Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Lions Book Shop, a measure of Athy's cultural strength

Books have always interested me.  I am the antithesis of the person who when asked if he wanted a book as a birthday present replied ‘no thanks, I have one already’.  As a long-forgotten philosopher once claimed ‘a good book is the best of friends, the same today and forever.’


I have always measured a town’s cultural strength by the number of bookshops it harbours within its boundaries.  You might think therefore that Athy would not figure large on the cultural graph, but in reality, the town is hugely supportive of a variety of cultural activities.  As for a dedicated bookshop the absence of one is in part compensated by the efforts of The Gem and Winkles to supply a limited stock of newly published works.  The Lions Book Shop opened some years ago in a premises owned by Shaws has proved a popular venue for book lovers.  It is a decidedly welcome asset for the people of Athy and district.


The members of Athy Lions Club which was established in 1971 have been involved in many projects over the years, helping organisations and individuals alike.  Two of the many projects undertaken by the club members were the Sheltered Housing Scheme in the grounds of St. Vincent’s Hospital and the provision of an ambulance for the local Knights of Malta.


Many other worthwhile projects have been completed by the Lions Club but perhaps the opening of the book shop in Duke Street has given the organisation its most prominent and noticeable presence within the Athy community.  In the first few months of its opening the book shop’s opening hours were limited to Saturday only, with Lions members sharing duties as a provincial town’s second hand bookseller for a few hours each week.  Keeping the shop open even for those limited number of hours every Saturday was a difficult task.  The Lions Club was extremely fortunate then to welcome Alice Rowan who volunteered her services to keep the shop open five days a week.  Alice, who had some time previously retired and returned from abroad, has continued in her voluntary role on behalf of the Lions Club for the past six years.  Her huge contribution to the Lions Club work amongst the people of Athy was marked last year with the award to her of honorary life membership of Lions Club International.  That recognition for Alice was the first time in the history of Athy Lions Club that an honorary membership was awarded.  Without the generosity of Shaws Department stores in allowing the Lions Club to use their vacant premises as a book store the project would not have hoped to succeed. 


The book shop receives gifts of books and CDs and by selling them at very reasonable prices undoubtedly helps to encourage many people, who might not otherwise be able to do so, to keep good company by reading the best authors on a variety of subjects.  Books can hold a fascination for many people, and if truth be told, no one could possibly disagreed with Decartes opinion that ‘the reading of a good book is like a conversation with the finest person.’ 


I have been buying and reading books for a long time but my interest in Irish history and English social history has prevented me from devoting any time to reading fiction other than the works of local writer, John MacKenna.  Looking through my books there are two books which because of my interest in local history have proved of particular importance to me over the years.  The first is Byrnes ‘Dictionary of Irish Local History’ published by Mercier Press in 2004.  In the Irish context it is surely the most authoritative reference book for local historians.  It was written by a Joseph Byrne, of whom I have no knowledge, but I would love to meet the man who wrote what is a superb dictionary of local history terms.


The other book which I bought in London some years ago was Charles Arnold – Baker’s ‘The Companion to British History’.  This is a large tome running to 1,386 pages with thousands of facts and opinion pieces on everything relating to British history.  It was written during his spare time over a period of 30 years by Baker who was a Barrister and not a professional historian.


These are two books which I have to say will not in my lifetime leave my bookshelves for the Lions book shop.  However, if any of my readers have books or CDs which they would like to donate for charity Alice in the book shop in Duke Street will be delighted to receive them.