The Yeats sisters, Elizabeth, and Lily (Susan) depicted above on an advertisement postcard c. 1905 by their sister-in-law Mary Cottenham Yeats. The card shows Elizabeth carrying books and Lily Yeats holding an embroidered garment as they set out to build a female Arts and Crafts enterprise with Evelyn Gleeson at the anticipated dawn of a new Independent Ireland.
Elizabeth ran the hand printing press. With her brother William as editor, the press produced important Irish revivalist literature. Additionally, Elizabeth worked with several Irish artists, key among them her brother Jack, to produce hand-coloured prints, cards, bookplates, and the illustrated series A Broadside. Lily managed the embroidery department. The Yeats sisters separated from Gleeson in 1908 and continued their areas of production nearby in their new venture Cuala Industries. Both were female enterprises and almost exclusively employed and trained young women as assistants in producing artefacts adhering to arts and crafts principles. Elizabeth was a woman of her time, a time of increasing female agency, politically, socially, and in the workplace. A contested and complex history was lived through her Press.
This startling and hitherto unreproduced image of the Dublin Four Courts ablaze was taken on the night of 1 July 1922. The fire signalled the end of the ‘battle of the Four Courts’, the first engagement of the Irish Civil War. The factions involved were those that supported the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921 and those that opposed it. It also resulted in the devastating destruction of the Public Record Office of Ireland, part of the Four Courts Complex, which housed seven centuries of Ireland’s historical record.
The photograph (TCD MS 7890/1/37) comes from the Library’s extensive Childers family archives. Little is known about this image other than the inscription on the back which reads ‘Taken, from here, the night after the surrender. I suggested the photograph. G Cleary’. This is most probably Fr Gregory Cleary, a correspondent of the Childers family and admirer of Robert Erskine Childers (former Secretary General of the Irish delegation at the treaty negotiations, who had subsequently sided with De Valera and the Anti-Treaty faction, and was executed by Pro-Treaty forces in November 1922).
Fr Cleary was resident at the Friary on Merchant’s Quay at the time of the battle – a building directly facing the Four Courts from the opposite side of the river Liffey. It was here that the image was taken and it was then sent to Molly Childers, Robert’s widow, sometime later. Other Capuchin brothers were known to have engaged with the Anti-Treaty forces occupying the Four Courts, especially those from the community based in Church Street on the north side of the Liffey.
The dramatic red colouring of the small photograph is the result of underexposure due to the low light levels at the time it was taken, necessitating the intensification of some chemicals during the developing process. This has caused a red colour-cast, or discolouration, as the photograph has aged.
The Library also hold records originating from the opposite side of the conflict during this period, most notably a file of correspondence, telegrams and records of phone messages between Michael Collins (commanding the Pro-Treaty National Army forces) and Winston Churchill (at the time a British cabinet minister and co-signatory of the treaty). The file contains copies of Collins’ telegrammed requests for ammunition. It also contains a selection of messages from Churchill to Collins written down by Alfred Cope, (Assistant Under Secretary in Dublin and intermediary between the British and Irish governments), which were recorded on scraps of now defunct ‘parliamentary questions’ paper. One such message to Collins, stamped 30 June 1922, and signed off in Churchill’s name reads ‘… the archives of the Four Courts may be scattered but the title deeds of Ireland are safe’ (TCD MS 11399/15).
The devastating legacy of the destruction of the nation’s archives has formed the basis of the work of our colleagues at Beyond2022. The Library is a core partner of the Beyond2022 project and also a participating institution, donating records to the Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland. The latter is a vast compilation of items recovered or copied from documents that were once housed in the Four Courts. The project is the culmination of six years of collaboration with archives across the globe. We congratulate the team on the launch of such an ambitious and critical project for the future of Irish historical research.
