Introducing Ireland’s oldest bookshop

Hodges Figgis’ iconic bookstore has moved around a lot since it was founded in 1768 – from Skinners Row, to Nassau Street and, finally, on to Dawson Street. But it has always been home for Dublin’s booklovers.

We spoke to Hodges Figgis store manager, Tony Hayes, to get to the bottom of what makes the country’s oldest bookshop a Dublin treasure. Tony has worked in the book trade since the 70s but, falling under its charm, he returned to the bookstore in recent years.

shelves stuffed with Irish Books

Hodges Figgis or Flourish & Blotts?

Hodges Figgis’ iconic storefront would not look out of place in J.K. Rowling’s Diagon Alley. Its large windows show off impressive book displays. They’re framed by dark green paintwork and, above, the Hodges Figgis store name twinkles in gold.

The long-established bookshop looks right at home in this beautiful, red brick Georgian building. And the magic doesn’t stop when you venture inside. Four floors of solace await Dublin’s bookworms.

Shelves stocked to the ceiling and themed tables overflowing with recommended reads welcome you. You’ll find fiction, biographies, crime, politics, history, gastronomy and even angels – whatever your interest, it is catered for. There’s even some books on witchcraft.

We focus on quality and we listen to our customers. What we stock is what our customers want.

While many stores focus on doing one thing and doing it well, the range at Hodges Figgis is as diverse as its customers – and this has been central to its success.

“We are lucky to have a great community of people who come into this store and we can provide almost everything that the customer requires… Mass market isn’t our focus. We focus on quality and we listen to our customers. What we stock is what our customers want,” Tony says.

Themed tables piled with books and marked with pun-filled signs

This diversity is reflected in the tables of recommended reads dotted about the store. Each table is different, some play host to special offers while others are themed. However, what brings these tables to life is the pithy signs that accompany them. They feature quotes, funny one-liners and witty headlines.

The different sections are worth exploring for their décor alone. The ceiling of the Travel section is strewn with paper airplanes made from maps and Crime has been turned into a murder scene with silhouettes lurking above the books.

Get them while they’re young

The children’s section resembles a carnival for book lovers. The ceiling is draped with colourful paper decorations and cuddly toys in hammocks while, on the wall, letters spell out “once upon a time”. I’m certain this part of the store has been the start of a love affair with stories for many of Dublin’s little bibliophiles.

colourful Bookshelves and bunting in Hodges Figgis children's section

In fact, Hodges Figgis makes a point of encouraging children to read. It regularly hosts events, book clubs and readings just for them. As a father himself, Tony is aware of how important it is to push children to read. He’s been delighted with the growth in children’s literature in recent years.

The physical action of reading is important – especially for a younger child.

“The range of books available to children now is incredible compared to 30-40 years ago. In fact, children’s book sales are up. Perhaps, technology hasn’t touched them yet or maybe children still prefer the physical book.

“The physical action of reading is important – especially for a younger child. Where they can pick a book up, chew it, throw it on the floor, hold it upside down and the story, the pictures and the colours will still be there. Those things are almost as important as the reading itself.”

It’s Ireland’s biggest Irish section

Irish literature is always a priority for Hodges Figgis too. “We stock everything from Irish nature to Irish poetry and drama – and everything in between,” says Tony. “Anything published in, on or about Ireland, we try to stock. We have the largest Irish department in the country.”

Anything published in, on or about Ireland, we try to stock.

This focus can also be seen in the portraits of Irish literary greats that line the staircases. Yeats, Wilde, Beckett and Joyce, they’re all there – both on the walls and the shelves.

prints of james Joyce above the staircase in Hodges Figgis dublin

However, the real magic of Hodges Figgis lies in its atmosphere. You can easily while away the hours in the store’s reverent quiet. Escaping the bustle of the nearby city streets, visitors can seek out a seat (or a deck chair, if you’re in the travel section) and peruse away.

One visit should have you hooked and, if it doesn’t, the store’s generous loyalty scheme should keep you coming back for more.

Hodges Figgis is now part of Waterstones. For more information and current opening hours, visit its website.

Amy Sergison works in the advertising industry, creating social and digital content for brands in Ireland and the UK. The child of inner-city parents, Dublin is in her blood. When not writing you can find Amy screaming at a rugby match, Instagramming her dinner, or searching for solace in the quiet spots of the city.

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