Home Features From the archives—celebrating 45 years of Books Ireland

From the archives—celebrating 45 years of Books Ireland


Books Ireland began as a print magazine back in 1976, forty-five years ago. To mark this incredible milestone we’ll be publishing some gems from the archives—including this one, from September 1999, which has the headline ‘Bookmen’s Holidays’.

Here Shirley Kelly asks people (almost entirely men) in the book world—including Des Kenny, Cormac Kinsella, Theo Dorgan and more—which books they are taking on holiday. The answers are a fascinating snap-shot in time.

Things have changed a lot in the twenty-two years since this piece was published. Some of those interviewed are sadly no longer with us. But some things stay the same—the richness of books and the joy of reading.


For people in the books business, getting away from it all doesn’t mean leaving the books behind. Shirley Kelly finds out what they read on holidays.

Robert Dunbar, lecturer and children’s book critic

As things turned out, I didn’t get away from the world of children’s books at all, but the children’s books that I read were so good that I really can’t complain.

The best and most amusing was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling, which I enjoyed tremendously- for once, I think, the hype was justified.

Another book that I’ve been reading and re-reading with great pleasure is Eager We Are to Live, a selection of poetry and prose drawn from the Pushkin Prize, a long-running writing competition for school children organised by a descendant of the great Russian writer, the Duchess of Abercorn, who lives in Omagh. I’ve seen a lot of children’s writing in my time and I can say that the writing in this collection is of an extremely high standard. I also read an American book, Wringer, but Jerry Spinelli, which has also been published here by Collins. It’s a rite-of-passage story about a nine-year-old boy who’s under pressure to perform a fairly gruesome task; it’s very well written.

Des Kenny, Kenny’s Bookshop, Galway

I’m about to go on holiday and I’m torn between reading the mostly Irish books which I really need to read, or taking a complete holiday and reading something totally different.

I’ve been longing to read The Man Called Babel, a biography of Jolas, who was the first publisher of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, and I’m saving John McKenna’s new novel.

I’d also like to read Patrick McGill’s The Rat Pit, recently re-issued, and Eugene McCabe’s Tales from the Poorhouse.

Deirdre Ellis-King, Dublin City Librarian

I was in Chile this Summer and I spent a lot of time on trains and planes, where I find it difficult to get stuck into a long work of fiction of prose. So I read a lot of poetry, Pablo Nerua and Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, and I re-read Andrew Miller’s Ingenious Pain.

Though I didn’t get to read any Irish fiction on holiday, I was fascinated to find Spanish editions of Maeve Binchy and Roddy Doyle.

Con Collins, Collins Press publisher 

My preference is for non-fiction and I read a fascinating book, Inside the Third Reich, by Albert Speer, who was Hitler’s second in command in all but name, during the last three years of World War II.

Because it was a particularly quiet and peaceful holiday, I managed to read a novel as well, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, by Louis de Bernieres, which I enjoyed.

David Marcus Writer, editor and talent scout

I tend to read short stories mostly—I have no patience with fiction; if it doesn’t grip me from the first page I’m inclined to abandon it. I’ve been reading two collections of short stories by the Canadian writer Alastair MacLeod, which I had to order from Canada because they’re not available here.

Colm Tóibín described MacLeod as one of the greatest living short story writers, but I’ve only recently discovered him and I’m very glad I did.

I’ve also been reading the uncollected stories of the American writer Sherwood Anderson, which I came across in a bargain basement.

From the same issue, new books from New Island, September 1999

Theo Dorgan, Poetry Ireland director and TV presenter

I’m taking time off in September and Imprint is coming back at the end of the month so that will determine my holiday reading.

I expect to be reading two books a day, and it could be anything that’s coming out this season. Given the choice, I would read some poetry: at the moment I’m particularly interested in a Greek poet, Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke, and a French poet, Larand Gaspar, whom I intend to translate.

I also love junk thrillers by the likes of Martin Cruz-Smith and Jamie Lee.

Jonathan Williams, literary agent

I’m about to take a walking holiday in Mayo and Connemara and I’ll take a couple of relevant books, like Thackeray’s Irish Sketch Book, which has several chapters on Galway and Mayo, and Michael Fewer’s The Waymarked Trails of Ireland. I also want to read The Hidden Wordsworth by Kenneth R. Johnston and, to dip into, David Foster Wallace’s collection of essays and travel writing. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, which is really wonderful.

I might also take The Old Curiosity Shop and a book called Microcosms, by Claudia Magris, about the borderlands of Italy.

Peter Sirr, Irish Writers’ Centre director

I was on holiday in Morocco, where I read a novel by the Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz, Palace Walk, the first of his Cairo trilogy.

I also read Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, which I thought was a powerful novel, and just for fun I read Dead Lagoon, the new Aurelio Zen novel by Michael Dibdin.

I also treated myself to a big anthology, World Poetry, edited by Catherine Washburn, which is as varied a collection as you could hope to find, everything from Persian to Irish poetry as well as English language poems, from ancient times right up to present day.

Cormac Kinsella, Waterstones manager, Dublin

I read and enjoyed a proof of the new Roddy Doyle, A Star Called Henry, which, being a historical novel, is a real departure from his earlier work and much more plot-driven.

I also read the new John Updike, Beck at Bay, Andrew O’Hagan’s Our Fathers and George’s Ghost by Brenda Maddox.

Jo O’Donoghue, Marino Books publisher

Though I was on holiday in Kerry, I read and enjoyed Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun.

I also read two novels, Charles Fraser’s Cold Mountain, which I thought over-rated, and Beryl Bainbridge’s Master George.

Books Ireland cover September 1999