The Irish Times
Published in The Irish Times, Saturday June 15th, 1996
New Light Shed On Old Bookshop's Old World Charms
"In an age in which the increasingly sophisticated techniques of marketing risk by-passing the written text and turning books into products, readers into consumers and bookshops into outlets, there are few more pleasant places for reader and writer than Kenny's of Galway."
The words are those of the celebrated Irish writer John McGahern, who last night gave his blessing to one of Ireland's most famous bookshops - a quintessential Galway landmark - which he officially reopened following its closure earlier this year for refurbishment.
There was no doubt that the redevelopment in a building which was found to have timber beams dating back to 1472, has meant a dramatic transition. It was first opened as a modest penny lending library back in 1941 by Des and Maureen Kenny; the latter still guides the great literary ship and art gallery, which now has a turnover of more than £1 million a year, with her sons and daughter.
Gone are its cherished alcoves and annexes where the browser could lose himself for an hour or more. In its place is a large atrium linking three floors and open balconies ushering light into the centre of the building. The heady mix of books, maps, engravings and original art works assumes a new attractiveness.
McGahern's connection with Kenny's of High Street goes back many years. "This week I found myself rereading a favourite novel I bought in Kenny's 30 years ago; Kate O'Brien's marvellous work, The Ante-Room.
Mrs. Kenny misses nothing. A few months ago I wrote about a book I admire in The Irish Times; Ernie O'Malley's On Another Man's Wound. She called me up to say how glad she was that the book had been given attention, and in 1939, in Galway, Mr. O'Malley had asked her to dance."
Her son, Mr. Tom Kenny, a little chastened by the way "an old building imposes its own disciplines and timetables" declared the renovation "everything we hoped it would be" - it was designed by the architect Mr. Conor Kelly; the builders were Sean Stewart Ltd.
While the rear of the building is more modern at 200 years old, the new lay-out has incorporated some fine archaeological features, notably stone and bevelled archways and fireplaces which date back beyond 300 years in some cases.
© The Irish Times, June 15th, 1996
© Photograph: Joe O'Shaughnessy