Featured Readers

Each month we sit down for a chat with a ‘Featured Reader’, to find out about their favourite books of all time, their literary preferences, recommendations, revered authors, & the likes...

This Month

Lord Mayor Tom Brabazon with Mairead Owen Christine Dwyer Hicket and Alison Lyons

Tom Brabazon, Lord Mayor of Dublin

Tonlegee Road, Dublin 5

My Dad was always very keen we would read as kids and he would bring us to Raheny, Donaghmede or Northside (Coolock) library. I would have read a book a week. We were regular library users and there was pleasure in reading books.

Tom Brabazon, Lord Mayor of Dublin, Dublin 5

Where were you born?

I was born in the Rotunda Hospital and I grew up in Limewood Estates just off Tonlegee Road between Coolock and Raheny.

What are your memories of growing up there?

There was a great community atmosphere about. Originally we would have been part of the greater Raheny parish, St. Monica’s and Edenmore and then St. Paul’s parish. When the church was built, we became part of the Airfield parish.

At first there were no schools built, there were no football clubs, no scouts organisations or anything like that. It was basically housing and no other facilities. It all came together in the late 70s and early 80s and there was huge community spirit in the area. We were building things together, planning scout halls, building football clubs and so on. It was a really good time to be around and there were great summer projects.

I remember summer being a really great time of the year as there were lots of activities two or three times a day and you’d be kept busy - they were wonderful times.

You have become Lord Mayor during very strange times not only for Dublin but for the world, do you have a typical day as Lord Mayor?

Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus, things have changed greatly but in a typical day as Lord Mayor, I’d be up at seven in the morning and go for a run or maybe not depending on what was on. If I had to be at the Mansion House for 9am I’d leave before half seven to get there in time. There is usually a meeting to discuss the diary for the day and events in the coming weeks, then you might have a courtesy call from an ambassador.

I could be opening an event or attending a function at the Mansion House. There may be photo calls and perhaps a social event in the evening time - six or seven events in a day and maybe not all in the Mansion House so you could be out and about across the city too.

One of the outstanding events I recall when I was Acting Mayor was when the ‘Breathe Life’ campaign was launched at the Mansion house - that was a real stand out day for me, I always felt that around the Mansion House there was history but you could feel the hand of history there as the four local authorities were coming together to improve our air quality between now and 2030. It was hugely significant and important for our future.

It’s a busy day

Absolutely and it includes Saturdays but you get to see the amazing community spirit that exists throughout Dublin.

There were three things recently that stood out for me; there was a local environmental day in Ballymun where we went to see projects taking place in schools and around the greater Ballymun area. Some people were cleaning off graffiti and others were building bug hotels, laying wildflower beds and edging grass. There was just a fantastic community spirit there.

Then there was another one in Dublin 8. One Saturday morning I opened a community expo in St. Catherine’s Church where Robert Emmet was executed. That was always a place that gave me the willies going by as I knew it was where he met his end. But I went inside and I was really pleasantly surprised by the lovely warm welcome and all the different nationalities that are part of the community in that area and the diversity of the groups involved. It was a lovely day and you come out of events like that feeling really great. You really learn in what regard the people of Dublin hold the office of Lord Mayor in and it’s brilliant from that point of view.

Then when COVID-19 hit home and we started implementing measures to tighten down things, meetings dried up, people cancelled themselves. We had some groups who would be in the elderly age cohort saying they didn’t want to expose themselves unnecessarily to the risk of contracting the virus, understandably so. We lost a good few things like that. We got courtesy calls up to last week from different ambassadors talking about different things and they were very important in showing solidarity in terms of what we’re all going through commonly as humans.

Obviously I and the staff of the Mansion house are working remotely now. We had gradually cut back so that there wouldn’t be too many people around at one time. We were down to one member of staff last week and then the decision was made to close the Mansion House. I was always willing to close it on the basis of public health but we did want to keep it open as a place of welcome for Dubliners and visitors but eventually things became too serious for that and it had to be closed.

Did you stay in the Mansion House at all?

We still live at home in Donaghmede. The two younger girls at home were very anxious to sleep over in the Mansion House so we stayed one Saturday night and then on St. Patrick’s weekend we did two nights.

As Lord Mayor you recently reopened Coolock library. What are your memories of the library as a child?

My Dad was always very keen we would read as kids and he would bring us to Raheny, Donaghmede or Northside (Coolock) library. I would have read a book a week. We were regular library users and there was pleasure in reading books.

I recall reading a book on the adventures of various dogs and different wild animals, lions and tigers. They were fantastically written books that would capture the imagination of a child. It helps to get you through, it helps to develop your imagination on one level – but on the other level on a basic level when you’re reading words you’re learning words it’s part of your educational formation.

On top of that I think that libraries are enormously useful places of reference, places to get information. Since those days libraries have been computerised, computers have been added and then the internet and all that stuff so it’s a place where you can access information and that’s hugely important in any community.

