Guest Column: Seeing beyond the recession: Celebrating 25 Years Of Cló Iar-Chonnacht
Cló Iar-Chonnacht, a Connemara-based Irish-language publishers, celebrate twenty-fifth anniversary this year. We invited Bridget Bhreathnach, Marketing Officer with CIC to submit a column about the company.
Although 1985 may seem like the dark ages, in many ways things weren’t so different then when the writer, Micheál Ó Conghaile, still a university student, decided to set up Cló Iar-Chonnacht. Over 17% of the Irish population were unemployed and young people were leaving Ireland in their droves – sound familiar?
Had Ó Conghaile, from Inis Treabhair in Connemara, subjected his idea to publish unknown Irish-language authors to a cost/benefit analysis chances are he never would have moved past the ‘wouldn’t it be nice to…’ stage. He wanted to publish Gaeltacht writers who weren’t being published at the time, people like Antoine Ó Flatharta, Johnny Chóil Mhaidhc and Joe Steve Ó Neachtain. All unknowns.
Luckily, youth and enthusiasm got in the way of more ‘sensible’ considerations and he ploughed ahead, publishing his first book – Beairtle, a collection of poetry by Connemara poet Seán Ó Curraoin – from his H.Q. at the kitchen table of the family home. That first book sold 400–500 copies in six months, not bad for a first effort.
Now celebrating twenty-five years in business, Cló Iar-Chonnacht (CIC) has grown to become the largest independent publisher of Irish-language books in the country. Employing five people full-time in its bookstore and offices in Indreabhán, Conamara, CIC produces fifteen to eighteen books annually and has a backlist of over three hundred titles.
Today, Antoine Ó Flatharta has had several of his plays produced, poetry by Johnny Chóil Mhaidhc (since deceased) is on the higher-level Irish-language leaving certificate curriculum, introducing a generation of Irish readers to his work, and Joe Steve Ó Neachtain has become one of the most beloved and widely-read contemporary authors in Irish.
Cló Iar-Chonnacht expanded in 2009 to include the well-known Sáirséal • Ó Marcaigh and An Clóchomhar imprints. Established in 1949, Sáirséal • Ó Marcaigh published such illustrious works as Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s classic Cré na Cille and the poetry of Seán Ó Ríordáin and Máire Mhac an tSaoi. CIC will oversee the sale and marketing of the remaining stock and republish some of the company’s classics. They will continue to publish new books under the An Clóchomhar imprint.
This latest expansion came during a time of great upheaval in the Irish publishing industry and one of the worst recessions that this country has seen since the early days of the company. Nielsen bookscan reported earlier this year that booksales in Ireland dropped by 5% last year and, according to figures released during the Great Irish Book Week, just 15 of every 100 books sold in Ireland were published by Irish publishers. Although the revenue from book sales has fallen, the Irish love affair with the book continues and the volume of books sales is up.
History has shown that times of great upheaval have also led to great innovation, creativity and enterprise. Cló Iar-Chonnacht is living proof of that. Established in the depth of the Irish depression in the eighties, the company has built on early values of quality, thrift and vision to create something new and dynamic. Technological advances in the intervening quarter-century have worked in favour of smaller enterprises and the long-tail benefits of the internet have been central to the company’s success.
Despite increasing competition it is becoming easier for smaller companies to reach their customers using the relatively targeted and inexpensive communication methods offered by the internet. Cló Iar-Chonnacht has sought to make the best use of social media like Twitter and Facebook as well as e-commerce to make it easier for its customers to reach them.
Some estimates say that just 20,000 people speak Irish every day. Despite all the reports of its demise, the Irish language is still an everyday language for thousands of people across this island. There are readers for Irish-language literature and, just as important, young people still choose to write in Irish and there are many emerging authors writing contemporary and challenging work.
Challenges remain for all minority and niche publishers and many are not unique to Irish language publishing. All books must compete for shelf-space and cost structures make it easier for larger publishers to provide bigger discounts and to push smaller, more niche publications to the sidelines. Bookstores are also under threat from online booksellers like Amazon and independent stores are working through one of their biggest challenges of the past twenty years.
However, these challenges should not dishearten us today. Had Micheál Ó Conghaile stopped to look around in 1985 he would have found very little encouragement to set up Cló Iar-Chonnacht. Yet, here it is, celebrating twenty-five years of wonderful work, of collaboration with artists, with writers and with musicians. Celebrating a quarter-century of customer support, of enthusiastic readers and a bright future.
Cló Iar-Chonnacht will be running a series of concerts, readings and other events to mark the company’s twenty-fifth anniversary. More information is available on the company website at www.cic.ie. Updates are posted regularly on Twitter and Facebook.