Stories within Stories

I am currently listening to John Banville’s award-winning novel, The Sea, on CD. I borrowed it from the library in Lismore ~ a town at the other end of Co. Waterford from Tramore. The library system is brilliant in Co. Waterford now as the one library card allows one to borrow from any of the libraries in Waterford City and County. (This is because of changes in local administration a few years ago.)

When I’m travelling around Co. Waterford now, I always make sure that I have my library card with me and have taken to paying visits to the various libraries in different towns I happen to be in.

The library in Lismore is a beautiful building:

Lismore Library, Co. Waterford.
Lismore Library, Co. Waterford.

It was one of the many libraries in Ireland which was funded by philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie.

Plaque on Wall by Lismore Library, Co. Waterford
Plaque on Wall by Lismore Library, Co. Waterford

I’ve been reading more and more about Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) since I was in Lismore Library and am absolutely fascinated by his life and the fact that there are probably readers of this blog from across the globe who are also fortunate enough to be users of a Carnegie Library.

Andrew Carnegie was born in Scotland, the son of a weaver. He emigrated with his family to America when he was 13, and went on to be a self-made steel tycoon ( not without issues arising over worker’s pay.)

In 1901, Carnegie sold his steel company for $200 million ~which seems like an enormous sum for that time. He got involved in philanthropy and had a special interest in funding libraries~ approximately 2,800 were funded by him in America, Britain and Ireland.

I was thrilled when I found John Banville’s, The Sea, in the library in Lismore as I’d been on the look out for it for a while. Lismore is one of Waterford’s inland towns ( a heritage town) and it felt right that The Sea should be there waiting for me.  The novel itself is very much a story within a story and I don’t want it to end as I love the masterful use of language within it and the fact that it makes me feel so connected to library users who have benefitted from Andrew Carnegie’s donations. (Where I get books matters a lot to me! I don’t know if other people feel like that about them?)

I’ve been a library person since I was a kid hooked on Enid Blyton’s Famous Fives and Secret Sevens. I suspect I’ve used other Carnegie Libraries in my time but didn’t realise it.

I’d love to hear about your library especially if it has a connection to Andrew Carnegie, or indeed if you have been in any other buildings associated with him. 




Co. Waterford ABC ~ E is for Essence

Co. Waterford ABC is a feature here on Social Bridge where I am identifying my highlights of  this diverse county in Ireland where I was born and which has been ‘home’ for the last 26 years. There will be just 26 posts ~ one for each letter of the alphabet and I hope you will join me in discussing your views about the places, people,  events, things that I select. Would you have chosen differently? In a county with such natural beauty and diversity in terms of history and heritage, one could quite easily identify 26+  highlights for each letter!  (  See All Posts in this Series:

Map of Co. Waterford(Click on Map to Zoom)
Map of Co. Waterford
(Click on Map to Zoom)

I have been wondering for  a while if I dare write about the ‘Essence’ of  Co. Waterford; what are the fundamental features of this ‘home’ county of  mine?  Yes, I do dare and I truly hope that others will add to this bubbling pot of words that have danced off all my senses. 

On February 1, I took off before sunrise to walk around Tramore Beach and Backstrand to celebrate the move into spring. So much of the essence of my Co. Waterford engulfed me in those three delicious hours. Huge waves crashed onto the shore spraying me with the salty invigorating air that I have so long associated with Co. Waterford. The grasses on the dunes glinted as the breeze combed the flowing locks of  the waking beauty.

As the sun rose, my mind was drawn around Brownstown Head, passed Dunmore East and up the Estuary to Waterford City. I had sat in the Tower Hotel , late the night before, just across from historic Reginald’s Tower.  I had been transfixed with thoughts of the history associated with Waterford City, the oldest city in Ireland, as I watched the traffic coming along the Quay and rounding the corner at Reginald’s Tower.  Thoughts of the centrality of Reginald’s Tower to the defence of Waterford; a fleeting glimpse of my late father running towards his ‘digs’ on the Mall in the  1940s; eyes caught by the imposing statue of Thomas Francis Meagher and fascination with his connections to such places as France, Fredericksburg and Montana which have come to have meaning for me too through life’s weavings.

