A bookshop that was started in Bantry by two sisters, Margaret and Joan, has been saved from closure by another set of sisters, Marney and Kate.
When Marney Smyth Fischer and Kate Smyth learned that the owner, Margaret O’Neill, was looking to either sell, or retire, after 16 years in business they had a proverbial lightbulb moment.
‘After buying our Christmas books, we walked down the street and turned to one another and said: “The bookshop closing would be a disaster for the town”.’
Marney, who had previously worked in publishing in the US, believes: ‘It’s such a pivotal place for the Literary Festival, its closure would have been a huge loss to the community.
‘Getting young people to read is enough of a challenge these days,’ she added, ‘without putting books even further out of their reach.’
Marney told The Southern Star: ‘It is not like we had a big business plan in place, but we are pretty adaptable and resourceful people. We are serious readers, and collectors of books, and it seemed like an idea worth pursuing.’
Marney described Margaret’s reaction when they arrived with their offer. She thought: “Sisters – it’s so appropriate!”
Marney thinks it is auspicious too. ‘There are so many points of connection in this story,’ she said, ‘you couldn’t make it up.’ By mid-February, the deal was done and, this weekend, Bantry Bookshop – after a slight ‘refresh’ – will have its soft opening and continue to trade six days a week.
Marney said she and Kate have no illusions. ‘Nobody does this to get rich. They do it because it is really important, because reading is fun and enjoyable, and it enriches your world.’
Both Marney and Kate, who is an archaeologist, are well aware of the close connection that the bookshop has with the annual West Cork Literary Festival.
‘Kate and I have been here through two festivals already,’ said Marney.
‘We are high consumers of the Literary Festival programme, but now we will be on the other side.’
Marney recalled that both she and Kate, who had been living in Cork, were out for a drive one day when they ‘found this wonderful house’ in Bantry and promptly bought it.
That was in 2017, and since then, Marney said: ‘We were looking for something to do without being terribly focused on any one particular thing.’
But one thing was clear to them from the outset: ‘We found Bantry to be this fabulous nexus of archaeology, nice people, literary and music festivals, and all sorts of cultural richness.’
Now that they have found their calling, Marney, without being too specific about numbers, said: ‘60 is the new 40 – there isn’t an off-switch in life these days.
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