Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop, Galway
How it started?
It began in a little premises in Dominic Street in November 1989 after a brief and encouraging summer spell at a neighbourhood weekend market.
That shop was very small, occupying a space that was essentially a filled-in archway. From the outset, however, we tried to stock as broad a selection of quality secondhand books as possible at reasonable prices—this became the template for all subsequent iterations of the shop.
Those premises served us well as apprentice booksellers—the scale of the venture ensured any mistakes we may have made were small ones.
In 1992, we moved across the Corrib to Middle Street to a premises that allowed us to operate on two levels with a lovely children’s and literary section downstairs.
In 1995, we were on the move again, this time across the street to our current home in The Cornstore, where the shop gradually expanded as new premises became available over the years, into the maze of book-lined rooms that it is today.
That’s where it started. How it started was from a love of books—particularly hard-to-find second hand books. We have been lucky that the people of Galway have shared that love of books, and welcomed us into the landscape of the city.
Since arriving in the Cornstore we have tried to make the shop into a community space, facilitating events, launches and partnerships with every aspect of the book trade from publishers to festivals.
The aim was to make the space a haven for book lovers, a place where the book you need will find you rather than the other way around.
Over the years here we have sought to maintain that feeling of discovery that customers get when they come upon the shop. In terms of atmosphere, we are ever mindful of a customer’s observation that we should cultivate a culture that was half way between an Arts Centre and a very good pub. Great advice!
How it’s going?
The shop now occupies seven units of The Cornstore with a distinctive wall of secondhand books that wraps all the way around the outside of the shop. With entire rooms dedicated to Fiction, Ireland, Children’s Books, History and Art, the idea is to create a sprawling space you can get comfortably lost in.
We have a team of dedicated booksellers who are all united by their mutual love of putting the ideal book in every customer’s hands.
In more recent years we have started stocking new books as well, which also brings its own element of excitement. We try to stock a little bit of everything—but feel that even though we have so much it’s still only the tip of the giant iceberg that is contemporary publishing!
The secondhand and bargain books still represent the core of the business and the shop contains what is estimated as close to 750,000 volumes (although no one is quite sure!). The last two years have brought their challenges—as with all of the bookshops around the country—but we have been very lucky with the loyalty of our customers and the public’s continuing interest in books.
We’ve been delighted this year to return to hosting events and to resume activities in our Children’s section such as Storytime and our Children’s Book Clubs. We’re looking forward to bringing a full roster of events back next year too.
Where you’re headed?
The thing that unites all of our staff here in Charlie Byrne’s both past and present? Our intrinsic love of books and authors—and our fundamental interest in introducing those books to other people, be they 9 or 99!
We believe in books, and particularly in the Irish book industry as a way of educating, empowering and entertaining the people of Ireland and beyond. We want to do our part to see the bookshop thrive into the future. We would love to create a space dedicated to books that will last beyond us.
The success of the shop has always been based on two things: our wonderfully dedicated book-loving staff who, over the years, have provided a unique service to our loyal and large core of regular customers; the fact that we are operating in the vibrant, artistic and passionately cultural city of Galway, which provides the perfect environment for the droves of students and visitors that throng the city every year.
Our wish is to keep doing what we love to do: working with great authors and publishers to bring brilliant books to the public, and helping the people who come to our shop to rediscover wonder. If we can stay doing that among the fabric of all of the other great businesses of Galway then we will be happy.
A book recommendation
This year we have really loved John Creedon’s Treasury of Irish Folklore from Gill books. It’s a truly gorgeous book with a rich and moving history of Ireland.
For children, Méabh suggests some of the brilliant new Irish fiction that has been released this year, including Ellen Ryan’s Girls Who Slay Monsters, Steve McCarthy’s The Wilderness and The Chestnut Roaster by Eve McDonnell. Each one is unique and deserve to stay on children’s shelves for many years to come.