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At The Sign Of The Three Candles

The foggy dew. Words and music by "Iascaire"
The foggy dew. Words and music by “Iascaire”

Canon Charles O’Neill’s ballad The foggy dew is synonymous with the events of Easter 1916. Shortly after printing this copy in 1919 the firm O’Loughlin, Murphy & Boland experienced financial trouble and insolvency. Proprietor John O’Loughlin soon found employment with his son, Colm Ó Lochlainn (1892-1972), who had earlier established the Candle Press in Dublin. Colm’s publishing history included issuing 64 editions of The Spark (1915-1916), a revolutionary periodical for the Gaelic Press. Output in 1917 included The Irish Christmas, later reprinted in 1918 and 1933. By 1920 the Candle Press had published a series of 23 prose booklets including Hunger: a Dublin story (James Stephens) and a booklet inspired by the 1916 rebellion, A Dublin ballad and other poems (Sir Arnold Bax).

Moving the business to Fleet Street in 1926 Ó Lochlainn painted a large sign outside the premises depicting three candles symbolising the ideology from the Triads of Ireland –‘three candles light up every darkness: truth, nature, knowledge’ The company at the Sign of the Three Candles was now established. Publications at the new premises included Grace Plunkett’s ‘Twelve nights at the Abbey Theatre’ (1929) of which 200 signed copies were printed.

The Irish Christmas (1933), colophon
Colophon from The Irish Christmas (1933).

The firm established a reputation for fairness to its employees and for producing quality publications. As an award-winning binder Ó Lochlainn had true affection for the printed word. His commitment to The Irish book lover epitomised his genuine interest in the promotion of Ireland’s bibliographical output. Revived in 1928, the journal was issued by Ó Lochlainn for 30 years without him ever making a profit. As well as a forging a career in the print industry Ó Lochlainn played a role in two events leading up to Easter week 1916.

Present at the inaugural public meeting of the Irish Volunteers on 25 November 1913, Ó Lochlainn was later appointed to Joseph Plunkett’s military organising committee and used his professional skills to print copies of Secret orders issued to military officers aka The Castle Document. The leaflet appeared to leak information on the imminent arrest of the rebel leaders and plans by authorities in Dublin Castle to put the city in lockdown. The document was in fact a forgery designed to advance the argument for an Easter rebellion. Suspicious of its authenticity Ó Lochlainn later submitted a letter to the Irish Times in 1961 conveying his disillusionment with the deception and with it with the sense of betrayal. We plan to revisit the Castle Document in more detail in 2016.

Colm Ó Lochlainn, Long Room, no.41 (1996)
Colm Ó Lochlainn, Long Room, no.41 (1996).

Good Friday 1916 saw Ó Lochlainn receive orders to travel to Cahirciveen Co. Kerry and destroy the wireless station and seize radio transmitters for future use by the rebels. The party of six used a convoy of two cars from Killarney – Ó Lochlainn travelling in the first car with Denny Daly. Losing sight of the other car on the dark night, their plan was aborted after passing through a checkpoint and learning of the R.I.C. patrols in the area. Events turned tragic. The second car took a wrong turn and entered the river Laune at Ballykissane Pier, Killorglin, leading to the deaths of his three comrades Con Keating, Charlie Monaghan and Dónal Sheehan- the first causalities of Easter Week. The driver of the car Thomas McInerney was arrested and transferred after the Rising to the Frongoch prison camp in Wales. Ó Lochlainn’s account of events, written four years later, were published in The Dublin magazine (1949).

Three Candles Press publications can be consulted in the Department of Early Printed Books and Special Collections along with Éamonn de Búrca’s bibliographical catalogue of the press.

With thanks to Aifric Gray, daughter of Colm Ó Lochlainn, for permission to publish the Three Candles Press images.


– Shane Mawe

Department of Early Printed Books and Special Collections