End Of An Era
ANYONE WHO knows me will probably confirm to you that I have more than one or two books around the house. New books are great but older books are more interesting. You can get more or less the same books at any one time in any branch of Waterstones but every second-hand bookshop is different. Until a few days ago, one of the most fascinating was Volume One books in the Haymarket between Royal Avenue and Gresham Street – one of my regular Saturday morning haunts. I was shocked to find it closed up the other day and to hear that it has closed. The owner, John Clancey, has been in the book trade for a great many years. He first started in the legendary Harry Hall’s in Smithfield before opening a shop in Winetavern Street beside the Elephant bar. In 1989, after about twenty years he moved to the Haymarket.
Wee John the Book, as he is known to most of his friends and clients, is virtually unique. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of his regular customers’ literary interests and when buying books he would often have particular clients in mind. Quite often when I would walk in the door, he would say “David, just look at this. I thought this might interest you”. More often than not he’d be absolutely right. He had a policy of giving local authors and small publishers shelf and window space. He stocked copies of my own booklet on WF McCoy and items from Island Pamphlets, The Rushlight, and the verse of Albert Haslett among others.
His shops have always been a haven for devout book collectors from all over Ireland and even further afield. He has even been featured on local radio and an RTE documentary. I have a video tape in my possession showing him selling a book to my old pal, the late Harry Irwin. I hope that like that other great survivor, Terry Hooley – whose new record shop, Phoenix Records is also in the Haymarket – John Clancey will soon bounce back. The world of bookselling in Belfast will be much worse off without his knowledge and experience.