MY son Ricky and I took a trip to Ballincollig Regional Park last Saturday. It would be a usual thing for a mother and toddler to visit an outdoor amenity, but we were going for a special reason. Just off the main car park, facing the river, is a lovely spot where you can hear the water flow and see the cars and trucks slide over the bridge.
Ricky visits this spot often. The bench here is dedicated to my teacher and friend Pat Meaney and Pat’s wife, Mary, minds Ricky some of the days that I work so they visit together.
With all the lockdowns, I hadn’t got as far as visiting Pat’s bench but on Saturday a gem was added to it. A beautifully crafted ‘Pat’s Little Free Library’ has been placed next to the bench. It is a handmade shelved cabinet with glass doors and it can hold lots of books from toddler books to adult novels. Pat’s family commissioned the library and the City Council installed it. Ricky donated a tactile book entitled Don’t Touch A Dinosaur and was delighted looking at all the other books and pulling interesting ones out to investigate them further. He was fascinated by another book aimed at toddlers about tractors.
Pat’s family, from Limerick, the UK and of course Cork, had gathered for the occasion of filling the library. I felt very privileged to be among them. Pat’s grandchildren, Ciarán, Aisling, Ríona, Aoife and Lola-May, all played and read with Ricky. It was lovely to watch them sitting on the grass reading, Pat would have been ticked pink at the idea of books in the park and the fun had by all.
While we sat in the sun, many people stopped to admire the library and plenty were past-pupils of Pat’s just like I was. He was a teacher in Coláiste Choilm for nearly 15 years so he put a lot of young people through his hands in that time.
Those that passed remarked how Mr Meaney would love the idea.
The way the library works is that each book is stamped and can be taken to be read while sitting on the bench or taken home to be returned when finished. I think it is just the loveliest idea and I hope the people of Ballincollig, will enjoy it and respect it so that everyone can get value out of it. In the last few days, Mary has told me that she has seen lots of parents and children sitting and reading together and so we intend to put more children’s books in the library. I like to think Ricky’s book is making lots of others kids smile too.
Community initiatives are worth investing in. Pat came to teaching later in life but he had a massive impact on my experience in school, my career and my life in general so it is lovely to see his legacy live on his daughters, grandchildren and now in his little library too. He was a man who appreciated lovely words but everything needed to have a sprinkle of magic along the way. He wasn’t the biggest fan of my practical debate speeches and loved when we got the giggles and had a great laugh. He used to say, “write when you laugh when your imagination has been sparked”. I wish my wonderful teacher could see me with my son, because laughter flows without even trying.
I look forward to using Pat’s Little Free Library with Ricky and seeing others get joy from it for many years to come, a little bit of Pat’s magic will live there forever.