Iconic bookshop to shut after 100 years in business

One of the country’s oldest independent bookshops, Liam Ruiséal’s in Cork City, is set to close later this year after more than a century in business.

A 1951 view of Liam Ruiséal's shopfront in Oliver Plunkett St, Cork

Bríd Hughes, a granddaughter of shop founder, Liam Ruiséal, confirmed that the famous shop will close “within a few months”.

She declined to comment in detail last night on the reasons for the closure and said she and her sisters, who run the business, plan to issue a formal statement later this week.

But she said it is business as usual at their Oliver Plunkett St shop until the doors close.

The shock announcement comes just over a year after the business celebrated its centenary.

Its closure will leave the city centre with just one independent bookshop.

Con Collins, of Collins Press, specialists in Irish-interest non-fiction books - thousands of which were sold by Liam Ruiséal’s - said it was a shame to see such an established Irish-owned independent bookshop close.

“It will be a huge loss, not just to Cork, but to Irish publishing,” he said.

“Discoverability is the buzzword these days. People need to know these books exist.

“So every bookshop that closes means less exposure for books, and it means the opportunity for impulse buys are less.”

Shop founder Liam Ruiséal in his shop in 1974.

Former Lord Mayor, Cllr Des Cahill, said he was saddened to hear of the closure of the “proud institution”.

“As a shop, you have done your city some service,” he said.

Historian, and city councillor, Kieran McCarthy, who has also sold many of his local history books through Liam Ruiséal’s, said the overwhelming reaction was one of sadness to see a “Cork institution” close.

“It has seen many wars and recessions and we thought it had survived the latest recession. It’s very disappointing and sad,” he said.

“It enjoyed a prominent location on a busy street but I suppose it’s difficult to run a bookshop at a time when so many people are buying online.

“The city needs to fight back against this silent killer. It needs to have an e-commerce promotional programme in place.”

But an industry source said it is sad that a city the size of Cork, a former European Capital of Culture which hosted the Unesco Learning Cities conference last year, can’t support two independent bookshops. Kilkenny and Tralee have two locally owned bookshops, and Ennis has one.

Liam Ruiséal’s carved out a reputation for specialising in local history, Irish history, educational, and rare books, and was renowned for its quirky window displays.

50 Shades of Grey remained one of their fastest selling titles — with about 120 copies flying off the shelves in an hour.

But sources said the move to buying books, especially school books online, would have hit this particular business hard.

William Geoghegan, Bríd Hughes, and Dara Brady mark the centenary. Picture: Larry Cummins

Speaking to the Irish Examiner during the shop’s centenary celebrations, Ms Hughes said it was difficult competing against the larger, chain-owned book shops.

“But we have to keep fighting our corner, and being independent, and doing things differently. People will always get a more personal service here. But they (city council) will have to do something about the rates and the parking in the city,” she said.

Shop founder, Liam Ruiséal, a lifelong Irish republican and Irish language enthusiast, was born in Cork’s South Parish in November 1891.

After finishing school in 1907, he got a job in Con O’Keeffe’s bookshop on George’s Street, now Oliver Plunkett St.

He attended evening classes in the School of Commerce, where his teachers included Terence MacSwiney, and he joined the South Parish branch of the Gaelic League, where he went on to develop his great love of the Irish language and culture, and where he fostered friendships with men who would go on to feature in the Cork Corps of the Irish Volunteers.

He was with the Cork Volunteers in Dublin in August 1, 1915 to attend the funeral of the Fenian, O’Donovan Rossa, and the following month, he helped escort Padraig Pearse into Cork city where Pearse addressed volunteers at their hall on Sheare’s St.

He attended the All Ireland hurling final a few weeks later, and helped smuggle a small consignment of revolvers back to the city.

In 1916, thanks to financial backing from his father, Ruiseál opened The Fountain Bookshop, on the Grand Parade, with Bríd Dixon - the woman he would marry on Easter Sunday September 1919.

The shop was frequently raided by the RIC during the turbulent years of the independence struggle.

Ruiséal closed that bookshop and relocated the business, which now bears his name, to its current location on Oliver Plunkett St in 1929, extending into an adjoining unit in 1966.

He was heavily involved in the Legion of Mary in the 1950s, he was a member of the Cork County Board for several years, he served on the governing body of UCC, and he served as President of the Irish Booksellers’ Association in 1950.

Liam Ruiséal worked in the bookshop until three weeks before his death on October 26, 1978, aged 87. He is buried in St Joseph’s Cemetery.



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