Liam Ruiséal bookshop celebrates 100 years in business

The family behind one of the country’s oldest independent book shops will celebrate 100 years in business today with an eye on the next chapter of their remarkable story.

Staff member William Geoghegan, with Bríd Hughes and Dara Brady, granddaughters of founder Liam Ruiséal. Picture: Larry Cummins

Sisters Bríd Hughes, Fionnuala O’Herlihy, and Dara Brady, who run the Liam Ruiséal bookshop on Cork’s Oliver Plunkett St for their aunt, Sarah Russell, will host a series of celebratory events throughout the day with local authors, musical performances by Jimmy Crowley and John Spillane, and a 20%-off offer on selected books as part of the milestone centenary celebrations.

Ms Hughes said it will be a very proud day for all involved in what is Cork’s oldest independent bookshop. It was founded by their grandfather, Liam Ruiséal — a lifelong Irish republican and Irish language enthusiast.

“We were born and reared to it,” she said.

“Grandfather lived over the shop and when our parents married, and when we were children, we were constantly coming into the shop, and we’d be given a job to tidy the shelves or mark a few books.

“I remember Albert Folen, who founded Folens, coming on a Sunday with a van-load of schoolbooks, and we’d all be here helping out. We’ve always been involved.”

Ms Hughes said it is 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.

Loyal staff member William Geoghegan said the business has, over the years, carved out a reputation for specialising in local history, Irish history, educational, and rare books.

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

The shop is also renowned for its quirky window displays — the most recent of which went viral after William stuck a cotton-wool ‘beard’ onto the clean-shaven image of Roy Keane which appeared on the cover of his last book, The Second Half.

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.

Liam Ruiséal: a history

Liam Ruiséal’s bookshop on Oliver Plunkett St in 1951. Picture: Irish Examiner Archive/Ref 60E

Historian and author Ronnie Herlihy charted Liam Ruiséal’s life in detail in his recent book, Among the Stones - a history of the city’s St Joseph’s Cemetery.

Ruiséal was born in the South Parish in November 1891, and 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 The Fountain 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.

He died on October 26, 1978, aged 87. He is buried in St Joseph’s Cemetery.

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