I will miss the Limerick County Library and the motherly ladies who run it. When I was small I got two Enid Blyton books a week here, and was forever afraid that the yellow-haired librarian would scold me for bringing them back late. She never did, as far as I recall, but my fear of authority remains overdeveloped.
I didn’t rediscover libraries while I was overworked and wealthy. I needed to own books then and gathered the spines in conquest, read or not. My first day back here I was startled they didn’t ask for ID in exchange for a library card. An interest in books was enough to earn the trust that I’d bring them back.
Now, when the library opens at ten o’clock I plug myself in near the magazine rack, type stories, and watch the future parade before me as the library fills with kids and immigrants.
In a sunny corner, retired men and a few stray nuns read the papers around a low table. A flotilla of kids in wheelchairs arrives to pick new books. They glide around the children’s section and giggle when I wink at them. A ten-year-old redhead stops to chat–is that laptop mine? Am I writing my diary? Yes, I tell her, and we discuss Mary-Kate and Ashley, and Roald Dahl, and school. My neighbour Michael arrives to pick up a book he’s ordered from the _Irish Times_ reviews. A gaggle of nine-year-olds in burgundy uniforms whispers over a project on Explorers. They are afraid of a scolding too: one of them has just accidentally used the photocopier without permission, and who knows what might happen now.
My damn phone keeps chirping with texts; a maintenance dose of connectivity in the face of self-imposed internet deprivation. Texts, texts, says Tim, how Lacanian we are becoming.
I chat to Olu while his daddy browses. Olu is four and has a lot to say. He is particularly interested in the bike outside, which might be mine. He doesn’t know the Brooklyn singer Olu Dara, and nor does his dad, though he tells me he must be African too.
“Where are you from?” asks dad.
“Limerick. But I’m going back to New York in a few days.” He looks disapointed.
“We just arrived here from Portlaoise two days ago. We don’t have any friends here yet,” he says. I tell him, fervently, that he is very welcome to Limerick. But I don’t know how true that is outside this sanctuary of sense.
Seven broadband computers, booked by the hour, are the main attraction for some. An elderly Sri Lankan man arrives every day at two. I have seen him wheeling a happy grandchild near Dooradoyle. In any given time slot two or three new immigrants are rapt as they read email and write home. I have worn that look myself in so many places that I want to spit when locals complain about “the _non-nationals_ hogging all the access.” They don’t know what it’s like to be far from home, and they haven’t the curiosity to imagine it. They believe, quite firmly, that they are better than people who don’t speak English with a flat Limerick accent, like.
‘Non-nationals’ has become a weasel word here, in a country already poisoned by nationalism. It’s a seemingly innocuous construction, but it’s really code for THEM, not us. But nationals need THEM more than THEY need us, though many are still too thick to see it. Eight years ago, Jason and I used to cringe at the unbearable whiteness of being Irish whenever we got off the plane at Shannon. It was the shock of sameness, as jarring in its way as the first experience of New York’s mix. And it is the energy of Ireland’s new mix that tempts me to move back here some day, as the crass Spar generation never could.
I watch fellow immigrants poring over textbooks and borrowing armfuls of books, as greedy as myself. I think of the awe of new arrivals from all over the world who first step into the New York Public Library, and feel glad that this is one small welcome we can extend too, even when our courtesy fails outside these walls.