Books Upstairs was first opened in May 1978 by Maurice Earls and Enda O’Doherty. The shop was located in an old hairdressers upstairs (appropriately enough) above a furrier shop on Dublin’s South King Street. The old hand basins were removed, shelves built from scratch and furniture painted a bright cherry red. The two friends set out to open a bookshop which would support the positive role of books in society and particularly in Irish culture. The stock focussed on literature, history and politics, but also introduced previously absent or underrepresented genres and authors to Ireland, stocking philosophy, literary criticism, psychology, feminism and gay literature. The shop always made space for a wide range of literary and political journals. Encouraging the circulation of ideas was an early objective that we persist in these 40+ years later.
In 1981, one half of South King Street was demolished to make way for St Stephen’s Green Shopping centre, so the shop migrated to the nearby George’s Street Market Arcade. Books Upstairs resided here in the Victorian shopping arcade for eight years, where we quietly built a customer base who were drawn to our eclectic stock and commitment to the principles of social, economic and cultural inclusivity.
In 1988, the shop moved to its more familiar perch at 36 College Green opposite Trinity College and the old parliament.
It is this location that many people associate with Books Upstairs as we were based there for twenty-seven years. The design was distinctive with its curved shelves echoing the old Parliament Building opposite, and the cramped but well-loved mezzanine ensured that books were indeed always upstairs.
It was during this long tenure that the shop survived more than one economic recession, while doing our best to support unknown writers and poets, smaller presses and the circulation of new writing and ideas. In particular, our poetry section grew in depth and range during this period under the expert guidance of Ruth Webster.
The small space at our disposal in College Green meant that the selection of titles was always carefully curated and tightly packed!
We seized the opportunity in 2015 to expand into a bigger space when the shop moved to its current home in a beautifully preserved Georgian building at 17 D’Olier Street. This coincided with Maurice’s daughter Louisa joining the family business, who along with Mary McAuley, became the new management team. Our new space has allowed Books Upstairs to continue doing what it has always done, while expanding its range with extensive new titles and children’s books. It has also enabled us to realise a vision of the independent bookshop as a cultural space where a person can spend time over a coffee or at a literary event. In 2019, a secondhand section was added and in 2020 we finally launched our website!