By Gerry Moran
I was not born in a library. And I am not aware of anyone who was born in a library! I have read about babies being born in taxis, on trains and even 40,000 feet up in the sky on long-haul flights. But not in libraries. Nor was I conceived in a library. Although, it is not inconceiveable that a baby could be conceived in a library. I mean who knows what goes on behind stacked bookshelves, not least when you consider every library’s mantra: Quiet please!
So, where am I going with this? Well, there is a connection, a very tenuous connection, between Kilkenny’s Carnegie Library and my conception. And that connection has little to do with Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish philanthropist, who funded our Carnegie Library; it has to do with Ellen Odette Bischoffsheim who purchased the site for the library and furnished the entire building.
Ellen Odette Bischoffsheim was the daughter of a
wealthy London banker. In 1881, in London she married William Cuffe, the fourth Earl of Desart from Kilkenny. When the Earl died in 1898 Ellen returned to Kilkenny and became the Countess of Desart, known always as Lady Desart. She was extremely wealthy and did wonderful things for the people of Kilkenny. Working with her brother-in-law, Ottway Cuffe, the Fifth Earl of Desart, she built a theatre in Patrick Street (now Zuni’s restaurant), she revived the woollen mills in Talbots Inch and also established a tobacco farm, a hosiery factory, a dairy, a school and a woodwork factory – all in Talbot’s Inch also.
In 1914 (and here, at last, is that tenuous connection between my conception and the Carnegie Library) Lady Desart built a ballroom in New Street, called Desart Hall, still in use as a youth centre. It was here in 1940 that my father, Jim Moran, a soldier from Carlow, stationed in Kilkenny, met my mother, Brigid Kenny, from Kennyswell.
“From the moment we danced,” my mother often said, “I knew he was going to be the father of my children.” Jim and Brigid went on to have five children, I being the last. Yet another connection with the Carnegie Library, Lady Desart and births — all of my four children were born in Aut Even hospital in Talbots Inch, built by Lady Desart!
My father was a life-long member of the Carnegie Library, he loved books and was an avid reader — albeit of westerns and detective novels. He also loved crosswords; a huge event in our house when I was quite young was my father winning the Sunday Independent’s crossword competition, worth, I think, 50 pounds (or maybe it was five pounds!) Either way there was great rejoicing in our house. As for his passion for words, another vivid memory from my childhood – RTE had a children’s programme called, Drawing With Blaithin, She held a competition: make as many words as you can from the word Christmas, write them on a postcard only and send it to RTE. My father couldn’t resist the temptation He made so many words they wouldn’t fit on a standard postcard so he made his own from the back of a cornflake box, put my name to it and sent it off. It won.
I can still see Blaithin holding it up on screen, praising this very creative entry. I felt so embarrassed and still consider returning the postal order, or its equivalent, that I, or rather, my father won.
One other thing about my father, who died 50 years ago this month. With me writing much of my life I have occasionally been interviewed on local radio and asked who influenced my writing. I’d mention various writers but it never occurred to me until a few years ago that my father, with his love of words, and books, had a huge influence on me. I’ll finish with a poem, dedicated belatedly, very belatedly, to my dad…
When I was reading Chaucer, Catullus,
And Camus in college, my father
Was avidly perusing dog-eared
Westerns and mystery thrillers:
Zane Grey, Agatha Christie, PD James.
I could never quite fathom his enthusiasm
For such books.
Thirty years on, my children
Cannot fathom their father’s fascination
With Forensic Detective, True Crime
And reruns of ‘The Virginian’ on TV.
‘No mystery at all’, I say
‘It’s all down to DNA!’
*A talk given in the Carnegie Library, part of a day-long celebration re the library’s relocation to the old Mayfair Ballroom