Best shops in Ireland

We asked you to tell us about your favourite shops and you responded in your thousands

We asked you to tell us about your favourite shops and you responded in your thousands. Sorting through the emails, letters and online messages, it became clear that Irish Times readers love their local shops and realise how important a part they play in the community. A team of secret shoppers worked throughout the summer, visiting the most nominated shops across a dozen different categories. It soon emerged that these shops had a lot in common, namely friendly staff and excellent service.

Nice stock too. Readers really valued the sense of belonging created by shops where the owners know their customers and always give that bit extra. Someone remembering your name or carrying your bags, impromptu home deliveries, even an unscheduled opening on Christmas Day, were just some of the acts of kindness you mentioned. Choosing a long list of 50 wasn't easy – whittling that down to the final 12 created plenty of debate and the odd downright row. So, without further ado, here they are – the best shops in Ireland, writes REBECCA LYONS




“There’s this idea that Irish crafts are expensive, and it’s wrong,” says Mary Lincoln, owner of the Ardmore Pottery and Craft Store in Co Waterford. She would know – Mary is a potter herself – when she’s not too busy running the store with husband Dick Lincoln and long-time partner Ann McCarthy, that is. Specialising in the production of hand-painted pots, sugar holders, milk jugs and teacups, Mary sells some of her pieces for as low as €10. She “manufactures on the premises” too, offering anyone that’s the least bit curious a rare glimpse into the workshop, and life, of an artist-in-residence.

“Whenever I want to buy something a bit different but Irish, I go to Ardmore Pottery,” says Derna Dywer, and, as a result, Mary’s shop has never been busier. “People in a recession are much more inclined to buy Irish,” she says, but continues “they are also much more careful where they spend their money.”

So, is she feeling the strain? “When I started this business over 30 years ago,” she explains, “there was a craft shop on every corner.” Now, she says, “they’re gone.” It is good riddance to them, Mary says, singling out those craft shops that import their stock as cowboys. “I don’t understand it,” she says, puzzled. “I could fill a space four times this [the shop] with domestic crafts.” And, she reasons, “every crossroads in Ireland has an artist.” But that’s where things get tricky. The store, clinging as it does to the cliffside of Ardmore Bay, can only contain so much. Having grown from a “tiny workshop” in her great-grandmother’s house to a well respected and flourishing craft store, Mary has a full-time job maintaining the “careful mix” of crafts she stocks.

The quality, and the quantity, with the sheer volume of crafts on offer — bags, tapestries, paintings, notebooks, art prints, gloves and scarves — pointing towards an army’s worth of upkeep, not an individual’s.

In reality, there are three of them. "It's a team effort," says Lincoln, claiming the whole thing would be impossible without the help of her husband and "brilliant, ruthless" criticism of her friend Ann. "If she sees something she doesn't like in the store, she just says, 'Out! Out!'" REBECCA LYONS

Ardmore Pottery and Gallery, Ardmore, Co Waterford, tel: 024-94152



Rosemary Murphy set up The Constant Knitter on Francis Street, Dublin three years ago, having been made redundant from Waterford Wedgewood in 2008. A life-long knitter, she had always wanted to open "either a book shop or a yarn shop".

A fan of The Gutter Bookshop, she felt they had done a fabulous job and had cornered the market. So knitting and stitching it was and word soon grew. These days the shop's Monday night Stitch and Bitch classes are legendary.

Joanne Duffy describes the shop as having "a calm and cosy atmosphere. As a new knitter I always feel included. Tea is always on offer, which I think is great."

At the monthly Sew In, where devotees gather to make and raise funds for charity, there is also cake and wine on offer

"Rosemary has a passion for her craft," says Catherine Hastings "and is very knowledgeable and welcoming. The location of the shop in the Antiques Quarter rings a lovely change from yarn shops in shopping centres or hustley-bustley main streets."

Anne Barnes echoes that sentiment, adding: "The Constant Knitter is more than a store, it's more like a community resource for crafters and knitters to gather and talk about all things woolly."

Barbara Wood is one such member. "This shop has become so much more to me than a place to buy yarn. Rosemary's shop has made me feel part of a community. On Monday evenings Rosemary hosts a knitting group where we can drop in and hang out, drink tea, eat biscuits and share our love of knitting and all things yarn. I have laughed and cried in this shop."

