Wednesday 18 March 2015

Let bookshops be your travel guide

For any traveller finding themself in a different country for a few days the obvious thing to do is explore.

So when a horde of Brits overwhelmed a hotel ahead of a good friend's wedding, it was inevitable the conversation over breakfast would turn to which sights we each planned to visit that day.

Destinations were varied, including beaches, mountains, distilleries and, in my case, bookshops. Reactions were generally similar, including oohs, ahhs, cheers and, when directed at me, raised eyebrows. It didn't take long for me to tire of the quizzical reactions, but mostly I pitied their narrow-mindedness – everyone needs a starting point for their travels, so why not let that starting point be bookshops?

It worked for me. Especially when I found myself driving south along the N15 and struggling not to be distracted by the beautiful, rugged countryside surrounding me. Further on stunning beaches and coastline awaited, and in the middle of my journey was a stop at the Four Masters Bookshop in Donegal town.

Now I admit, when I entered the bookshop it wasn't what I expected. For starters my first view was not of books, but of gifts and cards. Looking to my right, I then saw the books stretching out along one wall, taking up the smaller half of the shop's length. It's not what I'd normally ask of a bookshop, but I kept an open mind and began to investigate.

Thankfully, that feeling of being underwhelmed vanished when I actually started looking at the books. First up were fiction and recommends, swiftly followed by Irish fiction, young adult, classics and all the non-fiction you need, including bargains and an extensive local interest area that could've happily set me up for months of exploration if I'd had the time off work.

As it was I only had an hour to enjoy my surroundings, realise how many Irish authors are already on my bookshelves and pick a book to get to know another. I should probably have already read something by Joseph O'Connor, so choosing Ghost Light hopefully makes up for lost time.

Having realised a bookshop can still be worth a visit even when forced to share space with other goods – and happily clutching my book of choice – I decided it was probably necessary to explore the rest of the shop. Essentially it was filled with beautiful things, hopefully all selected as a cunning way of drawing in the non-reading public before luring them over to the Book Side. At least, the reverse worked for me as I'd've never entered the shop if it hadn't been the books but somehow found myself at the till buying a necklace to accompany my read...

Which only backs up my earlier navigational reasoning: bookshops are a great way to discover destinations you might otherwise overlook.

Four Masters Bookshop
The Diamond
Tel: 00353 74 972 1526


  1. Glad you made it to this one, it is certainly deceiving, but the selection of books is excellent!

    1. It was! I spent a *long* time struggling to cut down my selections to just one book.

  2. My wife and I had visited the For Masters back in 1995 during our honeymoon. I was reading a book of fiction by Yeats when I noticed the price tag with the name of the store attached to the back of the book. A quick check on Google and our Donegal adventure all came back to me. I don't recall the interior of the shop but my memories of town are still clear. Thanks for sharing your experience with this fine piece of Ireland.

    1. I'm so pleased I was able to help remind you of such a happy time.


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