Galway has a penchant for independent retailers; sure, you’ll find most of the same names as you would in other corners of Ireland on the high street, but they’re spread around an abundance of quirky, inventive and – let’s be honest – far more loveable local businesses. The book scene is no different: Easons (the big Irish bookselling brand) are present and correct, but you’d probably rather check out this little heap of paper lovers.
Unquestionably the ‘if you only go to one’ store on this list, Charlie Byrne’s is a Galway institution. Selling both new and second-hand books in huge quantities (there are over 100,000 on sale at any one time), their library of local history and abundance of affordable pre-loved tomes makes this the kind of place in which book lovers could happily browse for an hour, and break the bank. On Saturdays, they also open up their warehouse to customers – you’d be mad not to go. Charlie Byrne’s was the Irish Times’ best bookstore in Ireland for 2013/2014.
Kennys Bookshop & Art Galleries Ltd., Galway | Courtesy of Kenny's Bookshop
This slightly out-of-town spot doubles as a popular modern-leaning art gallery and a pleasant-feeling bookstore. There’s plenty of space to sit around and consider your purchases, and you’ll also want a stroll around the ever-changing gallery part of the store, which blends in well with the chunky book warehouse. Kenny’s is keenly priced and has also developed a more global reputation, regularly taking orders from across the world. In short, it’s worth the detour.
A slightly run-down old bookstore, the Book Exchange sells a vast selection of texts, mostly second-hand, and largely of the slightly dog-eared novel sort. There is also some local history to dig through here, though, and for travellers on a budget and looking for some quick reading material, there’s plenty here to uncover without breaking the bank. Check upstairs for more academic stuff, and when you look at the prices, remember flights have weight limits!
The Clifden Bookshop, Galway | Courtesy of The Clifden Bookshop
You need no excuse to spend time in the gorgeous, highly traditional Connemara town of Clifden, but there’s no harm in another, right? The town’s petite bookstore, The Clifden Bookshop, does a good line in local history that’s well worth exploring, but it also does well on the less tourist-leaning stuff, with a decent selection of fiction and children’s books. The area is a favourite of poets and writers, and plenty of their work is well represented as well – the staff is great at highlighting the local stars.
Technically, this tiny store in gorgeous Cong is in the neighbouring county of Mayo (by about 100 metres [328 feet]), but it makes a pleasant stop-off if you’re dropping in on super-hotel Ashford Castle in the county-straddling town. Rare and Recent fuses antique and out-of-print publications with the odd bit of local history and has that lovely musty feel of real old-world bookstores. You could easily blow a small fortune here if Irish history is your bag; for others, it’s a great glance at the rarer side of publishing.
Moycullen (Maigh Cuilinn) is an Irish language village of around 1,500 people, though fear not as there’s plenty here in English. The Moycullen Bookshop, in fact, is a real community hub, hosting book clubs, as well as embracing arts and crafts and selling products for local schools. It is essentially a charming little corner of a really unique community.
A 55-year-old rarity in Ballinasloe, Salmon’s Department Store is a family-owned spot in the small town’s high street, with a good book department, as well as playful gifts, local music, and loads of Irish household offerings. They recently reopened after a revamp as an airy, modernised version of what was a 70s-feeling offering, and acts as something of a one-stop shop for locals in a place with less than outstanding shopping. The book selection isn’t vast, but it will give you a taste of what the people of Galway are reading.