First Editions is a lovely little bookstore tucked into the quiet Pembroke Lane, the mews lane that connects Waterloo to Wellington Road, although sitting nearer the corner with Waterloo.
Many years ago, this premises was “the Wee Stores” a grocer selling milk and newspapers, tea, tobacco and coal.
As recounted by historian and writer Hugh Oram, two local residents, literary greats Brendan Behan and Patrick Kavanagh used to meet here. That was until a bitter falling out saw both men change their shopping times to avoid each other!
The Wee Stores lasted right up to the 1980s. Since its demise the premises has variously been empty, then a Sheridan’s cheese monger (with fantastic soup, and coffee I still miss) and even a small handmade jewelry business that unfortunately didn’t last long. First Editions then opened a couple of years ago.
The proprietor is Allan Gregory. Despite a lifelong love affair with great writing, Allan was a chartered engineer, until he followed his real passion in middle age and undertook a Masters in Literature, complete with his thesis on the late Irish poet Michael Hartnett. These days Allan also serves as president of the Irish Byron Society. His store is almost entirely stocked with his own library, scrumptious hardback copies of literary classics collected over a lifetime.
As you’d expect therefore it’s especially strong on poetry and literature (both Irish and international) and on Irish interest books, including biography, essay and short stories, history and local history.
To the uninitiated, some titles may seem pricy until you recall that, as the name suggests, most are first editions, hardbacks, and some even signed by the authors into the bargain. In reality Allan often sells at 20% under the guidelines for collectible volumes. Some are valuable, many are lovely.
The shop lies on my route between home and work. I have to be careful when passing, a ceaseless battle trying to resist the magnetic pull of beautiful books. Once I enter and start looking and handling, I’m basically lost. Each one seems to whisper out, “Buy me!” Accordingly I don’t go in nearly as much as I’d like, and have to avert my gaze! It doesn’t always work. Even a cursory glance looking around me here at home reveals an illustrated Irish History edited by Seamus Mac Annaidh; The Wild Geese: Irish soldiers in Exile by Maurice Hennessy; Ireland, by Conor Cruise O’Brien; Irish Voices -1916-1966, a superb account of those fifty years by Peter Somerville- Large; and a History of Dun Laoghaire Harbor, by the great maritime expert John De Courcy Ireland. All are from First Editions. And there are more.
I think my best purchase in Allan shop to date however was a copy of William Beckford’s Vathek, bought as a Valentine’s gift.
This book is an amusing little pseudo-Orientalist fantasy, written in early 19th century, when such works were popular and highly fashionable. It concerns a spoilt, bad-tempered little Prince of unnaccountable power and unimaginable wealth. Amusingly, and ironically, the author was William Beckford, a scholar and collector also possessed of quite extraordinary personal wealth. He was privately schooled in Switzerland and later lived in a castle tower surrounded by high walled gardens, amidst his Raphael paintings and rare oriental book collection. Indeed he himself sounds like the subject of literary fiction. Some effortlessly erudite satire, possibly by himself, or the likes of Max Beerbohm.
The book is very funny, but perhaps the best thing about it is these magical little woodcuts, by Charles W Stewart.
The point is, you never know what delight or treasure you will stumble across at First Editions. If this Christmas, or some future birthday, you’re looking for the perfect gift for the book lover in your life, you could do worse than make for this, one of Dublin’s most discreet and charming shops. Incidentally, Hugh Oram’s Little Book of Ballsbridge is also available here, in hardback, a fascinating book, full of local detail, characters and history, at an extremely reasonable €10.
The shop, at 7, Pembroke Lane, very near the corner with Waterloo Road, opens Wednesday to Saturday each week.
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