Ireland’s longest-running pen speciality shop the Pen Corner, one of Dublin’s most loved institutions, situated in a landmark building at the junction of College Green and Trinity Street, is to close its doors at the end of May, marking the end of an era.
Famous for pens, pencils and stationery, it has been a family business since 1927, when it was founded by Florence Fitzgerald and her husband, Paddy O'Brien, a couple who met when they worked together in Helys stationery suppliers in Dame Street. Loss of business due to Covid, a rent of €75,000 a year, not to speak of the effects of modern technology on handwriting have forced the closure of the shop.
Florence's great nephew, John, is the third generation Fitzgerald to own the business, which he has run with great passion for nearly 40 years. He remembers his great aunt Florrie as a "grand dame", a resourceful Dubliner from Drumcondra who, after the war years in order to get gold nibs for Parker pens, took off on the Queen Mary for the United States (where gold was available) and came back with about 20 or 30 Sheaffer pens smuggled under her skirts. She later secured the distribution of those pens in Ireland.
My best friend gave me his Montblanc on his death bed in 2004 and told me I couldn’t use it generally until I wrote and delivered his his eulogy. It was proudly in my breast pocket every working day thereafter. These stores will be missed— Liam MacGabhann (@LiamMacG47) April 14, 2022
I was the archivist for the Millennium Time Capsule buried near The Spire in O'Connell Street. The Pen Corner donated a Montblanc fountain pen for inclusion in the capsule.— Brian Gurrin (@BrianGurrin) April 14, 2022
My Dad bought me a silver Parker pen there to do exams with in the 70’s and I still use it to this day when doing exams for luck— An Grianan Girl (@lyndsayrehn) April 14, 2022
One of my top 10 favourite shop in Dublin. How many of the city's literary giants wrote with pens bought here? Another cultural blow to Dublin.— John Moran (@RueDaungier) April 14, 2022
Located in the corner of a distinctive late 19th-century six-storey building – occupants on another floor include the acclaimed Grafton Architects – the shop was originally owned by life insurance companies.
Its interior, with original wooden drawers and display cases, has hardly changed over the decades. Among the many famous names who bought pens there were movie stars Grace Kelly, James Cagney and Cary Grant, and more recently Irish writers Seamus Heaney, Brian Friel and John Banville.
Man Booker prize-winning author Banville, known for writing in longhand using a Parker Penfold and Japanese propelling pencils, declared the Pen Corner his favourite shop in Dublin, while other high-profile fans over the years have included Pierce Brosnan, Elvis Costello and the late Kurt Cobain.
John Fitzgerald, who took over the business after graduating from TCD with a degree in art history and archaeology, once pointed out how in the 1920s fountain pens were very much the new technology. "Now I suppose we would call them a lifestyle accessory. A pen is a high-value token to give, though there are those who just love using them."
Cross, Parker, Watermans and Montblanc have had a traditional customer base of professionals, doctors, legal and banking people, the most expensive items being limited-edition Montblanc pens, selling for several thousand euro.
“Pens are very sentimental and very tactile and associated with family and friends,” said Aileen Morin, shop manager, who has worked in the Pen Corner for more than 20 years. “Coming in and trying on pens is what the Pen Corner is about – it’s like trying on shoes in a shop, and pens allow for a different way of writing and improve writing.
“We see children come in and the effect on them of trying out a pen for the first time. We have been on limited opening hours for some time, and it is hard to come to terms with its closure for all of us who work here. We will try to trade online, but it is still such an adjustment.”
The whole building, whose present owners bought it for €1.45 million in 1996 was offered for sale in October 2018 with an asking price of €6.5 million but remained unsold. John Fitzgerald was unavailable for comment until after Easter.
Reaction on Twitter has been one of shock and sadness.
Pat Rooney: “Got my first Montblanc there over 30 years and still going strong. Such a sad loss.”
An Grianan Girl: “My dad bought me a silver Parker pen there to do exams in the 70s and I still use it to this day when doing exams for luck.”
Maire Ni Rois: “A wonderful shop. Its demise represents another victory for throwaway culture.”
Frank McDonald: “An unmitigated tragedy for the city centre.”
Uinsionn: “Bought a pen in there for doing the paperwork on my wedding day. Means a lot to me.”
Richard Johnson: “Love that shop. Great stock and the loveliest staff.”
Brian Gurrin: “I was the archivist for the Millennium Time Capsule buried near the Spire . . . The Pen Corner donated a Mont Blanc fountain pen for inclusion in the capsule.”
John Moran: “How many of the city’s literary giants wrote with pens bought here? Another cultural blow to Dublin.”
Liam MacGabhann: “My best friend gave his Montblanc on his death bed and told me I couldn’t use it generally until I wrote and delivered his eulogy. It was proudly in my breast pocket every working day thereafter.”