“A THOROUGHLY decent man — learned, inspired and inspirational.”
This description of retiring Cork City Librarian Liam Ronayne, from poet Theo Dorgan, is just one of many tributes paid to the popular figure on his retirement.
Mr Ronayne retired from his position this week, after 16 years leading the Cork City Library Service, and many have acclaimed his work and achievements.
“If ever a man deserved the Freedom of the City of Cork, Liam does,” Mr Dorgan said. “He has been an exemplary public servant, a man whose professional life was dedicated wholly to the public good.”
A native of Ballinacurra, Midleton, Mr Ronayne was educated in at St Colman’s College, Fermoy, and began his career in libraries in the late 1970s.
Following a postgraduate in librarianship in Glasgow, he spent time working with the Longford-Westmeath Joint Library Committee before moving to take up a role as Donegal County Librarian.
Liam returned to his native county when he became Cork City Librarian in 2004, and distinguished himself in the role from the start.
Cork poet and novelist Thomas McCarthy, a former colleague of Mr Ronayne, described him as “one of the most important public servants in the south of Ireland”.
Mr McCarthy added: “He came to Cork as City Librarian on the eve of Cork’s year as European Capital of Culture 2005 and his leadership illuminated every branch library in the city with enthusiasm and innovation.
“He set up a brilliant publishing programme for local heritage books, local biography and Young Adult writers.
“He set up the important annual World Book Fest every April.
“He encouraged and supported brilliant librarians like Kieran Burke to produce that invaluable, astonishing online word and image resource corkpastandpresent.
“A great man, a great companion, a gentleman,” added Mr McCarthy.
He also paid tribute to Mr Ronayne’s determination that Cork City Libraries be a resource for the whole community.
“Liam dedicated his entire career to developing public libraries as creative spaces, as community hubs; and he trained his senior staff into a new kind of cultural leadership and cultural advocacy,” Mr McCarthy said.
“A knowledge of books and computers, a command of analogue and digital catalogues, was always a given in his view — what he sought was something more, a sense of community, a pride in public service, a crafted kind of local chauvinism and pride in local writers, musicians and artists.”
This was a view echoed by outgoing Cork City Lord Mayor John Sheehan, who described Mr Ronayne as a “pillar of strength”.
Mr Sheehan said the librarian’s assistance had been invaluable when planning the important historical commemorations in Cork this current year.
“Liam was a huge resource for the council and councillors during the centenary planning,” he told The Echo. “His scholarship, and the amount of work he had done, made him a pillar of strength.
“In particular, he was determined and worked to ensure that all events be inclusive and that the community aspect be central to the commemorations.”
The Lord Mayor also paid tribute to the work Mr Ronayne undertook to support the change of the city/county boundary lines.
A number of libraries moved from the county service to the city last year and Mr Sheehan said the fact that they integrated so seamlessly was a tribute to Mr Ronayne.
Cork was conferred with the UNESCO Learning Cities Award 2015, and in 2017 was chosen by UNESCO to host its third International Conference on Learning Cities.
Cork City Council Chief Executive, Ann Doherty, said Mr Ronayne deserved a large share of the credit for these achievements.
“Cork prides itself as a city of culture and learning,” she said. “Liam has served the city well as City Librarian in enhancing this reputation through his professionalism, expertise and commitment and his work contributed in no small measure to the designation of Cork as a UNESCO City of Learning in 2015.
“He will be missed greatly but leaves a legacy of which he should be rightly proud.”
His colleagues at the library service said Mr Ronayne will be greatly missed by staff and customers.
“Your colleagues, friends, and the readers of Cork wish you a long and happy retirement,” they said in a statement.