Michael Kennedy on Kenny’s Bookshop of Galway

While I focus on things other than blogging this month, I’m running a series on independent bookstores. Below Michael Kennedy, a writer and former journalist living in Tokyo, remembers Kenny’s Bookshop of Galway, Ireland, which closed its doors in 2005 to sell exclusively online.

Since my connection to Ireland is one generation removed, I have returned to County Mayo several times. For decades, no trip to the West of Ireland was complete without a pilgrimage to Kenny’s Bookshop in Galway.

Franchise bookstores are as unremarkable as acne on a teenager, but the red brick and mortar of Kenny’s offered the comfortably cluttered ambience of a home that prized the importance of written language. That was exactly what one expected of an Irish bookstore, from a country that, though long stripped of its own language, still matched the literary accomplishments of the British.

At Kenny’s, new, second-hand and antiquarian books of Irish interest were everywhere: some neatly shelved, others stacked haphazardly on odd-sized tables and cramped windowsills. The modest two-story house on High Street, with a narrow staircase, accommodated all this, and visitors, and book signings by Maeve Binchy and other contemporary Irish writers working in both English and Gaelic.

Kenny’s was where one might expect to find John Huston perusing an obscure title when he lived outside Galway in the 1950s, or John Ford stopping in while filming The Quiet Man in nearby County Mayo, or J.P Donleavy browsing on leave from Dublin, as he wrote The Ginger Man. This was where I acquired a copy of Beckett’s Malone, and then went for a pint of Guinness at the nearest pub.

Des and Maureen Kenny founded the business in 1940 and still manage it, but unfortunately, the traditional bookstore has closed its doors in concession to the internet age. Now Kenny’s approaches retail like Amazon.com and everything is an online operation, which is a pity.

If you’d like to see your favorite bookstore mentioned, send email to bookstores [at] maudnewton [dot]com telling me about it. Please include a photo or a link to one. (Kenny’s image swiped from Virtual Galway.)


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