A Trip to the Library Starts Lifelong Voyage of Discovery

Irish Examiner, Tuesday, 15th May 2001

by Gordon Deegan

Library members surfing the net at de Valera Library, Ennis

Library members surfing the net at terminals in de Valera Library, Ennis.
Picture: Kieran Clancy

Adventure is always to be found at the turn of a page. For the Ex Libris project, well-known book-lovers cite the volumes that made a lasting impression on them. Gordon Deegan says a book makes an invaluable companion whatever your age. ‘Books have raised the flagging spirit, touched the soul and have been my escape routes to strange and exotic lands and distant other worlds while offering a glimpse into the very soul of the writer’.  

Widely regarded as the jewel in the crown of the many services Clare County Council provides, Clare County library is currently celebrating the role libraries play in modern life. As part of the library’s Ex Libris project, under the guidance of Eleanor Feeley, the project contacted many of the country’s most famous personalities to obtain their views on the value of libraries and books in their lives. According to project director Eleanor Feeley: "At any age a good book is a great companion and I believe that many of the letters on the website highlight this." 

Noel Crowley and Triona McInerney in de Valera Library, Ennis

County Librarian, Noel Crowley, and Triona McInerney, Assistant Chief Executive, Eircom Ennis Information Age Town, in the library.
Picture: Kieran Clancy

In his response to Eleanor’s request, one of the pioneering influences in the Mid-West in the last 50 years, Brendan O’Regan, wrote: "I have always enjoyed library visits and firmly believe that the path to learning is in reading books. Through the reading of books, knowledge, adventure and laughter all become possible at the turn of a page. More importantly, we learn of other cultures, people’s lives, their struggles, successes and failures and gain a better understanding of them and in turn of ourselves. He adds: "When I was growing up, apart from in cities and large towns, there were few, if any, libraries in rural villages. I am glad to say that over the years this trend has been changing and soon the small part-time branch library based at the Court House in Sixmilebridge will move to a new modern facility at the restored de-consecrated Church of Ireland building". Brendan says that one of his favourite books is The Silent People by Walter Macken because "it gives the most vivid description imaginable of the strong character of the Irish people during the tragedy of the famine".

Recalling memories from his childhood, one of Ennis’s Franciscan friars, Brother Adrain, writes: "My parents encouraged reading when I was growing up and so I joined the local library in Dublin, which was in Pearse Street. It had a wonderful children’s section and I read everything I could get my hands on. I loved adventure stories, mysteries and especially who-done-its; I still do." His favourite recent book was Dava Sobel’s Galileo’s Daughter.

Sile de Valera
Sile de Valera, Minister
for the Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, whose favourite book is Wuthering Heights.
Picture: Kieran Clancy.

In her contribution to the project, Arts and Heritage Minister Sile de Valera says: "Libraries are the key that open the door to the magic world of books; the key that makes that world accessible to everyone. Long may that depository of knowledge, wisdom and pleasure continue. To choose one single book that influenced me is very difficult, but when I am asked for a list of my favourite books I usually include Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. A great and tragic love story, its combination of beauty and savagery, tenderness and cruelty, has moved and inspired generations.

In his contribution, PJ Curtis’s obvious love of libraries and books shines through. He writes: "Ever since learning to read at my mother’s knee – aged five or six – I have nurtured an undying passion for reading and for books. Alongside my all-consuming passion for music, books and the great libraries that house them play a hugely important part of my life. I cannot imagine a day passing without opening a book and getting lost in the world it offers. "From my first great adventures as a boy into the fabulous worlds of the written word, books have enriched my life. They have captivated and fired my imagination, expanded my knowledge while challenging accepted ‘truths’. They have raised the flagging spirit, touched the soul and have been my escape routes to strange and exotic lands and distant other worlds while offering a glimpse into the very soul of the writer." He adds: "Libraries are the true treasure houses of the civilised world. A visit to a library is to enter into a special space – a ‘sacred’ space – that offers the reader a world of wonder, of information and of learning and a universe of possibilities. "When I think of the millions of words, the intellectual fruit of the greatest minds of this and other times, capable of conveying great thoughts, flights of fancy, revealed secrets, new ideas, the exposed mind of genius – sometimes illuminating, sometimes dark, and all this is available to me, within the pages of books here contained row after row, on library shelves. And all I have to do is reach out. When I think on this whilst in a library, I stand in awe and in wonder."

In her contribution, President Mary McAleese wrote: "Einstein said that imagination is more important than knowledge and time and again the rich human imagination is found in books. There is no better hobby, no better way to spend time than in the company of books. I have always enjoyed reading and one of my favourite books is DK Broster’s Flight of the Heron. I read it as a child and regret that I was never able to find it again to read it to my children. 

In his letter to the Library Arts Project, governor of Mountjoy Prison John Lonergan writes: "I can vividly recall the first book I borrowed – it was Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stephenson. I must have been attracted by the word ‘treasure’ in the title. "I was an active member of the local library in my youth and I found it a most fascinating place. Reading is such a wonderful gift. It has the potential to be educational, stimulating, relaxing, entertaining, enjoyable and challenging. We owe so much of our knowledge to reading". He says one of his favourite books is Tuesday with Morrie by Mitch Albom which he describes as "an excellent book, putting life into its proper perspective".

Gay Byrne discovered public libraries aged 14
Gay Byrne, who discovered the public libraries aged 14, and thereafter cycled to his local branch twice a week.

Offering his insight, broadcasting legend Gay Byrne wrote: "I suppose I first discovered the public libraries in Dublin when I was about 14 years of age, and thereafter they became a constant source of delight and learning. Describing his first interaction with libraries, he says: "We lived on the South Circular Road, and the Inchicore library was about two miles away. I cycled there at least twice a week and twice a week took out two books, which was then the allowance. "I was delighted in my discovery of Sherlock Homes – there were several books of the Conan Doyle Adventures – and began to realise what the powers of observation could do for you. "From the public libraries I gained a love of books and reading which has remained through my life. Later, in the busy world of TV and radio, I invariably got only the chance to SKIM rather than READ, in hasty preparation for some programme or other. I remember the public libraries with huge fondness and with a deep sense of gratitude for giving me the lifelong joy of reading."

Nuala O'Faolain
Nuala O'Faolain contributed to the Ex Libris project by saying her best childhood memories are of reading books borrowed from public libraries.
Picture: Leon Farrell.

Author and journalist Nuala O’Faolain wrote: "Every single memory I have of excitement and understanding and consolation – the real things – when I was a child, came from books, and the books came from public libraries. "Then and now, a public library is my favourite space – the place where I feel most an individual and most a citizen. There wasn’t a children’s section in my local library when I was a child so I read volume after volume of Stories from the Opera. God only knows what effect all that drama had on my developing personality!"

In his contribution, Bishop Willie Walsh writes: "The capacity to read and write is surely one of the greatest gifts we can enjoy in life. Public libraries have played a very significant role in helping us to enjoy that gift. "While I haven’t been using our library facilities to any significant extend in more recent years I did depend on them a great deal in the past. Renehan’s Collections on Irish Church History published in 1861, containing documents and letters from the 16th century, is one of the most treasured books which I have used from public libraries. This rare and valuable book reminded me that human frailties and sinfulness has always been part of our Church!"

In his contribution, Ian Paisley MP wrote: "Books are essential for the development of the mind. Indeed reading books is a way of exploring other people, countries and cultures."

Anyone wishing to make their own contributions to the website can do so by emailing mailbox@clarelibrary.ie

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