading it and absorbing it in the upcoming weeks.
Oh, and my personal attention story for the week: While I was waiting to pay, the woman at the till was gently and thoroughly helping an American woman set an appointment with a local GP. Once that issue was sorted, she gave her a lesson on pronouncing an Irish name, Siobhàn.
I walked out the door into low clouds, falling rain and a blowing wind. Since I wasn’t dressed or in the mood for a Robert Macfarlane-type walk to the beach, I’ll need to schedule my return visit for a nicer day. And if it’s not a nice day, I’ll spend more time eating.
Limerick. The last time I was in town I wanted to spend money on a book that I couldn’t find. ( https://jpmaney.com/nothing-worth-buying/ ). Now I’m like a kid spending Christmas morning in a combined candy shop and toy store. O’Mahony’s has a modest street-front look, concealing multiple open-planned levels for exploration. I walked past the usual best seller and new releases at the doorway, figuring I’d find them in smaller stores. Wandering through the departments my biggest decision was how to limit my spending. I decided on another book by Colum McCann, since I loved – and will re-read – Thirteen Ways of Looking.
I’ll admit to having some help in making my decision. The store had just opened and the sales staff was sipping their coffee and tea, setting up their tills, unpacking boxes and stocking shelves. I couldn’t help overhear their chatter – not about bands, films or fashion, but about books. I loved hearing the love and enthusiasm in their voices, talking about the books they’ve read and recommending good reads to each other. My McCann purchase hadn’t been on the shelf for more than five minutes when I pulled it. Thank you, ladies, for your enthusiasm and reminding me why I came to your store.
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.