Noel Jameson

Dublin bookseller turned restaurateur and conservationist
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The Independent Online

The book trade in Ireland has always stood at a slight angle to the larger, richer and more prosaic version to the east. Noel Jameson knew this well, both as a historic fact and in his own lively and learned practice as a bookseller. He would have been instantly at home in Swift's Dublin, but himself stood like Janus, interpreting the past with one face to the present, but looking back to a time long ago that was as familiar to him as the time he lived in.

Noel Jameson, bookseller, restaurateur and conservationist: born Ballycastle, Co Antrim 14 November 1940; died Cork 16 December 2004.

The book trade in Ireland has always stood at a slight angle to the larger, richer and more prosaic version to the east. Noel Jameson knew this well, both as a historic fact and in his own lively and learned practice as a bookseller. He would have been instantly at home in Swift's Dublin, but himself stood like Janus, interpreting the past with one face to the present, but looking back to a time long ago that was as familiar to him as the time he lived in.

He was born at Ballycastle, and after school found his way to Trinity College Dublin. After graduating, he worked in the wonderful 18th-century library there, before moving to the old-established Dublin booksellers Hodges Figgis. There he met a wholly congenial colleague, Michael O'Neill Walshe. They quickly became friends, and three years later resolved to set up on their own.

They found premises at 4 Molesworth Place, off School House Lane, not far from Hodges Figgis, but remained on the best of terms with their previous employers. Characteristically, they called the new business not by their own names, but two others from the palmy days of Dublin's literary past, George Grierson and George Falkner or Faulkner. Both had been known to Swift, Falkner becoming his publisher; the editions that they published, despite disingenuous protests from the London booksellers, were more like the Penguins or Tauchnitz editions of later years.

The new Falkner Grierson flourished, selling the produce of their namesakes and other Irish books, as well as ransacking Ireland for other old books from Irish libraries, which they were able to sell to a still competitive US market, as well as appreciative customers nearer home. Their catalogues, mostly written by Walshe, attracted the attention of connoisseurs. It was a busy and happy time for both of them, cut short by Walshe's untimely death in 1974.

But, if a good deal of the enjoyment that Jameson and he had shared came to an end, the business did not. Falkner Grierson, with Jameson solo, moved to Pembroke Road, and he was joined there (a pleasant irony) by his old friend Neville Figgis. He might be there still, but for an unexpected misfortune. He had bought a house in County Waterford, using his house as security for the loan he needed to buy it. Perversely, the bank called in the loan, and in 1982 he was forced to sell house and business.

It was not in Jameson to be cast down, even by this, and he was soon back at work again. This time he opened a restaurant, and for a dozen years enlivened Irish gastronomy to great effect. He enjoyed the company but, tiring eventually of the long hours, started on a third career, the restoration of one of Ireland's few medieval buildings, Barryscourt Castle, near Cork.

Barryscourt was the abode of the Barry family from the 12th to the 17th century, but although the bawn wall was intact the mainly 15th-century keep had fallen into decay, and by the mid-1990s was almost a ruin. As a result, the Barryscourt Trust was formed, and Jameson took on the task of restoring the castle and opening it to the public. He became a public servant, as an employee of the Office of Works, and a fund-raiser as well as clerk of the works.

Eventually the restoration was finished. Barryscourt is now firmly on the tourist map of Ireland, and Jameson was looking forward to improving its amenities, as well as welcoming old friends and new to it. His death took them by surprise, as it did him; but he enjoyed a party too much to hang around when it was over.

Nicolas Barker



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