Reginald's Tower, Waterford
Reginald’s Tower, Waterford

A glance back along Tramore Beach before rounding the bend at the channel and the whole coast presented itself ~ the magic of the Copper Coast, Dungarvan, the Ring Penninsula, Ardmore ~ a wondrous stretch of coastline, each place with its uniqueness, history and colour. I wondered if  Pride and Joy was safely moored at Boatstrand. Its name has long captured my imagination in a beautiful harbour that exudes Co. Waterford for me.

Walking along the Backstrand, the mountains of Co. Waterford come into view. Thoughts of Mahon Falls; the stunning scenery of the Nire Valley; West Waterford and the Blackwater Valley. Anticipation  of this years Immrama Travel Writers’ Festival in Lismore; stolen visits to Lismore Castle, Mount Melleray, the old world beauty of Cappoquin.

As I near Tramore, the town that is ‘home’ is lit by the morning sun. I meet Mark Roper and Paddy Dwan, who have such passion for the Backstrand and Co. Waterford generally.  Tramore continues to look down; the Racecourse stands out with its long history and at the other side of the town, above the Doneraile walk, is Tramore Tennis Club, which has such personal meaning for me and which is now the proud club of so many of Ireland’s young tennis stars.

Back on the Prom, I watch the surfers enjoying the waves and totally immersed in the very essence of this sporting county. Only the day before, I had a chance meeting with Ken McGrath, undoubtedly one of the greatest hurlers Waterford will ever see.  Here’s a man who knows the full meaning of Rudyard Kipling’s words in his great poem  If:

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch…

Ken McGrath has no airs and graces and is an essential part of the passion that Waterford hurling engenders.

To those who know me, it will probably come as no surprise that I was drawn out to the lay-by between Boatstrand and Kilmurrin to write this piece. Sea beneath me; mountains behind; gulls overhead; Ardkeen Stores in Waterford, which is my treasure trove for sourcing Co. Waterford produce, calling; and happy thoughts of my beloved Mount Congreve Gardens after recently seeing  Tony Gunning’s Exhibition of colourful paintings at Greyfriar’s Church in Waterford.

As I write, I am surrounded  by immense natural beauty and a silvery sheen on the horizon symbolises the hope, colour and buoyancy that I associate with Co. Waterford ~ past, present and future.

Immrama Lismore 2012 ~ Writing Workshop with Paul Clements

Immrama, Lismore Festival of  Travel Writing here in Co. Waterford  has become one of my annual highlights and more than anything I look forward to the Writing Workshop which is held on the Sunday at the close of the Festival.

This year we were treated to Paul Clements,  who lives in Belfast, and who has vast experience as a writer, journalist and tutor.  As I drove to Lismore from Tramore, listening to Leonard Cohen’s  Greatest Hits, I wondered what this One DayWriting Workshop on Place and Landscape Writing would have in store. 

Paul Clements

Paul Clements, with his soft Northern accent, is one of those people who has the gift of  putting people at ease and waking up senses in a hypnotic way.  He transported us – twenty or so strangers – out of  early morning Lismore up to the Vee Road – where we fanned out to make ‘nibble notes’ about the vista that opened up ahead of us – Tipperary kissing Waterford.  Twenty-five precious minutes to absorb …..

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Back at Lismore Heritage Centre, we wrote about our observations for fifteen minutes. I suspect everyone was expecting that we would be sharing our jottings.  But, no, Paul Clements is a man who believes fervently in learning from ‘the masters’ and thus began a new journey.  We were introduced to delicious extracts from writers that Paul Clements has come to admire and who have been, and remain,  teachers to him. Reading aloud, absorbing descriptions that flowed as poetically as the tiny streams at the Vee, hearing startling metaphors through accents as diverse as the styles before us; returning through each other’s lenses to the Vee Road ~ an afternoon that opened up paths, valleys, hues, sounds, ideas, scents, imaginings and strangers like no other  in my experience.

Immrama 2012 may be over but the the seeds sown by Paul Clements yesterday are only beginning to settle in the moist soil and those of us who shared the experience have new worlds, pages, margins and friendships to explore.

Lismore Castle and River Blackwater, Co. Waterford