What role do libraries play in our society?

As Deputy Mayor, I travelled to a literature event with our City Librarian, Mairead Owens and Dublin UNESCO, City of Literature Director Alison Lyons. We visited a couple of the libraries in Washington and met the chief municipal librarian there. He said something very significant that I hadn’t thought about before that libraries are part of democracy.

I’d always thought they (libraries) were important from an educational point of view but never thought of them as a pillar of democracy, I always thought you had your legislature, your government and your courts. The three branches of the democratic process and I never thought of libraries as being part of that but since meeting him I do, and I think it’s a fundamental part of the democratic process.

I know when the decision was taken to close libraries as a result of the COVID-19 situation that there was a huge concern from librarians that this would pose a difficulty for homeless people who are library users. There’s almost a social care element to the library service that you wouldn’t necessarily think about but it is definitely there. I know that permeates all the way down, right from the City Librarian Mairead Owens to staff throughout our libraries.

Do you think Dublin, as a society, values literature as well as our libraries?

Well it’s hard to know. I like books, I was raised with them. I did once try to get through Ulysses though and only got as far as page 30. I tried a second time and didn’t get there either, I think I just like punctuation too much! There are certainly layers of people who appreciate literature some more than others – I would certainly appreciate the literature produced by the likes of Roddy Doyle. It’s real earthy, it’s real Dublin and it’s reflective of life and of course, particularly in these times, we need humour to be available to us.

What’s your earliest memory of reading?

My earliest memory of reading was probably the Ladybird books like Jack and the Beanstalk. My memory of the library as a child was a book that we used to borrow by a French author, René Guillot The Wild White Stallion, about animals in the south of France, that was my favourite. There was also one story about a leopard which I went back and borrowed a second and a third time. I can remember overhearing a conversation between my mam and dad. My mam saying ‘what’s he reading the same book over and over for?’ and my dad saying ‘ Leave him alone, he’s reading’.

Oh and I absolutely loved comics, The Dandy, The Beano and there were little booklet type ones about soldiers, battles in World War I and World War II, I remember reading those and the Hotspur too.

Do your children like reading?

They do, the girls love reading more so. The older fella would have been into his Gaelic football and hurling so he read books like Little Croker, he loved those and I used to read them with him – there were three in the series. As he got older, he’s twenty now, he’d read and enjoy biographies and sports books like Tomas O’Shea’s biography.

The girls, the two younger ones love the David Walliams books, I’m just looking at a shelf here and there are books as Gaeilge and books they would have read when they were younger. Roald Dahl and David Walliams are old favourites and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne was a big hit with them.

Is there a book that you think every child should have on their bookshelf?

That’s a good one, I wouldn’t say a particular book as long as they have books and an active interest in them, that’s very important, because to say they should have this or that book is prescriptive. As long as they are reading it develops their imaginations as children, what they read, as long as it's child friendly isn’t that important.

Do you have a favourite book or author you go back to again and again?

Since becoming Mayor, I have had the pleasure of meeting a couple of authors, Colm McCann who I think is a wonderful writer and individual and I met Christine Dwyer Hickey, the author of Tatty at the launch One City One Book. I just heard Colm Tóibín on the radio recently and they’re all great writers. I just wish I had more time to read.

I suppose my favourite author is Roddy Doyle. It’s that real Dublin thing, and his style of writing which reflects the heart of Dublin humour. I met Roddy a while back at the opening of an AstroTurf pitch in Kilbarrack where he was guest of honour. He was cutting the ribbon and he lifted up the scissors and said “snip snip Mr Burgess” to tumultuous laughter. It reminded me of the book The Snapper so I said I’d go back and read that again and I thought the book was even better than the film portrayal of it. His other books as well are so Dublin and so funny: Rover saves Christmas, The Van - some of the incidents in it are so funny- the lads are on the beach selling battered fish and one of the punters gets a battered nappy, but I think The Snapper is my favourite.

Which author or book depicts your Dublin best?

I would probably need a lot of time to give you a genuine answer to that because there are other authors who reflect a wider Dublin than perhaps Roddy Doyle‘s Dublin but Kilbarrack is down the road from where I live and where I grew up, it’s local and local is always good so I would say either The Snapper or The Van would have to reflect that – certainly the 80s and early 90s growing up, that type of period is reflected really well.

Final thoughts?

As many children as possible should read from a young age. It’s very beneficial for them as individuals and compliments their education. It gets them to know how to access information for later life, and that's hugely important. That's really the message I would give about books to younger people.

It's really important for people to read for their vocabulary and it helps them to express themselves. Where self-expression is denied leads to frustration, which can lead to anger, and then on to bad decisions being taken in life.

There’s no question that reading and education and literature and the arts and music enriches our lives and helps us all to reach our full potential.

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