Celebrations are taking place around the country this week to mark 150 years since the birth of the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, on 13th June 1865 in Sandymount in Dublin. We in Trinity College Library Dublin have a particular reason to celebrate as our holdings in the Department of Early Printed Books & Special Collections include important collections of material relating to the Cuala Press, the Irish private press where many of Yeats’s works were first printed.
The Cuala Press, originally the Dun Emer Press, was founded in Dundrum, Co. Dublin, in 1902 by Evelyn Gleeson and Yeats’s sisters Susan and Elizabeth (known as Lily and Lolly), as part of the Dun Emer Industries. The printing part of the Industries was renamed the Cuala Press after the Yeats sisters separated from Evelyn Gleeson in 1908, setting up their business at a cottage in Churchtown, just a mile away from the original premises in Dundrum. There, Elizabeth was in charge of the printing workshop while Susan continued with the embroidery work she had been doing at Dun Emer.
W.B. Yeats was closely involved with the activity of the Press from the time of its foundation. He acted as its literary editor, thereby ensuring that works of many of the leading Irish writers of the time were published by it. Several of his own books were among these. Indeed, the first book printed at the Dun Emer Press was his collection of poetry, “In the Seven Woods”, which included the first version of his play “On Baile’s strand”. This was followed by further books of poetry, essays and autobiographical works, such as “Reveries upon childhood and youth”, printed in 1915 and in which he described aspects of his life up to the deaths of his maternal grandparents in 1892.
Some of Yeats’s poems were also reprinted in the Cuala Press’s series of prints which usually combined a poem with an illustration. Shown here is a mock-up of the Cuala Press print of Yeats’s poem ‘The fiddler of Dooney’, from his 1899 collection “The wind among the reeds”, with an illustration by George Atkinson, R.H.A.
A selection of items relating to W.B. Yeats and the Cuala Press, from the collections of Trinity College Library, is currently on display in the Long Room of the Old Library.
Continuing our Tercentenary celebrations, we are pleased to draw attention to a new exhibition in the Long Room, ‘Drawn to the page: Irish artists and illustration 1830-1930‘. It has been curated by Dr. Angela Griffith and Dr. Philip McEvansoneya with assistance from staff in the Department of Early Printed Books, especially Dr. Lydia Ferguson. The exhibition emphasises the important contribution made by Irish artists in the period known as the heyday of European book and periodical illustration.
It is the first exhibition of its kind to be undertaken in Ireland, drawing together a broad range of published designs by Irish artists. The works in the exhibition have been selected entirely from the rich and varied holdings of the College Library.
Among the artists included are: Daniel Maclise, George Petrie, William Mulready, Charles M. Grey, F.S. Walker, Margaret Stokes, Robert Goff, Myra K. Hughes, Jack B Yeats, Elizabeth C. Yeats, Harry Clarke, Joseph Campbell, Robert Gibbings, Mabel Annesley, and E M O’Rourke Dickey.
The exhibition shows the use of colour in illustration, from the meticulous application by hand by the staff of the Cuala Press to technological developments that gave Goff the artistic freedom to create richly coloured, painterly designs. The exhibition runs until 21 April 2013. For more information on this and past exhibitions please see our Exhibitions & Events page.
The Cuala Press Archive was presented to Trinity College Library by Michael and Anne Yeats in 1986. The Cuala Press, initially operating as the Dun Emer Press, was run by Elizabeth Yeats from 1902 until her death in 1940. The press grew out of Dun Emer Industries, founded by Elizabeth and Lily Yeats and Evelyn Gleeson in Dundrum in 1902 with the aim of employing Irish women in the making of beautiful things, and contributing to the training and education of working class girls. Elizabeth Yeats was in charge of the press, while Lily Yeats organised the embroidery workshop. In 1908, following a split with Evelyn Gleeson, the Yeats sisters left Dun Emer Industries and continued their work as Cuala Industries. The name of the press was accordingly changed from the Dun Emer Press to the Cuala Press. Elizabeth Yeats ran the press until her death in 1940, whereupon William Butler Yeats’ wife George took over along with Mollie Gill and another assistant. The press stopped printing books in 1946, but continued to create cards and prints. Seventy seven books were published by the Cuala Press between 1908 and 1946, starting with ‘Poetry and Ireland’ by W.B. Yeats and Lionel Johnson, and ending with Elizabeth Rivers’ ‘Stranger in Aran’. From 1969 the Cuala Press began printing books again, under the direction of W.B. and George Yeats’ children, Michael and Anne, who later presented the archive to Trinity. The archive, though fragmentary, contains useful material such as minute books of directors’ meetings, cash books, letters, business papers, some original drawings for prints and sample books. We also have the printing press itself, metal type and printer’s blocks.