Sometimes you only notice something when it is transformed, says Holger Smyth, who has opened a book lounge in the former Drimoleague creamery which is attracting huge amounts of interest in the community
DRIMOLEAGUE’S old creamery has been transformed into a public reading lounge where 25,000 rare books are on display.
The building holds a special place in the hearts of many people in West Cork, who worked there and remember it at its prime.
And now it’s enjoying being a focal point in the community once again thanks to rare book dealer Holger Smyth, who says that tractors are regularly pulling in to the building at Reenroe to see what’s going in the landmark building.
Holger came to Ireland from his native Germany back in 2006 with his Scottish wife Nicky and their children. They first lived in Garretstown and came to Skibbereen in 2009.
He is well known in the area, indeed the entire country, for the specialised rare book shop he ran at Skibbereen’s Bridge Street for 10 years, called The Time Travellers bookshop.
Nicky and their son now run a popular vegan café at the premises and Holger has relocated to Drimoleague with his new newly launched business.
Called Inanna Rare Books, it’s the first unit to open in Hawthorn Commercial Park, on the main Skibbereen to Drimoleague Road.
Holger explains how the business has been in the pipeline for over two years, and that one of his main aims, along with his partner, was to create an atmosphere where people will want to spend time.
Or as he puts it himself: ‘Quietening people down is our business model.’
Insisting he likes Netflix as much as the next person he says: ‘It would be great to help people realise that if they are alone with a book they are truly in the moment. We want to put more meaning in a dying world of books where everything is digital. So we’re really preparing a business for the thousands of people who have yet to realise that. It’s about giving people choices.’
He describes the premises as being like a ‘museum where you can buy things’ with books from €30 to thousands of euro available instore.
All the books predate 1970 and are unusual in some way such as being a first edition, or a collector’ s item and span multiple languages, topics etc. There’s also a vast collection of rare maps.
Outside of the new shop, Holger continues to buy and sell rare books, works as a skilled cataloguer, as well as building libraries for people.
‘I love bringing things back into circulation such as maps, letters and books. We try to see value in things that others don’t see and open people’s eyes to this.’
The libraries he builds for people can cost anything from €10,000 to €150,000.
‘There is money in the world and people want to bring buildings back from the dead and fill them with meaningful things. We recently acquired a library from a 200-year old house in West Cork of typical books from the 18th and 19th century – all publications of the time covering law, history, English and Irish literature. That’s a great foundation to build on. Acquiring one library can change everything and can create work for three to four years but you do have to resist the urge to sell them off as single items,’ he said.
However, he does acknowledge that a book can be a difficult item to sell in a world where the attention span of people is short.
At one stage, he had rare book shops in Westport (where he travelled at least twice a week), Kinsale and beside UCC in Cork city, as well as Skibbereen.
But the randomness of a ‘Norweian guy reading a Scottish book in a shop in Cork city was not a god business model’ he said, admitting he had to bring some ‘organisation to things.’
And although more and more buyers and sellers are moving online, in a space where everyone is a self-proclaimed expert, he’s confident the wheel will turn again.
‘People say vinyl has made a come back, but I feel that it never really left. People will always love books.’
Holger employs a team of four locals who are all skilled in their areas of expertise. They are: Kevin O'Regan, rare books and maps; Laura Fogarty and Patrick Cotter, cataloging and Nanako Hara, cataloging, book care
The creamery building is the perfect space, Holger says, to help people ‘look backwards’ through books.
And he’s genuinely surprised and delighted at the level of interest and support he’s received from those who have ties to the place.
Likening the building’s transformation to architect Christo who radically wrapped European landmark buildings including Berlin’s Reichstag, he said: ‘Sometimes you only notice something when it’s transformed into something else.’
Holger is keen to document the history of the creamery through a permanent display at the premises and is looking for the public’s help to donate photographs and information from through the years.
Contact [email protected] if you can help.