J. Anthony Gaughan
For many years, Kenny’s Bookshop has been one of the features of Galway City. Des Kenny describes here the beginnings of that mecca for bibliophiles – now only run on-line.
Maureen Canning and Des Kenny met for the first time when she was attending University College, Galway. Within a few years they married and opened their second-hand bookshop in 1940. From the outset they sold paintings in the shop, and in 1968 opened their much admired art gallery in separate premises with a Seán Keating exhibition.
Five of the Kenny children were to join the business.
The father attended book auctions throughout Ireland, where he sometimes bought whole libraries. Des describes the importance of US academies and general readers to their bookshop.
From 1980 onwards they became the Irish vendor to the Library of Congress. Soon afterwards they were supplying books to the New York Public Libraries, Boston College and other institutions. There followed a flourishing trade in book parcels to the US and forty-five other countries.
During his apprenticeship as a book seller, Des was tutored by his father and mother.
His father coached him on how to recognise the qualities of a ‘good and saleable book’, while his mother initiated him into the art of connecting a customer with a book and vice versa. His excellent choice of 101 books one should read is a measure of their wise guidance.
Kenny states that he included each title because it had a story and writer able to tell it. He also chose books not only because of their intrinsic merit, but also because they represented an important aspect of Irish life and society.
His choice ranges over novels, plays, poetry, memoir, history and travelogue written in the past two centuries on Irish topics.
The Irish language is represented by classics such as An t-Oileánach and An Béal Bocht; and our island’s social history by the works of Carleton and Synge. His aim was that his final list included books that would enhance the quality of one’s life, and those which had a unique feel to them.
Samuel Beckett and Séamus Heaney, our Nobel Prize winners, are included. The many books on history include T.W. Moody and F.X. Martin’s The Course of Irish History, Cecil Woodham Smith’s The Great Hunger and Liam Sword’s A Hidden Church.
In making his choices Kenny seems to have been influenced by geographical considerations. He flags up representative authors from all corners of our island.
Maurice Walsh, author of Blackcock’s Feather (Ireland in 1590) and other popular novels set in Ireland and Scotland, is the standard-bearer for other North Kerry writers, such as George Fitzmaurice, Bryan McMahon, John B. Keane and Brendan Kennelly.
Des Kenny’s comments on the author whose books he selects, are both incisive and informative.
For this reason alone his book is one everyone interested in books and culture should read.