It is not surprising that Elzbieta Rzechula describes Rosemary as "an excellent host" who "runs many interesting courses". These include classes in knitting, sewing, crochet and wet felting, all of which take place upstairs, above the shop, in a bright airy space.

"Rosemary really knows her stuff and is always willing to offer advice, be it to old hands or nervous beginners," Helen Crawford concludes. "She stocks an amazing range of products, and seems to be adding more all the time – I rarely leave empty-handed."


The Constant Knitter, 88 Francis Street, Dublin 8, tel: 087-996 7197,



Lilliput Stores on Rosemount Terrace, Arbour Hill in Dublin 7 is described by one nominee as "a gem in the urban village of Stoneybatter" that "embodies the notion of community living".

The "compact yet complete" shop is run by Brendan O'Mahony, owner of the Dublin branch of the Real Olive Company, whose produce you can see at markets up and down the country. When Lilliput Stores opened its doors in May 2007, it breathed new life into a small terrace that was once full of shops but had stood idle and empty since Donlon's, an old-fashioned corner shop situated at the opposite end of the terrace, closed some years before.

The tiny shop maintains the corner shop sense of community. It opens at eight every morning and remains open to catch people again on their way home from work.

"It provides a service for the people living in the area," O'Mahony explains. He is a paid-up member of said neighbourhood, living around the corner from the business. The shop name is a reference to the nearby Lilliput Press, synonymous with the area since it moved there in 1989. It stocks a couple of hundred products, all crammed into the tiny space.

Painted a chichi grey, with blackboards listing some of the goodies on offer inside bookend either extremity of the premises creating a lovely balanced look to the facade. The addition of a bench underneath the window means you can eat a takeaway while sitting down. Inside, it is standing room only.

For reader Niamh Collins, it is a place where "staff know their customers by name and are ever-helpful". For her, it is the go-to place for "news of street parties, community clean-ups and start-up enterprises that adorn the notice board, a location where neighbours can linger over their cappuccinos and take their time reading and re-reading the small ads". It is a shop where, she adds "fairly-traded, fairly-made or fairly-grown food is the order of the day".

"These stores are disappearing and I feel very lucky to have one just around the corner, in a neighbourhood where people are still great to each other." says Joana Messias. " When you leave the house and someone says 'good morning' or 'how are you?' it can change your day," she says.

Cormac Craven loves the fact that there is "a lovely friendly welcome from the people that work in the shop, which seems to rub off on many of the customers as people seem very relaxed and open when there". He also likes the fact that they make "sandwiches with interesting and varied fillings made from products available in the shop, using the breads also sold in the shop."

"All communities would do well to have a Lilliput Stores," says Collins. "When I leave there, I feel part of a community, contributing to sustainability and helping the little person in a cut-throat world. I buy what I want and what I need and not what the multi-national retailer drives me to buy," she says.


5 Rosemount Terrace, Arbour Hill, Dublin 7, tel: 01-672 9516.



"This book store offers what others are lacking: service," says Yvonne Reilly. It's something owner Bob Johnston of The Gutter Bookshop understands completely. He has more than 20 years experience in the book trade and has worked with multiples such as Waterstones in Ireland and in the UK. As a store manager at Hughes Hughes' St Stephen's Green shop he communicated directly with readers. He took this knowledge with him when he went to work for the chain in their buying office.

Frustrated by working for big companies, he longed to open an independent bookshop. In 2009 he opened The Gutter on the former site of a "Celtic Tiger kitchen shop".

"It is the complete opposite of how you expect an independent bookshop to look and feel," says Johnston. Rather than being dark and cluttered, The Gutter feels bright, airy and spacious.

"To survive, you have to be better than the chains," Johnston believes."You've also got to give knowledge and enthusiasm. Even in this age of internet shopping, readers revel in a sense of discovery." Readers also love a word-of-mouth recommendation and his staff's picks top the shop's best-seller lists every month. On top of that, the shop runs poetry nights, book readings and book groups – the latter are completely booked out, with would-be joiners on waiting lists.

