Dalkey remembers one of its own

Wed, Aug 1, 2012, 01:00

Writing about the fictitious Irish towns and villages of Knockglen, Shancarrig and Lough Glass, Maeve Binchy always put the local community at the centre of her novels; a place she celebrated, dissected and analysed over many decades.

Binchy’s local community for much of her adult life was Dalkey in Dublin and yesterday, as they ran between showers of chilly rain, people remembered her with affection, sadness and anecdotes.

At Senso Studios hair salon, owner Matt Malone recalled his client of 14 years. “She was always telling stories to the staff and they were always about people . . . People would come in and realise they were sitting next to Maeve Binchy.

“They’d run down the road to the Book Exchange and come back and ask her to sign their books for her, which she always did. She used to laugh and say getting her hair done was like going to a book signing.”

At the library on the main street, library assistant Bríd Collins was laminating a photograph of Binchy to display in the window. “We’ve none of her books to put in the window to go with it because when we went looking, we discovered all of them are out on loan,” she said.

At McCabe’s Select Stores cafe and grocery, a copy of Binchy’s most recent novel, Minding Frankie, was on the counter. “She’s been the talk of the town all day,” said Hilary McCabe.

“I’ve known her since I was four. They [she and Gordon] were regular customers. When my own child, Marco, was born, they gave us books for him. She was so generous.”

The debut novel that made Binchy a household name was Light a Penny Candle. Yesterday, someone had placed a simple white lantern with a large candle beside the front door of the house on Sorrento Road where she lived for many years with her husband, Gordon Snell.

Virtually next door is Finnegan’s lounge bar, where the couple came for lunch “several times a week”, to the same reserved table in an alcove, as Dan Finnegan explained.

The last public reading Binchy did was in this bar, in June, at the Dalkey Book Festival. “It was a short story she’d set in Dalkey, during the festival, and she’d named lots of the businesses in it,” said Mr Finnegan.

As he spoke, Gordon Snell arrived to take the reserved table, along with a small group of family and friends, watched sympathetically by customers.

A woman’s voice rose clearly above their murmur: “The whole world is talking about her!”

And they were. From the New York Times to the Sydney Morning Herald, from BBC Radio 4 to Sky News, tributes were being paid to the Dalkey writer who sold more than 40 million copies of her books.

She may not have been sitting at her habitual table in Finnegan’s, but yesterday Binchy was the talking point of the place she loved and the world she conquered.

* A funeral Mass will take place on Friday in the Church of the Assumption in Dalkey followed by a private cremation.

Binchy’s family has requested no flowers but donations can be sent to Arthritis Ireland or the Irish Heart Foundation.

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