herald

Sunday 17 December 2017

clever katey from the library stopped me going off to sea

I always get them mixed up. They were both Scots: one went to America and made a fortune in the steel industry; the other wrote a book called How to Make Friends and Confuse People. The man who went to America made such an enormous fortune that he used some of it to help the people of Britain and Ireland.

The County Council Hall in my home town is called the Carnegie building.

There was a court held there once a week which sentenced ruffians who had no lights on their bikes or who hadn't paid the licences for their dogs.

Upstairs there is a visible library, thanks to one of the Carnegies. It isn't as big as the libraries in county towns or in cities, but it has enough books to keep you reading all your life.

The woman in charge was more than a librarian: Katey Cahill was very well-read and could hold her own in any conversation about literature. She was a great advisor to people looking for books and a great encourager to young people.

intellectuals

Kerry has a variable climate and there was always a good fire in that room, summer or winter or in between. Around that fire on most nights you would find a little group who considered themselves intellectuals. They were mostly teachers and perhaps a few civil servants and perhaps a few uncivil servants.

We all discussed the affairs of Ireland and when we had finished, we discussed the affairs of the world. It was all good innocent controversy. Katey sometimes intervened but she mostly stayed in the background.

Katey Cahill and I became very good friends: I believe that the generation gap was invented by some American sociologist looking for the material for a thesis. It certainly didn't come between Katey Cahill and me. She was a very good-looking woman but she had never married. She lived in a house across the road from the library with her brother, John.

Katey persuaded me not to follow my intention to be a ship's captain because she said I would be away at sea for long periods and would miss the rugby and the fishing.

I decided to continue my education and so I went to Cork University. Whenever Katey met my mother at Mass or elsewhere she always referred to me as 'my boy' and she followed my adventures with avid interest and she was glad when I didn't do too badly.

She was a brilliant woman and she gave the world far more than it gave her. That little library was an invaluable centre for educating the locality. We will remember it.

Katey had another virtue: she told me and others about a wonderful library in London called the TCLS -- The Central Library for Students. It would get you almost any book you needed. You filled in a form in your local library. Katey would post it and it came back without any charge. It was a splendid institution. The fault in all the Irish libraries was that they did not contain books that had been banned. Most of those banned books were harmless. A book by Kate O'Brien was banned on account of one sentence.

exciting

It was an exciting period for young men and women who intended to write The Great Irish Novel. You could hardly enter a pub or a cafe without hearing someone threatening to do this. What most people didn't realise was that The Great Irish Novel had been written already. Charles Kickham's Knocknagow tells a huge amount about Irish life and gives deep insights into the nonsense contained in the term 'Anglo-Irish'.

We cannot overvalue our libraries and if there are cuts to be imposed in this field, libraries should be sacrosanct.

And we should be able to have institutions resembling the TCLS.

It might be costly but it would be helpful for people studying at home.

Fogra: There are plenty of birthdays coming up in June including my friends Frank Greally, Piaras Kelly, Feidhlim Kelly, and someone very special to me. We wish them all a happy birthday.

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