The Gutter is also a great place to people watch. Originally Johnston had planned to offer books and coffee, but finding himself sandwiched between a plethora of cracking cafes, he decided "to stick to books", suggesting to shoppers that they buy their coffee at any of the local cafes, bring it in and slump into a comfortable armchair with one of his good book recommendations.

The Gutter has become an integral part of Temple Bar's local community. "The staff are amazing," says Yvonne Reilly. "They spend time with regulars and newcomers alike and know what I like to read better than I know myself."

"Prices are competitive and usually cheaper than you'd expect and all come with a new book smell you just don't get with Kindle," she says.

The small but enthusiastic staff includes Sinead Boyne, sister of author John Boyne. Seamus Heaney and John Banville are both fans. The place even drew Pulitzer-prize winning writer Jennifer Egan in while on holidays in Ireland last summer. Unbidden she offered to sign some of her books for them.


The Gutter, Cow's Lane Dublin 8, tel: 01-679 9206



"A mad whim" may not, at first, appear to be the best reason to open a shop, but for Anne Barber, that whim paid off with our favourite gift shop, Butterslip in Kilkenny. "I was strolling down the Butterslip lane one evening and saw a For Rent sign on the building and I took it straight away," Barber laughs.

"It was mad; I had no stock and couldn't open for four months, but opening my own place had been in the back of my head and it was time to take the jump."

Established in 2005 in tiny premises on the Butterslip laneway, Barber's interiors and gift shop soon outgrew its first home. A move to a pretty corner site on Kieran Street and Rose Inn Street also heralded a change in direction inside the store, which now focuses on charming jewellery and accessories from Martine Wester, Rosie Fox and Lovett; beautiful leather bags from Nikka and Olga Berg; a wide range of wedding and baby gifts, and much more.

"It has always been one of my favourite shops," says reader Loren Wardrop. "I love nothing more than pottering around it, looking in the glass cabinets and shelves at all of the gorgeous things. I can't recommend it highly enough."

Sourcing her stock primarily at fairs in London and Paris – "everything must be colourful" – Barber says that although Kilkenny offers a lot of passing tourist trade, it is her repeat customers that keep Butterslip alive.

"What I sell has changed as the people around me changed," she says. "From new homes to engagements and weddings and now babies, we've moved with what is happening in many of our customers' lives."

Another reader, Catherine O'Dowd, says she returns regularly because "I can find a quality gift that is a little bit different. I also like that gifts are beautifully wrapped at no extra cost."

The role of independent retailers is hugely important to her customers, and to Irish towns as a whole, Barber says. "I'm part of the Kieran Street Traders group and that has had a really good impact on the area. They run events and family fun days to build awareness of what's available on the street. It was pretty run down before and people talk about it being dangerous to walk down in the 1980s. Independent stores have brought life to the place and customers love to see the shops working together and the sense of community. When we can't help, we refer people to shops nearby. It keeps business in the area or in the city at least.

"I couldn't afford High-Street rents when I opened. That expense pushes independent retailers on to less popular side streets. But once they're there, they make the place cooler, and they become the happening places to shop.

"You can't just leave it there, though. You have to keep shouting about smaller shops, to keep business going."


31 Rose Inn Street, Kilkenny; tel: 056-7702502,



Kit Dunlop has a rather rock 'n' roll name – which is apt seeing as he runs one of the most rock 'n' roll shops in Ireland. Soundz of Muzic has been supplying Kenmare and beyond with music and instruments for around 20 years, and it shows no signs of running out of steam.

"It was originally opened by John Rubin, who was in the music business," says Dunlop. "I became his business partner 12 years ago and by a process of osmosis, I took over and he retired." Dunlop is full of praise for his staff. "There are three of us working here – me, John Meskell and Nathan Bartlett. John is a trad head and a banjo head. It's difficult to get him to work in the shop during the summer because he is so busy with gigs. They are both brilliant staff, they know so much about music, and are so gracious, helpful and honest." Several customers mentioned the shop's exceptional service in their submissions, with one customer saying it is "more of a library and a meeting place than a shop".

