If you have ever been walking down Dawson Street, you’re sure to have come across Ireland’s oldest and most important bookshop: Hodges Figgis. From its immediately recognisable dark green paper bags signifying that someone has had a successful browse, to its wide selection of books for all ages, it is no wonder Hodges Figgis has remained in Irish hearts for so many years. Opening its doors over 250 years ago, this wonderful bookstore has managed to become a huge and important symbol in Ireland’s literary tradition for over ten generations.
How we got here
Hodges Figgis was founded in 1768 by John Milliken, who opened the store on property that his father owned. The first location of what would later become the infamous Hodges Figgis was on what today is known as Grafton Street. The original address of Hodges Figgis was 10 Skinner’s Row, near Christ Church Cathedral. In 1797, Hodges Figgis was moved to 32 Grafton Street, the first of many moves around central Dublin that the store would have to face.
It wasn’t until 1945 that Hodges Figgis finally found itself on Dawson Street, however, not in the location where it can be found today, and not for long. Before it was able to settle where it can be found today, Hodges Figgis found a home on St Stephen’s Green in 1974. Just four years later, it moved to its current location on Dawson Street.
In 1992 when the company re-acquired the lease of 56 Dawson Street, the bookshop was able to expand fully again and have the location be noted as it is today: 56-58 Dawson Street, Dublin 2.
Throughout the years, Hodges Figgis had largely maintained its family-business style, as it was passed down from generation to generation. In 1978, the then owner Allen Figgis sold the business to Pentos, and in 1995, EMI (a record company) bought Pentos and merged with Waterstones as part of HMV. In 2011, a Russian billionaire bought both Waterstones and Hodges Figgis from HMV.
Today, Hodges Figgis is part of the UK bookshop chain Waterstones, however, the iconic name was not changed, and neither was the recogniseable green and gold that surrounds the brand.
A tour of the inside
It is no question that Hodges Figgis is Ireland’s biggest bookshops, and its four floors stock an astonishing 70,000 titles, with around one million books on the shop floor on any given day. This means that there is never any shortage of titles to explore and there will always be a new and exciting book to read.
When you first walk into the bookshop, there is always a table with fresh, new titles that you might be interested in exploring. If you’re more interested in the bestsellers, the wall just to the left as you enter has them on display for customers to browse. This wall is constantly changing and being updated, so make sure to keep and eye out for any new titles that have been added.
The store is also organised by categories, such as fiction, non-fiction, Irish writers, classic literature, photography, gardening, and history. This is not an extensive list of all of the categories of books that are available in Hodges Figgis, but they do give a brief idea of the scope of literature that has been made available to book lovers who wish to explore the store.
There is also a children’s section in the store where young readers can explore the most colourful and entertaining reads on offer and hopefully spark an interest in literature from a young age.
As you walk around the store, there are a number of different tables that offer book club top picks, celebrity favourites, and staff favourites. This adds a personal touch to a customer’s shopping experience. And along with the numerous recommendations, the staff in Hodges Figgis are always eager and ready to lend a helping hand to anyone struggling to make the tough decision on what to read next.
Hodges Figgis within literature
In the famous Ulysses (1920) by James Joyce, the novel’s character, Stephen Dedalus, passes by the bookshop and notices a woman “at Hodges Figgis’ window… looking in for one of the alphabet books you were going to write.” By the time that Joyce was mentioning it, Hodges Figgis was already an old bookshop. While it is true that the store is only mentioned once in passing, it has managed to become an important stop on the yearly walking tour in which thousands or people dress in Edwardian clothing and retrace the steps of Leopold Bloom, (the novel’s protagonist), through Dublin.
More recently, Hodges Figgis has featured in more contemporary literature either as the backdrop for a literary event or as a passing remark. The novel Conversations with Friends (2017), written by the author of Normal People (2018) Sally Rooney, also mentions Hodges Figgis. In the novel, Hodges Figgis holds a book launch and event, and an entire chapter is set in the famous bookstore.
This important Irish bookshop frequently invites writers to visit and sign copies of their books for literature enthusiasts. Not only that, they often invite these authors to hold discussions and readings for their books. Just have a look at Hodges Figgis Instagram and Facebook to get an idea of a number of the authors that have visited to promote their books and their works.
With everything that Hodges Figgis offers, from a long Irish history, to a seemingly endless supply of books, there is no doubt that anyone who steps foot into the building will fall in love with the atmosphere that surrounds them. Any book-lover is sure to feel right at home as soon as they step foot in the door.
Have you visited Hodges Figgis? What did you think? Make sure to tell us about it in the comments.
Where?: 56-58 Dawson Street, Dublin 2, D02 XE81
Opening Hours: Monday (9am-7pm), Tuesday (9am-7pm), Wednesday (9am-7pm), Thursday (9am-8pm), Friday (9am-7pm), Saturday (9am-6pm), Sunday (11am-6pm).