How it started
I have been a freelance editor for thirty-five years. My work, hobbies and social life revolved around books, and when I decided to do something different before it was ‘too late’, it was inevitable that it wouldn’t be so different after all and would involve … books.
I was nervous about renting space, so I sold my house in the UK, effectively ensuring that I’d never return there, and looked around for premises to buy. Ennistymon was my first choice, but there was little available. There had been a property that I’d liked the look of from the outside, but it was sold before I was in a position to investigate it properly. I looked at other towns and other properties, but couldn’t find anything quite right.
And then my favoured property came back on the market. I bought it, renovated the ground floor and, just like that, we had a shop unit. (If only it had been that simple!)
A friend had closed her second-hand bookshop a year earlier, so I bought her stock and with what I had amassed and filled my house with, she and I set to and (with a lot more stress) created Banner Books. Another friend had previously had a second-hand bookshop in Ennistymon with the name Banner Books; I liked it (Clare being the Banner County, Books so there is no mistaking what we sell, the alliteration) and since Gerry had closed his shop I asked him if he minded me using the name.
That was in July 2019, and for the first two years we were closed more than we were open due to Covid. Finances were tough, but I was so glad I had bought instead of rented, as we would have been finished before we properly started.
How it’s going
In Ennistymon we are a team of three. My original colleague has left and it is now Kaye, me (Sally) and the bookshop dog. The dog is in charge. We are open seven days a week and we sell new and second-hand/antiquarian books, cards, jigsaws and artwork from local artists.
Originally I had planned to be mainly a second-hand book store, but customers wanted new books and now our stock is about half and half new and used.
Nearly anything we don’t have in our new stock we can order in, and we offer a book-finding service for out-of-print titles.
Last year, June 2022, we opened a second shop in County Clare, this time in the west of the county in Kilrush. Again, it’s a mixture of new, used and antiquarian books, and we are open seven days a week. We have a team of five in Kilrush – Dee, Mark, Hilary, me and the bookshop dog (the dog is still in charge). It’s been interesting seeing how the demographics of the two shops are different and adjusting the stock to what each shop requires.
The staff in both shops are book enthusiasts. Everyone works towards presenting an inviting space in which to browse, talk books and give and receive recommendations. We’ll do our best to find the books customers want and suggest those they didn’t know they wanted until they came to Banner Books.
Where we’re headed
Dee has taken on responsibility for events and she is devising a programme of talks, clubs and workshops, and our new book club has just started. We had a few events in Ennistymon before Covid, and will get going with those again soon.
In Ennistymon we help to organise the Ennistymon Book Town Festival (held the last weekend of August), where used and antiquarian booksellers from around the country have pop-up shops. We’d like to do more ‘book town’ events, so thought is going into that at the moment.
In Kilrush we have a couple of underutilised rooms, so we are thinking of ways we can use those – they will probably become shops within the shop and we are currently debating the right mix of ‘departments’.
Essentially, we want to be somewhere people feel comfortable visiting and know that we will respect their needs and their choices, provide book recommendations if they want them, but let them browse in peace if that’s what they prefer. We aim to be welcoming and helpful, inclusive and encouraging.
It’s perhaps a bit parochial, but we are all fully in love with a new book called Everyone Has a Different Ennistymon. It’s written by local poet Grace Wells, designed by local artist and book binder Éilís Murphy and published by Doolin Arts. It is beautiful. It’s a book-length poem giving the history and contemporary observations of Ennistymon; it’s completely accessible to non poetry readers and is gorgeous in every way.
More mainstream but still keeping a local connection, for non-fiction we’d recommend Build Your Own by Harrison Gardner (published by Gill); for poetry, short stories and images we’d recommend Last of the Light by Marc Ó Riain; for fiction one of our go-to’s is This is Happiness by Niall Williams (published by Bloomsbury Publishing) — and a just-published Dublin drag scene cosy mystery Death in Heels by Kitty Murphy.
For children, we’d recommend Glorious Goddesses of Ancient Ireland by Karen Ward and Paula McGloin (published by Beehive Books), and Mo Chuid Amhráin Ghaeilge by Tatyana Feeney and Risteard Mac Liam (published by My Irish Books).