"I set off to work determined to do this job and that job, and I'm lucky to get one thing done, because I spend the day talking to friends, or tourists or musicians. The only thing I'd like to add to the place is a coffee machine, but we don't have the room," Dunlop says. The reason he has no room is that the shop's 75sq m are packed to the rafters with CDs, DVDs, instruments and accoutrements. "When I first came here, we had a choice of three violins and we were lucky to sell three a year. Now, we have about 60 and sell 300 a year.

Among Dunlop's current selection of musical instruments are a few rarities. There is the Wagner tuba – "Wagner commissioned this brass instrument in Paris in the early 19th century because he wanted a particular timbre, and since then they've become an integral part of the Romantic orchestra," says Dunlop. There is also a Chinese ruan – "a sort of four-string guitarish instrument" – and a 1971 Martin acoustic guitar.

The shop has plenty of famous customers. "Colin Farrell came in and bought a guitar," says Dunlop – at this point an argument starts over whether it was Cillian Murphy or Colin Farrell, and the consensus is Farrell. "There's not a week that goes past that someone famous in Irish traditional music doesn't pop in." It is a mark of Dunlop's level of service that he breaks off our conversation to serve customers and discuss a potential purchase in detail. "We're here, and we're more than surviving," he says with a flourish.


Soundz of Muzic, 9 Henry Street, Kenmare, Co Kerry, Ireland, tel: 064-664 2268,



"This store hasn't changed appearance since the 60s," claims Anne Casey, and, if you ask the regulars of Churchtown Stores in Dublin, they'll tell you that they like it that way.

"Their cash till is a drawer and they tot up the bills in their heads," exclaims Pauline Cody, "the big stores could certainly learn a lot from them!" When asked about the aforementioned "big stores" Barry Flood, co-owner of the hardware store with his brothers Kieran and Fehan, remains stoic. "We're holding up," he says. Then, with quiet pride, "no staff have been let go." In a shop employing 20 people, that's no mean feat. "Well, people are happy to get stuff here," he explains, and, speaking of the store's popularity, goes on to add, "it's the regular customers. You could see them in here, three, maybe four times a week."

It's no surprise, considering the range of services the store offers. "Go there someday," advises Hugh McCullough "and ask for anything obscure and then be taken down narrow aisles of shelves with cardboard boxes, all clearly labelled, up to the ceiling and there, exactly where the assistant has taken you, is what you require."

Exactly what you require and more, considering the shop stocks — including but not limited to — "keys, locks, logs, briquettes, flowers, bits for plumbing, lighting," and Barry pauses, chuckling, "the carbolic soap. Every week."

Despite his insistence that Churchtown Stores is very much "an old-fashioned" shop, customers have reported the brothers solving some very tricky, very specific problems. "I was very impressed when I enquired if they had a tiny screw for the handle of my handbag – not only did they have the screw, but they did the job for me," says Pauline.


Churchtown Stores, 5 Braemor Road, Churchtown, Dublin 14, tel: 01-298 7778



"I'm a big fan of medieval English and I liked the idea of turning plants and herbs into medicine; like an alchemist turning things into gold," says Michaele Maguire who opened organic skincare and food shop in 2007. "I liked the idea of a healing earth."

Most customers visit primarily for its cosmetics and skincare, buying brands such as Caudalie, Lavera, Suki, Voya, Mama Mio and Cowshed.

"Independent shops are disappearing from the high street and a small business like mine can't compete with national chain stores. I'm always trying to get a better deal and it's a lot of work and effort to get it. A lot of the organic skincare products are expensive to harvest. And you can't pass on the big promotions that companies like L'Oréal or Rimmel can.

"Most of our business is from repeat customers, and you're so grateful to people for coming back to you. Independent shops are very fragile; they're like a little wild flower that will die if you don't look after them."

"I like to shop and I don't like bad manners or people who can't be bothered. I wanted to have a warm atmosphere in the shop. I'm really particular that the girls working in the shop are friendly and helpful."

Alchemist Earth also has a website, and does 35 per cent of its business online. Its best-sellers are "anything in our post-partum range".

"They have a fantastic range of wonderful and out of the ordinary organic skincare products," said reader Emma Mangan. " The shop itself is so stylish and could belong in Kensington in London. The staff are amazing and extremely knowledgable and will take time to explain the different products, review your skin type and recommend the most appropriate ones, but not in a pushy way."

