Aideen McConville manages the Dingle Bookshop, located at Green St, Dingle, Co Kerry. It sells new and second-hand books.
How long have you been in business?
The shop is owned by Camilla Dinkel and Mike Venner, who took it over from the previous owner 11 years ago. They’re from England originally but have been in Ireland for nearly 20 years. I’ve been managing it for the last two years.
How did you get involved in bookselling?
I’ve always been interested in books, my mother was a huge reader who dragged me around bookshops as soon as I could walk. I’m in my 50s now and I’ve been around bookshops for my whole life. I started working here as a Saturday job about 15 years ago. I got to know the business and when the owners took a step back a couple of years ago they gave me the chance to manage it. It’s less pressure on them though they still come in for one day a week.
What brought you to Dingle?
I’m from Palmerstown in Dublin originally but I moved to Dingle 15 years ago. I had friends here and it’s a lovely place to live. I previously lived in London for ten years, where I was a fine art photographic printer; when the opportunity arose to come home I came back but I didn’t want to live in Dublin too long, so I moved here.
Dingle is a busy tourist town, does that help?
It’s very busy now — we are getting a lot of American tourists — but July and August are our busiest months. We’re always open even if it’s short hours, 11 to 4 in January, but we’ve never felt we needed to shut. We have great support from the local people, they come in a lot. They know independent bookshops are under pressure so they choose to support us. We survive the winter quite well, we have Féile na Bealtaine, which is a great festival in May, we have peaks and troughs but it’s very busy from now until October. We also have the food festival in October and Other Voices in December, they’re huge. It comes to a stage where there isn’t a weekend when there isn’t something on.
What books sell well?
We stay up to date with the bestsellers but the ones that also sell well are the Blasket books. They sell all year round to tourists, and that keeps us going — Peig, The Islandman, Twenty Years A-Growing. The bestseller of the moment is An Unsung Hero by Michael Smith, it’s about Tom Crean, the Antarctic explorer. We have a very good second-hand section which is very popular in the summer with people who just want something for their backpacks, and we try to keep a good Irish language section.
I speak Irish, I’ve been studying it on and off through the years, and if people are doing a beginners’ course we try to have books on hand that will help them. Irish fiction is very big at the moment. The likes of Ryan Tubridy have done a lot for books — if he mentions a book, it flies out of the shop.
How do you counter the challenge of online retailing?
People love the experience of coming in here. They want a recommendation, they may not know what they want but they just know they want a book. You can have a huge influence on them and what they pick. They want to talk about it, to have an interaction.
They probably buy online as well, but that’s just a click and it’s over.
We also have a big kids’ section where they can sit down and take it easy, too.
When the schools shut and families come down, the parents come in and buy the kids a book each, it’s a tradition. We have lots of families who are regular customers every summer, and you get to see the kids growing up.
Have you any books on your most famous resident, Fungi?
We have a book called The Dolphin in Dingle Bay by Mel Fisher and Patricia Ludlow. Fungi is a huge asset to the town, I don’t know what we’ll do when he goes.
What are the rewards of being a bookseller?
The reward is having beautiful books on hand on every subject to read whenever you want. And meeting lovely people all the time, people who like to talk about books and the effect they have. It’s also a lovely place to work. It’s a great town and stunning area. After all my years here it still takes my breath away.