Books

Former IT specialist who turned the page, giving up career to follow his heart and run a bookshop

It was his love of books which ultimately convinced former IT specialist Cian Byrne to give up his well-paid career in order to carry on the family bookselling business.

After being made redundant from his job as a data analyst when his employer Hewlett Packard closed its Leixlip plant in 2017, the 32-year-old married father-of-one had another well-paid job with pension and generous benefits lined up soon after.

And when his daughter Ellen was born just a month after Cian was laid off, it was almost a given that he would carry on his career in IT, where jobs were plentiful.

That was until he sat down with his father, John Byrne (63), who has been running the Maynooth Bookshop and Maynooth University bookstore since the 1980s.

“We were having this chat and for the first time it dawned on me that he was going to retire soon,” he told the Irish Independent.

“I asked him ‘what will happen to the shops?’ and it then dawned on me that the two shops were coming to an end,” Cian Byrne said.

“That didn’t sit right with me,” he added.

Despite the lure of the relatively secure job in the IT sector, his friends and colleagues convinced him to follow his heart and take over the family business.

And despite the inherent risks of an industry struggling to compete with the internet, social media, e-readers, downloadable ‘books’ and online monoliths like Amazon, he decided to take the plunge and carry on the business. Two years on, he said he has never looked back. “I can’t see myself going back any time soon,” he said. “I love it.”

The business has not only managed to hold its head above water despite the ongoing challenges faced by the industry, he has also taken over another academic bookshop at UCD this summer.

And like the resurgence of vinyl in the recording industry, he thinks books are making a comeback, especially among many younger readers who are getting bored with the internet and looking for something that will actually engage their minds and imaginations without the constant distraction and time-wasting of social media.

“Everyone I speak to recognises it’s a good thing to get away from screens, which are really just brain candy,” he said.

Although he has cut down from reading several books a week to an average of two or three a month – and has been barred by his wife Nicola from bringing any more books into their home – he said nothing will ever replace an actual tome. “You don’t get 10 notifications while you’re reading a book,” he said.

“I love the feeling of finding a good book. It’s like the resurgence of records. It’s the physical opening of the page, the smell – you can’t replace it, ” he said.

“I love train journeys and being able to be lost in a book for a few hours,” he said.

And instead of feeling jittery and drained from a bombardment of trivial images, annoying adverts and distracting pings after surfing the internet, he loves the sense of fulfilment and relaxation he gets from reading.

“It’s like a facial for the brain,” he said. Mr Byrne is a member of Bookselling Ireland which, along with Publishing Ireland, is celebrating Irish Book Week this week.

The event, which runs until Saturday, is celebrating the Irish book publishing industry with a focus on books written by Irish writers as well as books of Irish interest.

Bookshops will be hosting events and promotions across the country to highlight the important role they play not only as a source of books but their role as a community and cultural hub.

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