Una Bradley wrote: "It's a bright, charming shop full of lovely things and nice staff, which may sound like a fluffy reason to vote, but in these depressing days of recession it's also good to have a lovely, cheerful environment to wander around, even on days when I'm not buying."


10 Sarsfield Street, Limerick; tel: 061-404218



Set snugly in the shadow of the West Gate in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, Hickey's Bakery is as much a part of the town's history as the old arch itself. Originally established in the 1900s, the store has been home to no less than four generations of Hickey bakers. The youngest of these, current owner and local entrepreneur Nuala Hickey, has been in the business for more than 20 years, and – judging by the amount of awards the bakery has garnered during her time there – she's doing a good job.

"It's about finding something new and interesting for the customer," she says. While she acknowledges the "huge challenge" of being a sole trader in this economic climate, it's clear her regulars are a saving grace. "They're a very loyal breed of people, we're very lucky."

She's not the only one feeling grateful – Hickey's customers have been singing her praises for weeks, making sure we know about everything from the "old world charm" of the bakery to the affability of the patron herself. "Nuala is a gregarious, witty and charming person," says reader Miriam Halley, before adding, "you will always find someone to chat to here, any day of the week."

Chat, tea, cake – let's not forget the food on offer. Traditional soda bread, pastries, full lunches and Hickey's famous sliced pan – made fresh in-store – are all accompaniments to what Cate McCarthy believes is "the best barm brack in Ireland." They share shelf-space with other locally made products: jams, sauces, crisps and apple juice, chilling in a corner fridge. The store has been recently renovated, and Crystal Halley sees it as proof of how the bakery "constantly evolves to meet their customers' needs".

However much Hickey's may change, the shop remains fixed as an institution in the minds of locals. Generations of bakers are not the only ones to find a home here. The store is a family affair on both sides, Karen Canty being part of one such family that has frequented the spot for years – and she reckons the "freshly made sandwiches are the best around". Hickey does not easily accept praise, crediting her customers, her staff: "Helen – she's very personable to customers", and the location "we have that lovely view of the mountains", before herself. But Hickey's is a special place, where Cate McCarthy claims "every visit feels like you're having a cup of tea at a beloved granny's house", the bread comes in brown paper bags and "you can feel the history" when you walk in the door. As a caretaker of that history, and all the paintings, plates and packaging that goes with it, Nuala Hickey is doing well in the eyes of her customers. It's clear they'll be in for tea tomorrow, at any rate.

West Gate, Clonmel, Co Tipperary; tel: 052-6121587,



"Everyone always asks me about the name of the shop," laughs Sharon Griffin, who opened Ohh! By Gum in Clifden in May 2009. "It's because my maiden name is Gumley and I always got teased in school about it. I used to say to them, 'Ohh by gum, one day I'll be famous'."

Griffin's shop caters mostly for women and children, with clothes and toys that are fair trade, organic and made from natural fibres as far as possible. They include labels Braintree and Frugi.

"I'd love to be 100 per cent organic; at the moment it's about 80 per cent," says Griffin. "I don't advertise it as a fair-trade shop, because I want to people to first like the products and then discover they're organic materials and fair trade."

Shelves of old-fashioned sweets surround the cash register. "I wanted to have something for everyone, and sweets don't cost the Earth," Griffin explains. Her most popular sellers are raspberry bonbons, followed "very closely" by flying saucers.

"Independent shops are really important because they connect people," says Griffin.

She offers a free two-hour knitting class one morning a week in the winter, called Knitter Natter. "I have ladies of different ages in my group, and they may never see each other otherwise, but they come together at Knitter Natter."

The shop also has a layaway system, which means customers can pay a deposit for an item, which will then be put on hold until they pay the balance at a later stage. "It helps people afford something and gives them time to think about what they're buying. And spending money locally is really important."

For Griffin, it's not all about selling. "We try to take time for everyone and have a smile. I think we stand out for the personal touch in the shop and the service. People come in and try things on, and we try to make them feel like they're at home choosing something to wear, rather than in a shop under pressure to buy. We know our customers. We only want them to buy things they really like, and they trust us."

