NEW CHAPTER Neil Paul and Bríd Conroy in their new bookshop, Tertulia, at Westport Quay.
A pinch of Potter, a sprinkle of silver-screen glamour and a dollop of community spirit
Step through the bright-yellow doorway of Tertulia – A Bookshop Like No Other, and the store’s name immediately makes sense (at least the second part of it does). This latest addition to Westport’s literary scene is truly different. This bookshop at Westport Quay is a book and film lover’s treasure trove.
Tertulia (an old Spanish word meaning a social circle or forum – a place where people come to discuss literature, books, art and the issues of the day) is the brainchild of Louisburgh residents Neil Paul and Bríd Conroy. The couple have been living in Mayo for many years now. Dublin-born Bríd has been working as an accountant and studying, while her London-born husband, Neill, worked in Books@One bookshop in Louisburgh village.
A year ago, the couple were trying to decide whether to stay in Mayo or to move away. They wanted to start something new. “We toyed with moving, moving away from Mayo,” Neill tells The Mayo News, “but the support we had from our family, our friends and our neighbours in Louisburgh was really lovely. Nobody wanted us to leave!”
Neill and Bríd both loved the idea of running their own bookshop together. “We work so well together. We’ve been together over 30 years,” Neil confided, smiling. “My daughter, Rusty James, is in here working with us too, which is great. Jake Kilcoyne, who used to work in the Louisburgh bookshop with me came here to work too, as did another young lady, Caroline. It’s like having the old team together, which is lovely.”
Harry Potter and more
So what’s so different about Tertulia? Well, for a start, it’s not just new titles that are sold here. Secondhand ‘pre-loved’ books are stocked too, alongside all the latest releases.
But that’s not where the magic ends. Neil spent many years working in the film industry building sets and doing lighting and some special effects. The spoils of his silver-screen journey are everywhere – but one film dominates. Harry Potter.
Hanging over a huge book table are three enormous steel lights. “They were above the big hall in Harry Potter,” Neil explains, and then, almost casually adds: “We have some more Harry Potter stuff over there.”
And there, at the back of the shop is the Cupboard under the Stairs (or a very good facsimile thereof) that was Harry Potter’s room for a time when he lived on Privet Drive, with the real cushions from Harry Potter’s bedroom inside.
On the wall is a framed front page of The Daily Prophet (for the uninitiated, that’s a wizarding newspaper based in London, the primary source of news for British and Irish wizards). Another is adorned with more pages from the newspaper, which was was made especially for the Harry Potter film.
All around there are memorabilia and photographs from the Harry Potter films – shells from Shell Cottage, Hogmeade Stationmaster’s kettle, signed photographs, envelopes from the first Harry Potter film (“Delivered by owl, of course,” says Neil.)
“And over here we have some call sheets [daily film-crew schedules] from when I worked on the Harry Potter film, Order of the Phoenix. I Spent a lot of time talking to Harry on that one – or Dan [Daniel Radcliffe] as we called him – He’s a lovely kid actually. Very normal and down to earth. And his dad was a real gentleman too.”
The Harry Potter corner is a huge draw for children of course, and they often pluck a book from the children’s shelves and sit there happily, surrounded by their hero. However, it’s not just little kids who get excited – according to Neil, plenty of ‘grown-ups’ get weak at the knees when they see his collection too.
And there’s more. Everywhere you look, aside from books (and there are lots and lots of books) you’ll stumble across another artefact from Neil’s movie career. “The fish?” Neil says, pointing to an enormous ‘stone’ sculpture on the wall. “They’re from ‘Alice in Wonderland’ – they were in my garden shed for years!”
The flooring is from James Bond film, ‘The World is Not Enough’ (you probably didn’t pay them too much attention – they were in a steamy bedroom scene in Turkey, and most viewers’ eyes were definitely not on the floor…). Some of the other lights in the shop are from that movie too – they were originally props, used as telegraph poles on the set.
There’s also photos galore from the sets of ‘Saving Private Ryan’, ‘Hamish MacBeth’, ‘28 Days Later’, ‘In Love and War’ and more.
Neil has worked on two cult sci-fi films too – Event Horizon and Aliens, and he has plenty of keepsakes from these films on display too. “There’s part of a spaceship from Event Horizon,” he explains, “and a drawing from the Aliens storyboard where they land on a planet and get killed, and she [Sigourney Weaver] battles to get back on her ship. Sigourney Weaver was so lovely. I should have gotten her to sign something – If I’d have known then what I know now about the film’s success, I would have got more bits!”
Neil loves sci-fi, and so naturally enough, there’s a big science-fiction book section in the shop. Bríd is passionate about the humanities, and there are plenty of books to interest people who love the arts and philosophy.
The couple’s other big passion is the environment, and aside from their big section with books related to that topic, they have also tried to upcycle and reuse as much as they can. They sell delicious coffee, and the window tables at which you can enjoy your cuppa were made using Russian fishing floats from the 1950s that washed up on a beach in Louisburgh. The coffee table that sits in front the store’s super-comfy couch is made from scaffolding.
Bríd and Neil also really want to give back to the community that has welcomed them so much. To support local artists, they plan to exhibit work by a different artist every month. Some beautiful work by Louisburgh artist Jane Williams is currently on show.
“We have an artist of the month section, so we’ll have a different artist every month, put up some of their work, and then during that month we’ll have an art exhibition just for one eventing. So that’s going to happen at the beginning of September, Jane’s going to come in with all her artwork, we’re going to move all the books and the table, and we’ll have an evening of Jane’s art, and we’re going to do that with other artists too over the course of the year. So we’re promoting the arts as well as books. It’ll be local artists mostly. Westport or Louisburgh based.”
They also want to ensure that Tertulia becomes a key space for arts and literary events. “This is a venue too. We’ve been talking to the Rolling Sun Book Festival and Westival – Wesport Arts Festival, and we’re also planning to put on our own events too.”
“We want to give back something to the people who support us. It’s been so lovely seeing familiar faces that we got to know in Louisburgh coming in here and supporting us in our new shop, as well as all the new faces too.
“And there’s so much potential here in Westport. Myself and the other booksellers, like Seamus Duffy [of Duffy’s Bookshop on Bridge Street], we want to make Westport a bookie town – turn it into a mini Hay-on-Wye [a town on the English/Welsh border famous for its bookshops and annual literary festival].” Now, wouldn’t that be amazing?
Tertulia will have its official opening at 5pm on Saturday, August 10. All are welcome. For more, find Tertulia on Facebook.