The digitisation of the Book of St Albans manuscript by Matthew Paris was quite possibly the most anticipated step within the Medieval manuscript digitisation project currently being conducted within the Library of Trinity College Dublin. This high value manuscript was first photographed as black and white collotype prints for the M.R. James Facsimile edition in 1924 and in the 1980s a selection of images from the manuscript were captured on colour transparency film and scanned. The colour transparency slides show the pastel green hues well. Furthermore, considering a comparison between the resolution of fine grain film and high-resolution digital imaging is still contestable, I do not believe I can immediately say the resolution of the digital surrogate images taken on a medium format digital back camera is well and truly above what can be captured with fine grain film in terms of image resolution. However, the high dynamic range, colour accuracy and ease of use and speed of a medium format digital back camera makes the true hues and gold highlights seen within the miniatures throughout the Book of St Albans manuscript much easier to render correctly.
Digitising a high value manuscript such as the Book of St Albans involves slightly more planning than other medieval manuscripts as multiple people need to be involved throughout the process to ensure the safety and security of the manuscript. My role first off was to calculate how long I anticipated the digitisation to take place and whether there was a possibility to be able to also capture extra images of a selected number of illustrations using raking light to show the texture within the illustrations. Considering multiple expertise needed to be involved throughout the process and the manuscript is permanently stored in high security, I had a limited amount of time to complete all the digitisation. Although, the fact that this manuscript only has 77 folios made the planning slightly easier. Overall, the most difficult part of the digitisation process was creating the correct lighting to accurately show the course gold highlights which are seen within many of the illustrations, whilst not washing out the pastel green colourisation.
Lighting set up for pastel colours and gold
For most of the photography conducted within our Digital Collection studios we use a standard twin lighting set up with one flash head placed on either side of the subject positioned 90 cm above the subject and placed at a 35-degree angle towards the subject plane. The standard lighting set up was used for the lighting set up whilst digitising the Book of St Albans manuscript. In addition, a large silver reflector was placed over the top of the camera and over the top of the two flash heads and directly above the subject plane. The large silver reflector covered the entire diameter of the subject area and lighting circumference. The large reflector was kept in place directly above the subject throughout the entire shoot. Whilst shooting the miniatures with gold illumination an extra light was placed in front of the subject and pointed directly upwards towards the large silver reflector, this light was also set to the lowest setting. The purpose of using the extra light whilst photographing the miniatures with the gold illuminations was to help bring out the gold highlights which are often hard to capture with the standard lighting set up alone. The large reflector was kept in the same position throughout the shoot to avoid image exposure and the white balance changing too much once the extra lighting was temporarily added. The extra light was kept on the lowest setting also for this reason and to avoid flattening the green pastel colourisation seen throughout the manuscript.
The raking light set up
There are some distinct features in the illustrations in the Book of St Albans that are not easily seen by the unaided eye and are not obvious on the collotype facsimile. These hidden features are the modeling of the surface of parts of the uncoloured vellum. This effect can be seen on the folds of draped clothing, the necks, and haunches of the horses (fol. 49r, Figure 3b.3) as well as the brick work of the abbey church (fol. 60r, Figure 3b.4) and on the laths of the boat (fol. 62r). These effects that were created by Matthew Paris can only be seen by casting a raking light across the illustrations. (Wogan-Browne & Fenster, 2010).
From left, raking light image of folio 60r and close-up of the hidden texturing in the brick work, which can only be seen when using raking light.
The idea behind the raking light set up was to show the hidden texture and detailing in the tinted illustrations which have hidden modelling effects that cannot otherwise be seen with standard lighting. When using the raking light set up the raised parts of the parchment and detailing in the illustrations facing the light are illuminated whilst the parts facing away from the light are shadowed. This allows one to see how rough and rigid parts of the illustrations are, which can give researchers a better insight into the techniques used to create parts of the detailing in the illustrations.
