Final chapter for Government bookshop spells end of an era


The closure is more to do with the rise of the internet than the downturn

It mightn’t have been name-checked in Ulysses, or eulogised in a traditional Dublin ballad, yet the Government Publications Office bookshop, which shut its doors yesterday after 90 years, had a place in the city’s DNA.

Its passing prompted fresh bouts of nostalgia for the old Dublin. First they came for Bewley’s, then Guineys, then Tea Time Express . . . Is there anywhere left in the capital for people to dawdle endlessly without being approached by a shop assistant? Make no mistake, the Government bookshop served not just as a purveyor of the finest State documents but as a drop-in centre for eccentrics, cranks and political nerds. An unrelated fact: Garret FitzGerald was a regular right up to his death.

Employees yesterday fondly recalled the various characters, including the man who hurled a piece of legislation at them amid complaints over its deficiencies. “We had to keep reminding people we did not write the laws,” said Oliver Bourke, one of the five remaining staff, now being redeployed by the Office of Public Works.

The bookshop’s best-seller list is like a roll-call of recent social history: the reports of the Flood tribunal, the Ansbacher inquiry, and the Ryan and Murphy commissions.

The Ryan and Murphy reports saw people arriving through the doors not just to purchase the reports but to share their experiences.

“It was hard listening to the stories but it was also a bit of an honour that someone would share that with you and trust you,” said Martin Jackson, who will be reporting to his new job in Revenue on Monday.

The decision to close will save the OPW an estimated €400,000. A retailer is expected to take up the lease at the Molesworth Street premises, the fifth home for the Government store, which began its life at 41-42 Lower Sackville Street in 1922. The office will continue to operate both online and mail order delivery services.

While the closure is not unrelated to the downturn, it has more to do with the growth of the internet. Sales revenue at the shop has dropped by more than half since 2008, and many of yesterday’s customers were buying there for the first time. Among them was Peter Horgan from Cork, who picked up a souvenir copy of Standing Orders of the Seanad (€8.40). “I’m a bit of a nut for stuff like this,” he said.

This reporter couldn’t resist the official booklet on protocol surrounding the “National Flag”, knocked down to a bargain €1.50. Yes, you could look it up on your smartphone, but imagine the delicious pleasure of producing it when next in a pub conversation about Irish soccer fans.

Dwindling demographic

I may be part of a dwindling demographic – not just in favouring “hard copy” but in being a fan of “marginalia”, writing comments and marking passages in anything I read.

Charles Darwin, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Nelson Mandela have all been prolific margin-writers. And so is Sr Mary Collins of the Association of Primary Teaching Sisters who, while browsing in the bookshop yesterday, described how “I like to work with the highlighter in my hand”.

Yes, I know it seems environmentally unfriendly, not to mention a tad old-fashioned (perhaps it’s paranoia but I do sometimes sense getting looks from people half my age when I produce a pen on the Luas). Writing on books, however, is a way of taking ownership of them. It’s a way of engaging with the author’s words on a deeper, personal level.

So, I say (as someone creeping towards oddball territory myself), let them take the Government Publications Office bookshop. But, smirk as they may from behind their devices, they will never stop us scribbling in margins.