BOOKSELLING SINCE 1768
Ireland’s oldest bookshop - one of the oldest in the world - and a cornerstone of Dublin’s literary heritage since it was founded in 1768, Hodges Figgis is a cultural icon. A favourite haunt of writers and readers alike since it opened, the bookshop can be found named on the pages of works by authors from James Joyce – who imagined ‘The virgin at Hodges Figgis' window on Monday looking in for one of the alphabet books you were going to write’ – to Paul Durcan and Sally Rooney, whose Conversations with Friends features a whole chapter set in the bookshop.
Founded in 1768 by the property owner John Milliken, Hodges Figgis was originally located at 10 Skinner’s Row (now called Christchurch Place) in a street named for its medieval connection with the leather industry. The shop prospered and in 1797 Milliken moved it to a new home at 32 Grafton Street - an address with an impressive literary heritage as the sometime home of Melmoth the Wanderer’s author Charles Maturin - and then again to 104 Grafton Street in 1819, where it would remain for over a century. During its time in Grafton Street the bookshop was the backdrop to some of the city’s major historical events and the shop’s records include a mention of the then owner Richard Milliken watching George IV’s visit to the city from the shop’s balcony, along with his 22 daughters.
The 19th century saw Grafton Street’s fortunes fluctuate, with historical records describing how some of the shops fell into disrepair and the shop was taken over by the bookselling and publishing family Hodges and Smith and eventually, after further mergers, the new company name of Hodges, Figgis & Co. was established in 1884.
The first half of the 20th century and the impact of the First and Second World Wars saw further moves for the bookshop, first to Nassau Street in 1920 - the street where James Joyce famously met his wife and muse Nora Barnacle - and then to Dawson Street in 1945. In 1974 the business undertook a major expansion, selling the Dawson Street premises and relocating once again to St Stephen’s Green, whilst also opening a shop and warehouse in Donnybrook, plus two campus shops in Belfield and Galway and later shops further afield in Kilkenny, Cork and Dun Laoghaire.
The Figgis family sold the business to Pentos (the owners of the Dillons the Bookstore chain of bookshops in the UK) in 1979 and it moved back to Dawson Street at number 56. Merged with Waterstones as part of the HMV group until the company was sold and demerged, Hodges Figgis finally moving to 57-58 Dawson Street in 1989 where it remains today.
Over the years Hodges Figgis has retained its roots in Celtic publishing. The company continued to publish until the 1960s, producing works including John O'Donovan's edition of The Annals of the Four Masters as well as works by Padraic Colum and Brendan Kennelly. In 2018 Hodges Figgis celebrated its 250th anniversary with the publication of a new anthology of Irish writing, Reading the Future, which featured pieces from 250 contributors including Donal Ryan, Medbh McGuckian and Maeve Binchy as well as contributory work from the booksellers of Hodges Figgis themselves.
Throughout its colourful history, Hodges Figgis has maintained a reputation for bookselling excellence and exceptional customer service. The shop continues to host sell-out events with both local and international authors, from Normal Mailer and Barbara Taylor Bradford to Eimer McBride and Paul Lynch. Irish writing continues to be at the heart of the business today. Set over four floors with areas dedicated to Irish Interest across the Fiction, Non-Fiction and Children’s departments, Hodges Figgis remains an iconic destination. A historic bookshop, loved by its community and the visitors from around the world who step through its doors every day, curated by a team of expert booksellers with a passion for what they do.