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The Quiet Life in a Rural Bookshop

Article by The Bookseller © 27 January 2012.
Posted in Guest Blogs ().

Sheelagh na Gig bookshop opened in late 2006 in a village in north Tipperary, selling books, music, art, and coffee from a tiny space in Cloughjordan, just across from St. Kieran’s Church of Ireland.

Opening a bookshop in a village was not as lunatic as it sounds: Cloughjordan is the home of Ireland’s first ecovillag

As well as doubling the population of Cloughjordan, the ecovillage will, in the long-term, generate significant tourist numbers in an under-appreciated and under-visited part of the midlands. Of course, even in cities these days, bookshops have a difficult time surviving, which is why we chose to offer more than books. Books, CDs, and locally produced arts and crafts are things people buy, but we quickly worked out that we needed to sell good coffee as a way of bringing people in. Naturally, we added home-baked cakes and organic chocolates to go with the coffee.

What we became, very quickly, was a community centre.Information point, post restante, event venue: we try pretty much anything that might work!

Longest-standing of our many projects is the Cloughjordan Writers’ Group. Started in 2007, the group includes published and unpublished writers who meet every Sunday to share constructive criticism with each other and participate in writing exercises. Members also read at various arts events in Cloughjordan.One of the highlights was Culture Night 2011, when 37 people packed into the Reading Room at 10pm for Tales of Horror, original stories by writing-group members Pen Fitzgerald and Nigel Quinlan. Earlier on Culture Night, people queued in the rain outside Rohan’s late-night shop to hear David Fairclough’s story ‘The Bitterness of Losing’, a story about a child’s view of the world set in an old-fashioned corner shop.

Ideas for groups and events often come from our regular customers (who are very much part of the furniture). For example, Nigel Quinlan and David Fairclough got the writing group going. More recently we’ve welcomed the biodynamic discussion group on a Thursday morning, and starting in March we’ll be hosting low-cost, drop-in social media training by Silverwood Ireland twice a month. Recently we’ve introduced late-night events. Open mic, games night, music, drama: the second Saturday of every month we do something different and entertaining in the Reading Room. Our other late-night event is Pink Coffee, a free, relaxed GLBTQ social evening (next happening on Saturday, 18 February at 8.30pm). We’re also the collection point for the Cloughjordan Woodfired Bakery Bread Club! And we stock some very good cookery books on breadmaking too.

It isn’t sounding very quiet, is it? It’s not! In fact, I love it when it IS quiet because we can catch up on administrative work, such as ordering books. Oh yes: books. We do have them, lots of them, along with the homemade fudge and millionaire’s shortbread and cappuccino and eco-friendly toys, plus the groups and events.

However, except in large towns and urban areas, bookshops can’t simply sell books and survive. Because we opened a rural shop, we knew this from the beginning, and this knowledge has kept us open for over five years (along with some cussed determination). We’ve always had events; we’ve always had loyalty cards; we’ve always looked for the extra product lines that fit what we do and excite our customers. We are very individual, which appeals to visitors and makes us a better fir than you’d think in this village, a place full of quiet individuality. You’ll see exactly how individual we are when you see our 2011 best-sellers list, which is most certainly unlike the list for any other bookshop in the country!

Top 10 Sellers in 2011

1. Towards a Second Republic, Peadar Kirby

2. Forgotten Skills of Cooking, Darina Allen

3. The Polytunnel Book, Joyce Russell

4. Vegetables for the Irish Garden, Klaus Laitenberger

5. Wild Flowers of Ireland, Declan Doogue and Carsten Kriegar

6. The Goddess Village, Nuala Woulfe

7. Trucks and Diggers book-and-puzzle set

8. Permaculture in a Nutshell, Patrick Whitefield

9. Sean Lemass Democratic Dictator, Bryce Evans

10. Fleeing Vesuvius, editors Richard Douthwaite and Gillian Fallon

Elizabeth OShea is co-owner of Sheelagh na Gig bookshop in Cloughjordan, Co. Tipperary. She has also worked as a technical communicator and plain English editor and trainer. ©2012.

And latest news is that Sheelagh na Gig bookshop has acquired Cork-based Walnut Books, a specialist bookshop that has provided the best books on practical sustainability since 1996.

Originally established by permaculture teacher and founder of the growing Transition Network, Rob Hopkins, Walnut Books started out as a box of choice books and a folding table travelling to green events around Ireland. By the time Nora Gaffney joined in 2002, Walnut Books had published a catalogue and was supplying books by mail to a growing customer base from a converted barn at The Hollies Centre for Practical Sustainability. Under Nora’s management, Walnut Books opened a shop in Cork city and launched the online store walnutbooks.com in 2003.

Since 2003, Walnut Books has sold books on sustainability worldwide, including to remote areas such as Antarctica. Irish and international visitors choose to buy from Walnut Books because of its specialist knowledge, commitment to the promotion of sustainable principles, and the personal service provided by Nora Gaffney.

Sheelagh na Gig bookshop was established in late 2006 in Cloughjordan as a cultural hub in the growing village, which is home to Ireland’s first ecovillage. A significant percentage of book sales at Sheelagh na Gig are of permaculture, biodynamic, green building, and sustainability titles. When Nora Gaffney decided to move on from Walnut Books in 2011, Elizabeth O’Shea and Mollie Barrow, the directors of Sheelagh na Gig, saw a perfect opportunity to develop the Cloughjordan-based book business.

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