This Reading Life: Remembered Libraries
For each of the seven days of National Library Week 2015 the River-side blog will host responses from a group of seven contributors who were asked to nominate seven ‘formative’ books. The project is curated by Fergal Gaynor.
Charleville Mall Library, Dublin
Paul Tiernan: It was among the first of the municipal public libraries to be opened in Dublin during the early 20th century. It is situated by the banks of the Royal Canal on Dublin’s northside . . . just off North Strand.
This is where I, a son of returning emigrants and having spent my first 8 years in the relatively book-free wilds of Africa, was taken by my mother and grandmother to experience my first library. The children’s section, even then, didn’t have the sombre, slightly depressing air that the adult section had … and more importantly, what it did have were books and books … and even more books of all shapes and sizes … in alphabetical order!
The first book I chose was The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting … my grandmother approved … and with that I disappeared into a story that was written at the same time as the library I was sitting in was built.
Raymond Deane: Certainly my first books weren’t music books, but mention of Charleville Mall brings me to that subject. We moved to Griffith Avenue, Dublin 9, from Achill Island in 1963, and the following year I joined Marino public library. My main ambition was to borrow scores of piano music, but Marino didn’t have much of interest. However, when I found that you could use your tickets in any of the Dublin libraries, I got on my bicycle and explored everyone within reach.
I eventually found that Charleville Mall and Phibsboro had the best collections (Pearse Street was good, but further away). I would borrow, for example, Beethoven’s Complete Piano Sonatas, and keep renewing the 2 volumes until I had played through all 32 sonatas, upon which the volumes would go back and be replaced by, for example, the complete Hungarian Rhapsodies of Liszt, which I would also play through from first to last. This obsessive thoroughness, imposed by the nature of the situation, became characteristic of my approach to music for many years.
Eventually the music collections of the various libraries were centralised in Kevin Street, and later on in the Ilac Centre – but by then I had acquired much of the piano music myself, and had become far less interested in playing it … Another story entirely … However, the public library system had done its work well and I’ll be eternally grateful to it.
Trevor Joyce: Mark me down as another visitor to Charleville Mall Library. As I recall, you entered between partitions which were of glass from about shoulder height up, and they had a large collection of stamps, probably all Irish, on display around the walls, behind similar sheets of glass. I went there in the early sixties because it was within easy reach of O’Connell’s CBS, where I went to school.
Like Raymond, I used to walk or cycle between many of the branches, looking for books I wanted. Among my favourites were Phibsboro, where I first saw a decent reproduction of a Paul Klee painting (The Twittering Machine), and Thomas Street, which had William Benham’s The Laws of Scientific Hand Reading and an excellent book on poisons whose name I’ve forgotten, but whose author had actually ingested almost every one, and described their toxic effects first-hand.
My top favourite, though, was my local library in Capel Street, beside the pawn-shop. That was where, aged ten, I promoted myself to the senior library (‘minimum age, thirteen’), so I could borrow their collection of Fu Manchu books. They also ran lecture series for kids and interested adults. I hadn’t known there were such things as lectures, and I was fascinated to learn about ethology, composition in Renaissance paintings, and general natural history in Ireland (from J. Ashton Freeman himself, no less). It was like listening to the radio, but with hand-gestures and pictures.
I had one moment of glory there from which I still retain some smugness. A young guy was telling us about classical music, playing something by Beethoven where, he claimed, if you listened hard enough you could hear ‘Three Blind Mice’. I couldn’t. But he ended off with a record he obviously loved, conducting it with waving arms while he tried to get us to name the composer. The music stopped, and we still hadn’t got it, so he started feeding us clues. The composer spoke German, he lived in the 18th century, he was a famous prodigy. Now, I’d just been picking my way through the Oxford Junior Encyclopaedia volume on the arts, so after the first clue I said to the guy beside me, ‘That’s Mozart.’ (I probably didn’t know the names of any other German composers.) At each clue, I muttered ‘Mozart,’ to my neighbour and he told me to tell the lecturer if I was so fucking sure. At last, we were given the middle name ‘Amadeus’, and I just sat back, feeling vindicated, and far too superior to get involved in silly guessing games. Then the poor lecturer, in desperation, took a shilling out of his pocket, and offered it to anyone who could guess right. ‘Mozart!’ I yelled, and took his money and ran before anyone could demand it back.