At the very end of the shoot where I was using the original lighting set up, I still had a small bit of time with the manuscript to capture a selected number of folios with a raking light set up. Alison Ray, the Archivist/Project Manager on the Carnegie Medieval Manuscript digitisation project created a list of the selected folios with illustrations showing the unique surface modelling, which I referred to. To capture the raking lighting images the manuscript was positioned on the motorised conservation cradle in the exact same way as it was in the previous set up, whilst only one flash head was used with the diffusing soft box removed. The flash head was positioned to one side of the manuscript 15 cm (about 5.91 in) above the surface of the manuscript. The raking light was pointed downwards slightly, for the light to be skimming across the page. To carry out a raking light shoot it is ideally best to have a light set up on either side of the manuscript and take a shot with each light individually. The two shots would then be comparable in what extra detail and texture they show. Unfortunately, we were quite limited in our lighting set-up and extremely limited on time with the manuscript, therefore we did not have the flexibility of using an extra raking light at a different angle. However, in future this would be our raking light set up of choice. In addition to having two flash heads set up on either side of the manuscript with extra time I would like to experiment with capturing raking light images with the flash heads set up at slightly different angles and distances from the subject to determine which set up produces the most ideal results.
By Caroline Harding
Senior Digital Photographer Manuscripts for Medieval Studies Project
The work of the Manuscripts for Medieval Studies project has been supported by a grant from Carnegie Corporation New York.
Virtual Trinity Library is a digitisation initiative of the Library of Trinity College Dublin’s most valued collections. It will conserve, catalogue, curate, digitise and research these unique collections of national importance, making them accessible to a global audience, from schoolchildren to scholars. https://www.tcd.ie/virtual-trinity-library/
Wogan Browne, J., Fenster, T. S., (2010), The Life of St Alban by Matthew Paris, Vol 2.
In 1927 an English newspaper referred to the “Cuala group of artists”, these were artists mainly women who provided designs for Cuala Industries, primarily for prints published by the Press. 1 Of the nearly forty artists in this group over two-thirds were female. A number of these artists have faded from Irish art historiography and the visual history of Cuala Press is often only discussed in terms of the Yeats family members, Elizabeth the Press’s founder, her sister and Cuala embroideress Lily, artist brother Jack who provided designs, and William the Press’s literary editor.
One of the most prolific designers for Cuala during the 1930s was Eileen Constance Booth (nee Peet) (1906-2000) who created more than twenty illustrations for reproduction on cards and for individual prints. Born into a Quaker family in Dalkey, Co. Dublin in 1906 she studied at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, and for a short period at the renowned Slade School of Art in Britain’s capital, and most interestingly from a Cuala Press point of view as a printmaker specifically in photo-engraving, the method of reproduction used by the Press for its prints. The Cuala Press Business archive holds Booth’s student card associated with the “London County Council School of Photo-Engraving & Lithography” for 1931/2 (TCD MS 11535/9/11/4). The card records that she won first prize for a landscape design in a student exhibition. Traditional Irish rural scenes would become a mainstay in her work and was her preferred subject matter for the Press. It is likely the Eileen first came to Cuala’s attention when she won first prize at the 1926 National Art Competition in ‘Illustration in colour’.
On the morning of 31st May 1622, exactly four hundred years ago, a terrible fire struck Cork city. It was sparked by an early summer thunderstorm. Many of the tightly packed dwellings within the city walls were built of timber or clay and had thatched roofs, and when lightning struck they quickly went up in flames. Between 11 o’clock and noon the fire tore through all parts of the city, leaving a trail of devastation.
One of the reasons we know about this fire is because it was the subject of a news pamphlet, A relation of the most lamentable burning of the cittie of Corke, in the west of Ireland, in the province of Monster, by thunder and lightning, which was printed in London on 20th June, barely three weeks later. It is a scarce work, with only three copies recorded in the English Short Title Catalogue. But a Dutch translation was printed in The Hague by Aert Meuris in 1622, and this translation is held in the Library of Trinity College Dublin among the 5,200 pamphlets in the Fagel Collection.