"It's a shop, it's a meeting place, it's a haven, it's an adventure, it's a place that never fails to make me feel so bloody good," wrote reader Ethel Fereran. "It has such a great atmosphere, provided not just by the explosion of colour provided by the clothes, but it makes the aspirational attainable.

"She [Sharon] absolutely knows what suits everyone. On Tuesday mornings, Sharon hosts Knitter Natter, where woman from all different backgrounds who wouldn't normally even nod to each other in the street come to sit and knit and share experiences and patterns – it's all very How to Make an American Quilt."

"It is the kind of shop that you pop in to for a visit even when you have not got a penny in your pocket – Sharon and her staff are all so welcoming and there is no pressure to purchase," said Petrina Aspell.

"The owner has an amazing knack for finding pieces that suit every shape and size as well as colouring. The prices are affordable and what it has done for me is stopped me buying in high-street chains every month and now I buy every couple of months something that suits me and that I love, and I am supporting a local business."

"It's an Aladdin's cave of eco/chic fashion and accessories, beautiful children's wear and much, much more. Sharon Griffin is so friendly and helpful, and the contents of the sweetshop jars behind the counter are just too tempting to pass by," enthused Robin Bewley.


Ohh! By Gum, The Courtyard, Clifden Station House, Clifden, Galway. Tel: 095-21334,



"I love it!" says Jen Lynch, beaming. "It's kind of like a community of food nuts. Pretty much everyone who applies for a job here is studying cheffing, or has studied it, or has worked in restaurants."

The 31-year-old former pastry chef has been the floor manager at Fallon Byrne for the past year, and can barely keep her excitement about the place to a gentle simmer. "The customers and the staff are all really into food, which is quite unique."

The landmark building on Exchequer Street was originally built as a large group of shops and warehouses for Hely's, Pimms and the Central Hotel in 1897, before it was commandeered as the international telephone exchange. "The very first international telephone call was made in this building," says Jennifer King, 34-year-old marketing manager for Fallon Byrne.

Apt, then, that after its transformation from the dusty old storage facility that Eircom and time forgot ("It was literally full of old telephones, covered in dust"), the building continues to facilitate something of an exchange between Ireland and the international community.

"We have a lot of international products, so we've a lot of international customers as a result. Like Tim Tams, for example, which sold out on Australia Day."

"We get a lot of foreigners," says Manny Elefterescu, one of the food hall's three butchers. "We speak all kinds of languages here, and we help them understand about Irish meat. We like to interact with the customers and chat about dishes, special cuts, recipes, tips . . ."

Originally from Romania, Elefterescu worked as a butcher in Italy and Spain before coming to Ireland. He has been with Fallon Byrne for four years. "I've learned more here than in both Italy and Spain," says the 35-year-old, who maintains Irish beef is the best in Europe. "The weather here is perfect – all that green grass."

At the next counter, Donal Flynn is the new kid on the cheese block. "I've just started. I've been working for the past six years with Sheridans Cheesemongers and was a chef for a couple of years before. I enjoyed my time working with Sheridans but really liked what Fiona [McHugh, who set up Fallon Byrne with her husband, Paul Byrne, and restaurant owner Brian Fallon] had to say about the company's ambition for the cheese counter, in particular, and the business generally."

Flynn is about as passionate about cheese as a man can be. Asked about his favourite Irish cheeses, the 29-year-old finds it hard to choose: "Glebe Brethan, Killeen goat, Triskel pyramid, Cashel and Crozier Blue, Ardarahan – there are too many to name."

The staff at Fallon Byrne are almost giddy in their desire to help. "Anything you can think of, people will ask for, and we'll always do our best to get it in," says Lynch. "And often when we get a random product in, a lot of other people buy it as well."

"It shouldn't feel at all snobbish," says King. "Obviously people here are incredibly into their food, but equally if you feel you know nothing, the guys are really good at distilling it down for you."

That passion for food and pride in their place of work shows on the shop floor. "They think out of the box and it is very dynamic," Fallon Byrne regular Tania Chimuris Bautista wrote to us. "The customer service is fantastic and it is so easy to be in touch with them through Twitter – you feel like you can participate with suggestions and that you are listened to. I could spend hours in this shop – oh, and in their wine cellar." Definitely something to phone home about.


11-17 Exchequer Street, Dublin 2; tel: 01-472 1010,