Carina McNally shares the delights of An Gadaí Dubh
One of Munster’s most eclectic bookshops, An Gadaí Dubh is off the beaten track in Ballymakeera, outside Macroom and in the heart of Cork’s Muskerry Gaeltacht. Conor Kelleher sells books in a building that was the local drapery for 100 years. This historic premises, once host to Pádraig Pearse, has taken on a new lease of life under the proprietorship of village native Conor, who now sells new, used and antiquarian books in his dog-friendly bookshop.
The regular book-lovers come to peruse the diverse collections of new, old and rare books, but it’s not only the books that are diverse. People also come to spend time reading, chatting or playing board games amid Conor’s other collections—historical artefacts and memorabilia (many from the War of Independence and the Civil War), stuffed road-kill and treasures such as fossils or bat remains. A painting by a Republican prisoner while incarcerated in Cork Gaol during the Civil War is on display. Dead specimens abound. On road-kill, Conor states, ‘I can’t pass it without thinking that it might make a specimen for the shop.’ In fact, An Gadaí Dubh is a reflection of the owner’s enthusiasm and interests, Conor being one of Ireland’s premier bat experts. ‘My major interest is natural history,’ he says, the wide variety of nature books testament to this.
Customers enjoy complimentary teas and coffees, and poetry readings or ciorcal cainte if they are learning Irish for cultural or integrational reasons. Conor is keen on bringing in the community. ‘Interestingly enough, my bookshop has become a social hub factored into people’s daily lives. We have regular scrabble and chess. It’s a place to come and have coffee and chill.’ Children, too, drop in on their way from school ‘to stroke the foxes or the hare’, or just to spend some time among the books or playing games.
An Gadaí Dubh certainly fulfils its cultural role within the community. Local-interest books feature a lot. There’s even a novel about the Gearagh River, which flows through nearby Béal Átha’n Ghaorthaidh. On a recent trip to Tokyo, Conor unearthed a rare book: Irish-language phrases and words from Múscraí Gaeltacht: Cnósach Focal ó Bhaile Bhúirne i gCunndae Chorcaí—a collection of words from Baile Bhúirne in County Cork by Mícheál Ó Briain, one of the Ceithre Mhaistrí (Four Masters). Needless to say, Conor purchased it immediately, the wonder being how it got there in the first place. In perfect condition ‘the story of how it got from Ireland to Japan must be really interesting’.
Conor is willing to give self-published authors a chance: ‘I’m currently reading a book written by a young Dublin author, the subject of which is organised paedophilia in Dublin and vigilantism associated with it. Mainstream publishers told him it was too dark for publication.’
Happy to buy any old books hiding in your attic, a quick perusal of the shop’s Facebook page will tell you dogs are loved here too. Perhaps the secret of the bookshop is that it offers something different. Although finding the hidden pearl among the bookshelves might be the main attraction, you can always pop in for a game of scrabble or a cuppa while on the road from Cork to Killarney.
An Gadaí Dubh Bookshop is located in Ballymakeera Village
Macroom, Ireland P12 NY32.
Carina McNally writes book reviews, short stories and flash fiction.