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Anne Hailes: The joy of visiting the library and fond memories of Brendan Kennelly

Co Kerry poet, author and academic Brendan Kennelly died last week at the age of 85.

GOOD news from Libraries NI. They are excusing all those who are overdue returning their books, no fines will be applied.

If he was still alive, this would please and relieve my father who lost a library book about 50 years ago and, according to my book-worm mother, was 'black balled' and ostracised from the library service for all time, bringing shame on the family.

But this news comes with concerns. What's to stop someone hanging onto a book they like - reference books valuable to have in your home library, children who have a favourite?

My negative thought was swept aside by Karen Woods of Libraries NI.

"On the contrary, we hope we'll get a lot of books back," she says.

"The fine was a barrier in the past, people were afraid they might have built up a huge fine. Libraries have changed so much in the recent past, the image of the stern librarian has gone and the 49 public libraries in Northern Ireland are places to meet, learn but also to chat, no longer solitary places where you're afraid to cough out loud and although there are quiet places to read and study there is plenty of activity as well."

Although like many public places, libraries had to remove furniture over the past few months because it wasn't possible to invite people to come in and spend time, but hopefully that is in the past.

"We are slowly reconnecting and opening up and we hope from the beginning of next month to be back to normal, open for browsing and for people to nip in for books or to read the newspapers, take part in Knit 'n Natter sessions and since diver Tom Daly popularised the craft, we've had men interested in knitting for organisations like Barnardos and Women's Aid."

Libraries have transformed over the years and Zoom has been invaluable in bridging the gap since close-down in March 2020.

October is Positive Ageing Month and much of the Libraries NI emphasis is by Zoom, subjects like learning to use the internet, understanding scamming, an introduction to the iPad and staying safe 'online'.

The Next Big Project

Karen tells me the next big thing is Turning Heads: Hair as Culture and Identity.

It's important whether you have it or not, play with colour - I'm a rather nice shade of amethyst at the moment - or keep it covered. Apparently hair can identify our taste in music or fashion and can carry our DNA.

Turning Heads aims to spark conversation and challenge stereotypes and will be delivered through a series of online events.

If you go to www.librariesni.org.uk you'll be surprised what's on offer, it's exciting and will opening up lots of new ideas.

There are many other events taking place during this last week of Positive Ageing Month; go to 'Age Friendly Positive Ageing Calendar 2021' for more details.

One important link is for older people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Talk in complete confidence with people who can provide support and information at Cara-Friend, freephone 0808 8000 390, Monday to Friday, 11am-3pm and Wednesday 6pm-8pm. They are onling at www.cara-friend.org.uk.

If you are in distress and need to speak to someone urgently please call Lifeline on 0808 808 8000.

A Way With Words

I was sad to hear that poet Brendan Kennelly died last week. Such a character and such a prolific writer of poetry, novels, plays and essays and above all a storyteller, a man who grew up surrounded by bustling life being one of eight children, his father was a publican his mother a nurse.

He became a gifted academic who when away from lecturing in Trinity College found his classroom in the pubs and coffee shops of Dublin where he gleaned material for his writing and where he held court, a raconteur who loved to entertain not only on the page but in person.

I never met him but when I was reviewing his poem The Man Made of Rain we talked on the phone and an interview became a far-reaching conversation.

He had told me that the day after major heart surgery in 1996 he had a number of visions and this is when he first became acquainted with the man made of rain.

He wrote of this. "He was actually raining, all his parts were raining slant wise and firmly in a decisive, contained way. His raineyes were candid and kind, glowing down, into, and through themselves. He spoke to me and took me on journeys.

"His talk was genial, light and authoritative, a language of irresistible invitation to follow him wherever he decided to go, or was compelled by his own inner forces to go. This man made of rain would not leave me until I let his presence flow in the best and only poem I could write for him."

I told him of my emotions when my father was going through the same operation, in hospital the fear I felt saying goodbye perhaps for the last time, wishing I'd told him how much I loved him but was somehow too shy.

He understood and like Brendan my father survived to live many more years and I did get to tell him just how much I loved him.

But most of our conversation surrounded another thing we had in common - living with alcoholism; for me through my father's addiction and for Brendan his own excessive drinking which destroyed his marriage and influenced his public life. Bravely he gave up the drink 36 years ago.

I'm sure we talked for an hour or more, his voice was gentle yet firm and when I heard of his death I turned to his recording of the story of the rain man and I remembered our conversation and the pleasure we both had in reminiscence.

Somewhere I have a letter he wrote to say thank you for the review and the moreso for our chat.

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