Is This The Oldest Book Club in Ireland?

Over the course of 40 YEARS they have read approximately 400 works of literature …


One night in 1979, four young women gathered to talk about The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum, by Heinrich Boll. This was the first Book Club in Dublin, if not Ireland. The women were in their early 30s and had small children. Forty years later the club, a moveable feast of 13 members, (pictured above) is still meeting monthly and is stronger than ever. The idea came from Barbara Duff, when in the mid-1970s, her husband worked at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and Barbara joined The Baylor Wives Book Club. Back home she brought the idea to Jacqueline, another mother of four who she had met studying at UCD and who had been her bridesmaid. Over the 40 years they have read approximately 400 works of literature. They dig deep and search wide for novels, biographies, history books, plays and poetry collections. “We’re not afraid to read 17th-century novels or contemporary popular novels,” says Fionnola Revington. 

In November the month’s “leader” gave a presentation on Fear and Trembling, by Amélie Nothomb, a novel with a Japanese setting as part of a Far Eastern theme. The book club has tackled Russian-Jewish and modern American literature, the early French novel, Italian classics, music-themed books and World War II novels. “When you join a book club, you realise how little you’ve read,” says Fionnola. They read Ulysses over three book club meetings in 2004. They’ve read Don Quixote, Stalingrad, The Country Girls and Middlemarch twice.

There was no white wine in sight, nor cheeses nor Ottolenghi salads. What does Barbara Duff think of the modern book club, where the host might be expected to provide a delicious supper as well as bon mots? “Sounds great but it’s not for us. We like to stay on topic, and there is no pressure.” When the club broke for coffee, they discussed books as a refuge from both domestic and professional life, and as a “source of insight into the workings of the human heart and brain”. Some talked about missing their grandchildren, their reservations about Amy Huberman’s new TV show, and their sadness about members who have died: Jane Perrin, and sisters Jacqueline and Grace. 

Their secret to longevity? “We are all interested in literature. We all enjoy travel, history and we are curious to learn about other people and cultures,” says Barbara, a relationships and psychosexual therapist (and retired English schoolteacher). And they stay on point: “whoever has volunteered to lead the discussion is expected to do some research and to have questions prepared.” Members include a solicitor, an accountant, an archivist, a scientist, a publisher (Anna Farmar), the first female President of Cricket Ireland (Aideen Rice), Annette Fortune, who is President of UCD Ladies’ Hockey, and Anna Wilkinson, a former schoolteacher from near Bologna. December’s book was I Am a Cat, a 1906 Japanese satirical novel by Natsume Sõseki …

Maggie Armstrong

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