We Sell Books: ‘It’s a real privilege to foster their love of reading and books’

Éibhleann Ní Ghríofa runs Scéal Eile bookshop in Ennis, Co Clare with her husband Pat Hynes. They also sell books online and operate a gallery and theatre company in the premises, writes Marjorie Brennan.

Pat Hynes and Éibhleann Ní Ghriofa with young Eilbhe Ní Leidhin at Scéal Eile bookshop in Ennis Co Clare. Picture : Eamon Ward

How long have you been in business?

Éibhleann: I opened up the shop with the help of my parents in 2006. I grew up about eight miles outside Ennis.

Pat: I got involved full-time in 2013. I’m from Mayo, I’m a blow-in. I was doing a MA in writing in NUIG. When I finished, I started working for an online bookseller in Galway. I was doing that for about five years off and on. Then I met Éibhleann in 2008 and eventually got roped in to the business.

Éibhleann: He was lured into it!

How did you get into the business?

Éibhleann: I just love books. I have two sisters, Fíodhna works for Penguin Random House and my sister Doireann is a poet. We are all involved with books in some way. My father is a civil servant and my mother is a teacher. We all caught the bug somehow.

How has business been since you opened?

Éibhleann: We have been open for a really extraordinary time in bookselling. When we opened up first, things were going relatively well and then we saw a massive sea change. People who weren’t genuine customers would come in and ask us about Amazon, as if we were somehow involved. The e-readers have mostly gone now. The business changed hugely and we struggled but there have also been periods where we absolutely thrived. Though all that, we have had customers who absolutely love their books. People who love books can see that we clearly love books too; that attracts a certain type of person.

How does selling online work for you?

Éibhleann: We do quite well. We have had enormous success with repeat customers, and people who have kept in contact when we’ve found books for them that they have been looking for for years. You are still connecting with them, it is the same process, you have to take the middleman out of it as much as you can.

Pat: I got a lovely email from a fella from Australia. I sent him a book about a month ago and he got it last Friday. He was delighted and we had this great conversation over email.

Éibhleann: It has opened us up to a new kind of customer too that we probably wouldn’t have if we just had a shop in Ennis.

The shop is something of a cultural hub as well…

Éibhleann: Yes, that is something we really try to do. During some of the lax periods, it was important for us to maintain an arts scene in Ennis. Even though there is a lot of music and musicians here, there wasn’t that much going on otherwise that wasn’t pub culture.

Pat: Culture Night would have been one of the first things we got involved in. Culture Night wasn’t going on in Ennis when Éibhleann opened the shop. When it came to Dublin, she started staying open late, doing events to celebrate it independently, until it became a thing.

Éibhleann: One of Pat’s passions is writing drama, which is how the Scéal Eile productions started.

Pat: We set it up around the beginning of 2012. My play Sparks was shortlisted for the PJ O’Connor award. We toured it around for a couple of years sporadically. We eventually brought it to the fringe in Edinburgh. We have done a lot of other things under the Scéal Eile productions tag. We do a lot of book launches as well.

What are your biggest sellers?

Éibhleann: A lot of it depends on the season. During the summer, we see a lot of tourists.

Pat: Tourism is a huge part of our business, especially between March and October. A lot of Americans, French and German tourists come in. They are interested in the more unusual books we have — older Irish history and Irish photography books, featuring the Burren, the Wild Atlantic Way, all of that. We get a lot of Spanish tourists who want to buy simple literary novels to help them learn English.

Éibhleann: I’m very interested in books as Gaeilge in general, so we have a lot of unusual books, especially ones for kids that they get really excited about when they see them. It has been great to see the growth in that in recent years, Irish translations of books by Roald Dahl, the Harry Potter books, and so on. It is a real joy to sell them to people.

Pat: You can also get Asterix, Obelix and TinTin comics in Irish. We always have them.

Éibhleann: There’s a company called Cló Mhaigh Eo who do graphic novels in Irish. It’s our own mythology but in graphic novel style. They sell quite well to tourists. They look so beautiful.

What are the rewards of being a bookseller?

Éibhleann: It’s great seeing the kids coming in because we’ve been open for over a decade now and you see people who used to come in as small kids growing and changing. It’s a real privilege to foster their love of reading and books, it’s a whole new world for them.

Pat: Meeting all the customers and seeing the same people coming back, you know you are doing something right.

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