Rudi Holzapfel

I found this great website, made in memory of an old friend of mine who died a dozen years ago.  I knew him from the bookshops he owned in Tipperary town, where I lived for five or six years in the nineties.

It’s a very stylish bit of the internet, anachronistically disguised as an old scrapbook, and it was so good to see him smiling there in black and white.

As you can see from his bio, that was just one chapter in an eventful life, and even then the bookshop was just one in a whole range of projects: working on the biography of his beloved James Clarence Mangan (“a better poet that Yeats on his best day!” he would exclaim  “Died without a penny in his pocket, and only two people at the funeral!”), writing and publishing his own poetry, teaching Prosidy and Prose to anyone who cared to ask (because teachers never retire, not really), touring the continent to buy huge boxes of old books and the odd antique for his dealer brothers, taking his mother to Paris every autumn because it was the place she loved most in all the world. He was a gregarious man, and never saw the people who came to his bookshop as mere customers, willing to talk for hours about books without necessarily selling any, always interested in people’s experiences and with an endless supply of stories of his own.

“Read the Russians!” he would insist, brushing aside my objections (they all have too many names, I can never keep track of who is who. ) “They know everything about suffering!” He worked ceaselessly at his own poetry, published most of it himself; gave copies away to his customers, writing dedications in every one.  When he went on buying trips in the winter, I would open the shop for him, and he would bring back German sweets and run me a tab in the coffee shop downstairs. He once gave me a hat entirely encrusted in sequins, which he said had come from India. It wasn’t the sort of thing people were wearing in Tipperary, just then, but I still have it somewhere. For all his generosity, he cost me a fortune; almost every time I went into the shop he would show me his new finds, give me a big discount, insist I take the book away to read even if I couldn’t pay for it… and I would always find a way to pay, in the end.

In the end I left Ireland, forced to admit that there was no way of me making a living there, and I only saw him once or twice after that, although we would send each other the odd postcard. My mother tells me that now the literary festival in Tipperary offers a writing prize every year in his name. He would have liked that.

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