Being in the Dingle Bookshop was like visiting my best friend’s house. It was a warm embrace from the cold damp evening that is so typical on the Irish peninsula, even for the month of July. From the outside, the large windows are framed in a bright royal blue and the name above the door is painted in white and set under a charming dentil molding. There is nothing about the little shop that says, big chain store. The warm glow from the interior, the books displayed in the mullioned window panes, Peig and The Blasket Writers by Una Ní Shea, tales right out of the local history, seemed to beckon me in to browse, to buy.
On the inside of the small shop, I felt the comfort of books everywhere. Dark wood shelves were lined with every category of book I could have imagined. As I looked around I was brought back to another time, to my daughter’s childhood, when I remember her pulling down every book from the shelves in her room. What she did then is burned into my brain forever. She rolled in those books, like a miser rolling in his piles of money, like a dog rolling in something delicious and dead, my baby girl rolled around in her pile of books. It’s how I knew she would be a book lover like her mother. I remembered that day because when I walked into the Dingle Bookstore, I wanted to do the same. I could just feel all of those books, I could smell the ink and the paper, I understood the compulsion in a way that I hadn’t until that moment.
There were children’s books up in the back, on a stage where on some evenings; writers came to read their works. I read there one night. For the first time ever, I read a short piece out loud to an audience of friends and strangers, of book lovers like me. When I stood up there, in front of the colorful jackets of the children’s books and behind the microphone I could see the owners at the front of the store, kind faces, smiling at their guests, welcoming us, supporting us as we supported them.
The shop sold paintings of sheep and other things Irish and Dingle. There were photographs of the town and of the Blasket Islands. There were toys and art made from felt, journals and calendars and posters and cards. I wanted one or two of everything, please. It all felt like home away from home. It all felt like some place I didn’t want to forget, someplace to keep with me in my heart and mind.
On the way back down Green Street, out in the cool Irish air, after my reading, arms full of new books, I passed other stores. All with enchanting architectural features that added to the villagey air of Dingle, yet none were so sweet as the Bookstore for me. No other place was so much me; not the clothing store where they sell sweaters woven from the wool of Dingle sheep, or the cheese shop where the young owner makes her cheese by hand. All were wonderful but only the Dingle Bookstore had filled me with a sense of the familiar, the beloved, as though an old, dear friend had invited me in for a visit.