Culture desk

In Temple Bar Square, a Resilient Book Market Prepares for More Changes

Alice Walsh wonders why they never stop.

She watches as another tour guide marches his group through Temple Bar, hurrying them on to their next destination, totally ignoring what might be Ireland’s only book market.

“I’ve said it to them a number of times, but they are just programmed,” says Walsh, who has short, sandy brown hair and is wearing a purple coat. “They say that tourists want to go to Guinness and Trinity and those are the places they want to go.”

The little market on Temple Bar Square has four stalls covered with white canvas. Buyers can bag a bargain, tourists can pick up an original souvenir.

Walsh sells locally designed cards and children’s books published by O’Brien Press in Terenure. At the next stall, Morrough Lacy stocks second-hand postcards and maps from the 1800s.

A young woman with long brown hair, who is dressed in black browses Walsh’s stall. She picks up a copy of Dubliners.

“I read it in university, but now that I’m here I feel the need to read it again,” says Rachel Kearly from Canada, smiling at Walsh.

She buys it. The James Joyce classic costs just €4.

The Changing Market

Walsh is the last of the original traders, the only one in the book market who has been there since it started 17 years ago, she says.

“My house was coming down with books,” she said. So, she started her stall, where she sells new and second-hand books, cards and comics.

Her friend Mike Coll helped out in the beginning, but has since moved away.

“Gerard Larkin owned Borderline Music over there,” she says pointing to where Aunty Nellie’s Sweet Shop is now, just off the square. He had a music stall in the early days.

There was a historian Frank Rynne, who sold books, she says. He lives in Paris now. And the owner of the Flying Pig Bookshop, which did graphic novels, she says. “I don’t know where he is gone.”

Walsh spots a woman with short blonde hair taking a photo of her greeting cards, and stops her.

She asks people to buy the €3.50 cards if they like them, rather than photograph them. “She was taking a picture of the Spire,” she says laughing. “It’s the new kind of shopping.”

A New Platform

The designs for Temple Bar Square show a single flat surface, open-plan and fully pedestrianised. The bars will lose their cordoned-off outdoor seating, although some shared seating may be provided.

“It needs to be sorted out, it is very cluttered,” says Walsh of the current state of the square.

Says Peter Murray, another vendor: “It will be nice when its done because it’s a bit of a hazardous area.” He hopes the works are done in winter.

The traders were worried about the planned revamp, says Walsh, as they didn’t know whether there would be space for them in the new design.

But, when Independent Councillor Mannix Flynn asked about that, the council assured them that they will be moved temporarily to another location near Dublin Castle and allowed back to Temple Bar once the work is finished.

Walsh hopes more traders will join the market after the square is renovated. She’d like to see artists there. “The more the merrier,” she says.

The traders only have a licence to open at weekends at the moment. Some hope this would be extended in summer months, once the renovation is complete.

Temple Bar is very busy with tourists all week in summertime, says Murray. “It would make sense because there would be nothing else here” he says. 

Cheaper Rent

Peter Murray started to trade in the market because he hadn’t been able to afford the rent on his €2,000-a-week shop, Rhythm Records, on the Quays.

That was nine years ago. “Downloads came in in a big way and the rents went up,” he says. He sells a few books, but mostly records, CDs, badges and denim patches.

He has rejigged his stock over the years, taking the CDs away from the front of the stall and putting them off to the side. The badges and patches are up at the front now.

They’re the main sellers, a fashion that has come and gone several times since the 1970s. “There is a new younger crowd getting back into the denim jackets,” he says.

Beside him, Lacy has been trading in Temple Bar since 2002. He started out with a book stall in UCD in 1982, then in 1984 he opened a shop in Dundrum, which he closed around ten years ago.

Now he focuses on the stall and sells a bit on Amazon too, he says. He buys directly from people doing a clear-out, from auctions and charity stores.

He sells maps and old Irish song books and cameras. And postcards, many dating back to before the First World War. One shows the beach in Ballymoney, another shows a Killarney spinster from around 1905, he guesses.

Irish ones can be popular with tourists and “there would be a few local collectors who would do a lot of buying,” he says.

He reckons that Temple Bar is the only book market in Ireland, that the new square will be an improvement.

Back in the 1950s, there were book stalls on the quays, he says. “How they could keep anything dry I don’t know,” he says.

[UPDATED: This article was updated on 7 November 2017 to make it clear that the planning process was not yet over in relation to the square.]

Laoise Neylon portrait
Laoise Neylon

Laoise Neylon is a freelance journalist. You can reach her at laoiseneylon@gmail.com.

 

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