We sell books: Cream of the book crop sold from former co-op

Holger Smyth part-owns and runs Inanna Rare Books, which has recently opened a ‘rare book lounge’ at the former Hawthorn creamery near Drimoleague, Co Cork.

We sell books: Cream of the book crop sold from former co-op

Holger Smyth part-owns and runs Inanna Rare Books, which has recently opened a ‘rare book lounge’ at the former Hawthorn creamery near Drimoleague, Co Cork. He formerly owned the Time Traveller’s bookshops, which had locations in Cork city, Skibbereen, Co Cork, and Westport, Co Mayo.

Holger Smyth of Inanna Rare Books, on the site of the old Hawthorn creamery near Drimoleague, Co Cork
Holger Smyth of Inanna Rare Books, on the site of the old Hawthorn creamery near Drimoleague, Co Cork

How long have you have been in the book business? We have been in the book business for 25 years but we have been in the business here in Ireland since 2010 — we had shops in Cork, Westport and Skibbereen.

We have now retreated to West Cork because this is the most reliable source for tourism for us here.

The shop in Westport is still in existence but we no longer own it, while my wife Nicola runs our shop in Skibbereen, which is now Antiquity vegan café and bookshop.

Tell us about your most recent venture, Inanna Rare Books: This is a new chapter that we have been working on for two-and-a-half years.

We are located in the old creamery, which we have transformed into an international book lounge for visitors and locals alike. I have started this new business with a partner who is a collector that I met through the shop in Cork city in 2014; he wants to be anonymous, to stay in the background.

Together we have taken on this old building and transformed it into a book lounge.

We have 25,000 books here, and it is a very international selection. You can buy books in Gaelic, English, German, Spanish, there is something for everybody. We have paperbacks from €2 as much as we have a signed collector’s item for €2,000.

How did you end up in West Cork? I am from Germany, near Frankfurt, and I have been a book dealer since 1991; my wife is from Scotland.

We landed near Kinsale in 2006; we have four children and we wanted to bring them up in an English-speaking country. Now we live in Skibbereen.

You have built up a significant online business:

Yes, I have been business on the internet since 2000; the new business is really just an addition to what we’ve been doing but we are taking it up a notch.

This is really a big venture and I’m absolutely happy about this because it unites the internet business with a real shop. In the summertime, it’s buzzing here but outside of the tourist season, there’s not a lot going on. So we are combining these two worlds — we are busy all year round with the internet and we’re growing this business.

How is your business different from more traditional bookshops? One part of our business which is a little bit different to all the other bookshops is that we are actually building bespoke libraries for clients.

So, for example, we have a client at the moment, for whom we are building a country-house library in the style of the 18th and 19th century.

We get a budget from someone who wants a themed library around a certain topic, fairytales or something like that. It is something that I find really exciting.

Sometimes you are also creating a library without having a client. For example, recently, we bought a library from a country house in West Cork, that had lots of law books in it.

And so all of a sudden you have 300 or 400 books on Irish law in and then you can add on to it and maybe one day there is a client who actually is looking for this, so it’s a waiting game.

What has the feedback been like since you opened?

The shop has only been open a couple of weeks. We are in the middle of nowhere but we are on a very busy road, the pipeline between Cork and west Cork, so we have people stopping because they are curious to see what is behind these walls.

We have local farmers stopping on their tractors, coming in and saying, ‘What have you done to our creamery?’

The creamery in a former age
The creamery in a former age

We have contact details for over 10,000 clients that we gained through the shops throughout Ireland and through the internet. And we have informed all these people that we are here now and so many have said they can’t wait to come here in the summer to visit.

A place like ours is really perfect for the lone wolf, the collector who wants to go somewhere where it’s quiet, where you can look through the books for hours without a phone ringing or somebody disturbing you.

Can you recommend three books:

I like reading all kinds of international literature. I’m particularly interested in Scandinavian writing — my favourite writer is Knut Hamsun, he is an amazing writer and a rather forgotten Nobel prize-winner for literature. People know Hunger but my favourite book of his is Growth of the Soil.

In terms of a German writer, I would say Hermann Hesse. He has a book called Knulp, which is available in translation. It’s about a bum travelling through the countryside, it’s very beautiful.

I would also say Charles Bukowski’s autobiography, Ham on Rye. It is an important book — he is the only writer, I find, who says everything we are not allowed to say.

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