Dr Eamon Phoenix is principal lecturer in history and head of lifelong learning at Stranmillis University College, Queen's University, Belfast. A political historian, he is also a regular broadcaster and commentator on Irish history
Asked to name Northern Ireland's five best bookshops, he recommends...
Waterstone's, Fountain Street, Belfast
Today, in a world increasingly bereft of good bookshops, Waterstones stands out as my bookshop of choice. Not only are the different sections clearly and attractively laid out, but the staff go to great lengths to be helpful. Whether you are looking for history, travel or mindfulness, this is an Aladdin's cave for the discerning or casual browser. A great place to spend an hour on a wet Belfast afternoon, with the upstairs coffee shop’s offerings of calm in a bustling world.
Eason's, Donegall Place, Belfast
It would be wrong to see Eason's as just an emporium of newspapers and magazines. It is much more than this. From the inviting ground floor — replete with today's news and every journal from History Ireland to the New Scientist — you descend to a vast book-room below. Here there are dedicated sections on everything from hobbies to history and children's books, with an enticing bargain section thrown in. This is a shop where you can find remaindered copies of that book you’ve been on the lookout for.
War on Want Bookshop, Botanic Avenue, Belfast
This is a place I frequently lose myself in when my better half thinks I'm paying the bills! Going for more years than I can remember and always friendly and accessible, War on Want offers something for every taste — legal, historical, and art history and languages, with a splendid reference section containing Debrett, Gray's Anatomy, Roget's Thesaurus and much more. The books are reasonably priced and, for the collector, the glass case at the counter has tempting volumes such as Jonathan Bardon's much-coveted Belfast — 1000 Years and Thomas Paine's 18th century classic The Rights Of Man. You will always enjoy a chat with the charity's volunteers Helen and Rosana, and eavesdrop on whose surplus collection is due to enliven the shelves!
Bargain Books, CastleCourt, Belfast
One of the few bargain book shops to survive in Belfast, this thriving city centre outlet is a must for the pre-Christmas rush or the final charge around town before jetting off to the sun. Where else would you pick up a splendid biography of Lady Gregory, patron of the Irish literary revival, for £2 or a coffee table biography of Daniel O'Donnell for your great-aunt? There’s a treasure chest of inexpensive children's books from Roald Dahl to Enid Blyton. My granddaughter Nicole loves it too, especially as we can peruse our new books over a ‘treat' in one of the adjoining coffee docks!
No Alibis, Botanic Avenue, Belfast
It took me a long time to discover No Alibis, which I instinctively associated with Agatha Christie and Ruth Rendell. How wrong I was! While it carries a wide range of detective novels, it has a splendid collection of books on history and Irish history, in particular. The staff take a personal interest in your quest and, if you are lucky, you will learn of some forthcoming book launch or musical event at No Alibis, which has a wide clientele.
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