A Parade in Cork: A group marching in the streets. What for?
by Marie Guillot, © December 2010
Illustrations by Marie Guillot and Victor Sullivan
At the corner of Cork City Hall, the marching band sets off. Our crowd is now moving. Slowly at first, then faster, as the men in uniform are leading the pace. We are instructed: “Walk four abreast, all of you. Four abreast.” Our eagerness is boundless: each foursome is making an effort to keep the cadence. But something is amiss. Soon, there are stragglers, crossing the bridge in dribs and drabs. Turning into Oliver Plunkett Street, we are somehow gathered again. The four abreast has become between-two-and-six across. It works better that way.
The Christmas shoppers are watching us, not knowing our purpose. Protesters? Doubtful. Usually, protesters are not preceded by military music and not followed by a large firetruck, all lights flashing. A Santa Claus parade? A new kind then: the marchers are only carrying ancient books, all dull-coloured. Nothing really to attract young children. The organisers are distributing leaflets to the onlookers, who read them and smile at us. Now they understand: the old books are being transferred from Anglesea street to the Grand Parade library in commemoration of the burning of the Carnegie library in 1920. They were donated after the fire by generous families (not only Irish, but from other countries as well), to start a recovery.
Having reached its destination, the parade is brought to a halt along the stalls of the Christmas Market. For the cameras, the participants raise up their books, all jolly in unison. They enter the library to reinstate them, one by one, a symbolic gesture in memory of the donations. Several public readings follow, some read by descendants of the donors. All texts are expertly selected, bringing history to the occasion. They remind us how a tragedy can trigger determination and bring goodwill out of an extended community towards the restoration of its city.
To recuperate from these emotions we are then invited beside the festive Christmas tree, to share wine and mince pies. The elderly books rest on a table, worn out from their many journeys. A few fanatics among us take advantage of the quieter time to look at them and exchange impressions. In particular, a book about Cork City (published in 1801) is almost torn apart between two admirers. Such is the destiny of books.