Athlone Library gets gift of rare books


The finest private collection of books in Ireland has been donated to Athlone Library - and the library's new building has been named after the generous donor.

An "unrivalled collection" of Oliver Goldsmith first editions is among the collection of 20,000 books that local collector Mr Aidan Heavey has donated to the library. The collection is so extensive that the library is this week moving into bigger premises in the town's new €20 million Civic Centre.

The library will be called the Aidan Heavey Library to honour the generosity of the Athlone native, who now lives in Dublin.

Mr Heavey is a member of a well-known Athlone family. Describing himself as "a non-practising barrister", he owned a wholesale business dealing in men's suits for many years.

"The Aidan Heavey collection has long been regarded by scholars as one of the finest private libraries in Ireland. It represents the fruits of over 40 years of collecting and is a testament to the keen eye and discernment of Aidan Heavey," said Mr Gearóid O'Brien, executive librarian of Athlone Library.

The Goldsmith first editions are returning home, as "Goldsmith country" is just a few miles outside Athlone. The Heavey collection also contains an extensive range of Douglas Hyde material, including manuscripts, memorabilia, certificates, original photographs, and an important portrait of Hyde by the noted Irish artist, Leo Whelan.

The collection includes rare and valuable Jack B. Yeats sketch-books, early maps of Irish interest, Irish language prayer-books and bibles, early illustrated tours of Ireland, books by and about the leaders of the 1916 Rising, and many signed and limited editions by Séamus Heaney, Samuel Beckett, W.B. Yeats, and Oliver St John Gogarty.

"Once catalogued and suitably housed, access will be granted to academics and students from a broad list of third-level educational institutions in Ireland. Bona fide researchers working on bibliographies or other studies of Irish material will also be granted admission on application to the librarian," said Ms Mary Farrell, Westmeath county librarian.

"This will serve to focus serious academic interest in Athlone. The gift cannot be measured in purely financial terms. It is a collection the likes of which may never again be assembled.

"Items of this quality quite simply don't come on the open market. Perhaps the greatest and happiest aspect of this gift is that the donor is alive and well to witness the rehousing of the collection and to act as an adviser to those involved in its cataloguing."