It’s great that the Irish Times has recognised Charlie Byrne’s bookshop as the Bookshop of the Year. With its excellent selection of new and used books, covering history, literature, politics, art and many other topics, Charlie’s is haunted by NUI Galway historians. The reader-friendly layout and the knowledgeable staff are of great assistance to the browser.
But if Galway is now well provided with bookshops, it wasn’t always so. Henry Inglis, who visited in 1834, complained as follows:
‘Literature is at a low ebb in Galway. No regular bookshop is to be found… there are shops indeed where books may be ordered and where some books may be purchased; but the demand is not sufficient to support a shop which sells books solely. I need scarcely say that the town contains no public or circulating library, and I could not learn that in the town, or its neighbourhood, any private book society existed.’
The novelist William Thackeray, who passed through in 1842, commented:
‘A man who sells hunting whips, gunpowder, guns, fishing tackle, and brass and iron-ware, has a few books on his counter, and a lady in a by-street, who carries on the profession of a milliner ekes out her stock in a similar way, but there were no regular book-shops that I saw…’
– John Cunningham