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The President on Safari - Dublin’s Fair City

By Laurence Worms


Laurence Worms, President of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association (ABA), promised the ABA members that he would travel around the British Isles to see as many of his colleagues as possible. He publishes his travel accounts in his blog “The President on Safari”. This is Laurence Worms' report about the legendary Irish hospitality and a very special trip to Dublin.

Yet not so fair yesterday – with some of the heaviest rainfall ever recorded, flooding, traffic chaos, and a state of emergency declared.  Our taxi back to the airport through almost the worst of it at times resembled more of a speedboat ride than a car journey.

Only one thing could ameliorate any of this, but we found it – and found it in plenty.  Some legendary Irish hospitality.  A warm welcome at our first port of call – David Cunningham at Cathach Books in Duke Street.   A lovely stock – especially of Irish literature, full of interest and rarity. And how splendid that a serious shop like this can survive just off Dublin’s main shopping street – and that despite all we hear of the Irish economy, there were no obvious signs of retail doom.  Very few empty shops – and Grafton Street in full swing despite the weather, which was just beginning to turn ominous.

Next to the charming Stephen Stokes in the George’s Street Arcade  – yet more attractive books and strains of Miles Davis from the adjacent music-shop.  We are enjoying ourselves. (Time you joined the ABA, Stephen?)  And then a cab out to Blackrock to the house of books of Éamonn and Vivien De Búrca.  “To be sure, he’s a famous man in Ireland” confided our cab-driver with genial satisfaction when told our destination.  Royally entertained to a fine lunch (smoked salmon with oh-so-many extras and a slab of  Vivien’s famous apple pie – thank you both).  Book-talk, laughter and reminiscence.  Tall tales and short – and twenty thousand books.

The rain by now lashing down, but on to the main business of the day.  Membership Secretary Roger Treglown and I are in Dublin to present the ABA’s seldom-presented Fifty Years a Bookseller badge to James Fenning (it’s actually fifty-three years, Jim tells me privately).  Another house of books – a  carefully chosen and impressive stock – the finest Oliver Twist in cloth I have ever seen – two more three-deckers which I presently purchase – coffee and cake, and more book-talk, wry humour and  entertainment.

Jim’s grandfather had a bookshop right on the Liffey back in the days of the Great War (we see some photographs), his father too was a bookseller (as well as Ireland’s most famous amateur snooker player), and via a training that brought him through the inter-linked famous old Dawson’s, Frank Hammond and Deighton, Bell firms he returned to Dublin some forty years ago.  The pedigree shows.  Ours is sometimes a solitary occupation and Jim perhaps does not know, perhaps has never been aware of, the esteem and regard with which his peers regard his taste, discrimination and skill in cataloguing.  I try to express a little of this on behalf of us all – but make the presentation without trying to embarrass him too much.  A master of his trade.

A commemorative photograph or two.  A cab called for – it turns into our longest taxi journey ever.  But eventually safely home at the end of what has turned into a twenty-two hour day – but all well worth it.  A truly memorable day – thank you all in Dublin.  I shall return.

The article was posted in Laurence Worms’ blog The President on Safari. It is presented  here by permission of the author.

>>> Cathach Books Ltd.

>>> De Búrca Rare Books

>>> James Fenning Antiquarian Booksellers

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