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Capital works extend the gift of knowledge throughout the county

Clare Champion, 13th May 2005

Very few people remember the small room with paraffin oil heaters and sometimes, damp walls that once housed the magical world of books in County Clare. Despite the dreary surroundings the library was always a special place, much loved by its dedicated readers and although often badly under resourced, still played a vital role in the life of local communities, thanks to the incredible devotion of the Library Staff.

County Clare, of course, was no exception. Clare County Librarian Noel Crowley recalls his earliest experiences of going to the library in his native Cork and outlines how the service has developed in Clare. “I remember only too well the unfriendly atmosphere of Cork City Library’s Juvenile Library. “Even the name conjures up images of delinquents and we could be forgiven for feeling unwanted,” said Noel. “There were many fine and friendly staff in the then juvenile section of the City Library but overall children were just about tolerated. “Children could only use the library for a few hours a day and one had better not be heard. Get in, select a book and then get out seemed to be the best policy and you were in serious trouble if you did not return a book on time or made noise.”

A humorous incident at the start of his working career harked back to this scenario. “I well remember my first day reporting for duty as a staff member of the City Library. I was met on the corridor by a senior member of staff who informed me ‘I know you – I threw you out of juvenile’. “How things have changed in the library world throughout this country and in county Clare in particular. The infrastructure and resources now available are so much better and one can only feel sorry for many of our ex-colleagues who worked so hard with very limited resources.”

The opening of the de Valera Branch Library in 1975 was a huge landmark in county Clare, according to Noel. This was followed by purpose-built libraries in Ennistymon (1981), Kilrush (1981), Newmarket-on-Fergus (1982), and Shannon (1983). “These libraries became the bedrock of the library service and set a standard not just for the county but for the rest of provincial Ireland,” said Noel. Minister Dick Roche, on a recent visit to the de Valera Library, pointed out that the five new libraries have issued some 8.5 million books since they were opened.

Many other buildings were made available, some with the help of central funds, but many projects were completed thanks to a partnership approach with local communities or a combination of local partnership and some central funding. Projects in this category were Tulla Market House (1986), Corofin (1992), Miltown Malbay (1995), Lisdoonvarna (1999), Sixmilebridge (2000), Kilmihil and Cranny (2003) and Kildysart (which also involved County Clare VEC and the Department of Education) in 2003. The library also took over the administration of the Sweeney Memorial Library, Kilkee, in 1985. Capital projects were completed in 1988 at The Manse – the Local Studies Centre – the Killaloe Branch in 1994 and major renovation of the Library Headquarters also in 1994. Within the next twelve months the new purpose-built library at Scariff will complete a hectic period of library buildings.

Noel stressed, however, “Buildings are nothing without stock and staff and the expertise and devotion of the staff of Clare County Library has contributed hugely to the success of the building programme.” Some 500,000 visits to libraries are recorded every year with almost as many book issues. A total of 120,000 Internet sessions have also been clocked up annually and there’s a constant stream of requests for general and local history information. Noel described that library as “A truly multi-purpose venue”. Services include music, talking books, language centre, reader’s guides, literature promotion, genealogy and internet access.

“Clare Library has 17 service points around the county and the service point that never closes at We have already had 1.5 million hits on the site with a growing fan club all over the world. “All this development could not have happened without the outstanding support of the elected members of Clare County Council. They can be proud of their achievements and complimented on their vision and long may it continue,” says Noel.

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