Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Oh My God! They're Killing Kenny's!

The Emerald City
An Spailpín has to confess mixed feelings about the news that Kenny's Bookshop on High Street in Galway is to close, moving its business to the badlands of the Liosbán Industrial Estate to trade solely in cyberspace through the machinations of that dreaded Internet.

People are inclined to get precious about Kenny's - the Irish Times report this morning about the closure reads like a monody, while Tom Kenny's remarks about still being "passionate about the business" is Morketingspeak at its most pernicious - and this is an over-reaction. An Spailpín has never, to his memory, bought a single book in Kenny's, and he is a man that both buys a lot of books, and is one of those blessed or cursed unfortunates who have never quite got Galway, that Emerald City, quite out of their blood.

From An Spailpín's time loitering without intent in and around Galway's Latin Quarter, I associate two words with Kenny's bookshop, and they are "expensive" and "tourists." When one gets away to the West, when one "does" Galway, one "does" Kenny's as a matter of course. Well, yes, darling, we did visit Kenny's - yes, it is quite marvellous, and so olde worlde, don't you think? Yes, I think so too - one just doesn't see that kind of shop any more, and it's such a pity. It's so like Shakespeare and Company in Paris, near Notre Dame, so chic, so je ne sais quoi. Our youngest boy, Uirlis, was there while he was finding himself touring Europe and he said it was just wonderful, and so on and on and on and on.

No wonder the Kenny's closure was able to squeeze at tear out of Modom and the gals on D'Olier Street.

And yet, at the same time, the demise of Kenny's is a source of sadness, because it's always sad to see any bookstore go, and because we can never quite be sure what will rise in its place. Galway already has plenty of skinny-chinny-whinny-chino bars that will serve you some panini and salad and charge you nine yo-yos for the privilege, and should another develop in the vacuum left by Kenny's the city will soon reach critical mass.

While Kenny's was never the spot to buy the Grapes of Wrath for a buck-fifty, it did set a Certain Tone in the city, and in our vulgar age, there's a lot to be said for that. I'm sure many's the feckless student in leaking Doctor Martens boots and a sopping-wet overcoat wandered about Kenny's cramped spaces and twisty stairwells, looking at the signed photos from John McGahern and Edna O'Brien and Brian Friel and dreamed someday, someday. Having the launch of one's collected "web logs," or "blogs," - half bound in leather and marble paper, in octavo, bring your own booze - on the wilds of the Tuam Road just won't be the same.