Skip to main content

Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin

Menu Search

Marrying the visual and textual, Cuala’s A Broadside.

Billy Shortall.

Douglas Hyde, The Love Songs of Connaught, Dublin: Dun Emer Press, 1904.

As already discussed in this blog series, Dun Emer Press (1902-1908) and Cuala Press (1908-1946) books were renowned for both their content, contemporary literature, and their arts and crafts aesthetic. The Press differentiated itself from other private letterpress publishers by printing new material by important writers of the Irish literary revival. Most British private presses, to minimise costs and avoid paying fees to living writers, invariably issued out of copyright classic texts. From the start, Cuala’s production values were praised for their elementary design and execution, ‘a fine clearness is the prime trait in the hand-printed volumes of Miss Elizabeth Yeats’, they used an eighteenth century (c. 1725) Caslon ‘fashioned … Old-Face type, and it is with this that Miss Yeats works exclusively.’ In setting up her Press, Elizabeth Yeats was advised by printer, private press publisher, and powerhouse of the English Arts and Crafts Private Press Movement, Emery Walker. Due to Walker’s co-directorship of the Doves Press and his role as an advisor to William Morris’s Kelmscott Press, the Dun Emer and Cuala Press may be viewed as a key development within this revival of bespoke publishing.

: Marrying the visual and textual, Cuala’s A Broadside.
Saggart Paper Mill watermark.

Using a good quality rag paper made in Saggart, County Dublin and quarter bound with canvas and paper sides usually in blue, or grey, the bindings were apt in relation to the restrained letterpress and formatting of the interiors and gave the Press productions a distinctive house style.

Elinor Monsell, ‘Emer’, photoengraving, in Katharine Tynan, Twenty One Poems, Dublin: Dun Emer Press, 1907..

Visual material, which was first issued under the Dun Emer imprint in 1905 continued throughout the lifetime of the Cuala Press. Printed from photoengraved blocks, individual prints in different sizes, but on a domestic scale, were produced both as hand-coloured greeting cards and larger format art prints for framing. Like the books, the prints were also presented on Saggart Mill paper and sometimes appeared alongside textual content to illustrate an accompanying poem. In terms of visual content for her books, Elizabeth Yeats introduced a pressmark device to distinguish her publications from 1907.  Katherine Tynan’s Twenty One Poems was embellished with a photoengraving designed by the Irish artist Elinor Monsell. The device was a representation of the ancient Irish craftswoman, Emer. Commissioned by W.B. Yeats, Dun Emer and later Cuala Press literary editor, Monsell had been previously commissioned by the poet in 1904 to design the Abbey Theatre’s Queen Maeve logo.

Elizabeth Yeats, ‘Cuala Press device’, photoengraving, in Robin Flower, Love’s Bitter-Sweet, Dublin: Cuala Press, 1925.

Until the 1920s, Dun Emer and later Cuala continued to use the Monsell ‘Emer’ device in books, along with several other pressmark devices designed by leading artists such as AE, Thomas Surge Moore, Edmund Dulac, Robert Gregory, Jack B Yeats, Hilda Roberts, and others. However, as a mark of her independence, Elizabeth Yeats’ designed a new pressmark of a lone wind-formed thorn tree set in a rural Irish landscape. It was first used for Robin Flower’s Love’s Bitter Sweet (1925), and was consistently used over the remaining history of the  Cuala Press.

Jack B Yeats (aka Wolfe T. MacGowan), ‘Theodore to his grandson’ in A Broadside, Dublin: Cuala Press, January 1909, as author and artist.

Elizabeth Yeats first experienced the hand printing of imagery and text together though an initiative of Jack B. Yeats which was undertaken while the Yeats family was domiciled in London. Prior to the establishment of Dun Emer, Jack, with the support of the artist Pamela Coleman Smith, designed and edited a series of single sheet broadsheets. Issued monthly, the A Broad Sheet collection comprised contemporary poetry and original designed, hand-coloured images. They were produced by the London publisher Elkin Matthews from 1902 to 1903. Inspired by A Broad Sheet, Elizabeth Yeats printed the monthly A Broadside from 1908 until 1915. The eighty-four issues for this series were all designed and edited by Jack and the hand- colouring was undertaken by Cuala Press assistants. Comprising a single sheet folded in half, the four pages usually contained three illustrations. Texts represented both historical and contemporary writers. Interestingly, Jack also provided some literary content for A Broadside under the pseudonyms of Wolfe T[one] MacGowan and R. E. MacGowan (the initials for Robert Emmett), thus appropriating and self-identifying with two prominent Irish protestant nationalists from the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Jack B. Yeats, RHA (1871-1957) The New Ballad c. 1910, hand-coloured photoengraving, Cuala Press. © Estate of Jack B. Yeats, DACS London/IVARO Dublin, 2022. Schooner Foundation donation. TCD MS 11574/19/12.

Jack had an interest in and collected historical illustrated broadsides and ballad sheets, a feature of late eighteenth and nineteenth century life.  Ballad singers and orators feature in some of his Cuala Press prints, such as The Ballad Singer (featured image above, TCD MS 11574/19/11) and The New Ballad.

Popular from the 16th century, Broadsides were precursors to the popular press. They were initially used for the printing of royal proclamations and official notices and posted on walls. They would serve pro- and anti -government agencies, and political and propagandist agendas of others. As literacy levels raised the broadsheet grew in popularity among all classes, disseminating songs, speeches, poetry, and news inexpensively and effectively. Printed on one or both sides of a single sheet, they were sold cheaply in large numbers by street pedlars. Writing about the revival of poetry broadsides in the 1960s, James Sullivan in his book On the Walls and in the Streets (1997), said that broadsides ‘took poetry out from between closed covers resting on shelves’ allowing for wider circulation and engagement.

Cuala’s finely produced Broadsides represent a marriage of art and text, of imagery and poetry, which serve to underpin the press’s Irish revivalist cultural identity.

Further reading see; Angela Griffith, ‘Impressions: Jack Yeats’ approach to fine art publishing’ in Scott, Y. ed., Jack B. Yeats: Old and New Departures (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2008)

Some Cuala Press illustrated volumes.


  1. Elizabeth Rivers, Stranger in Aran (1946). Illustrated by Elizabeth Rivers. Fifteen illustrations, four hand-coloured, and one on the cover. This was the last book published by Cuala.
  2. Frank O’Connor, A Picture Book (1943). Illustrated by Elizabeth Rivers. Fifteen illustrations, one is repeated on the cover.
  3. Frank O’Connor (trs.), A Lament for Art O’Leary (1940). Illustrated by Jack B. Yeats. Six hand-coloured illustrations.
  4. Dorothy Wellesley & W. B. Yeats, eds, A collection of New Irish and English Songs (1937). Numerous illustrations by Victor Brown, Harry Kernoff, Maurice McGonigal, and Jack B. Yeats. [Bound version]
  5. F.R. Higgins & W. B. Yeats, eds, A collection of Old and New Songs (1935). Numerous illustrations by Eileen C. Booth (nee Peet), Victor Brown, Harry Kernoff, Maurice McGonigal, Seán O’Sullivan, and Jack B. Yeats. [Bound version]
  6. W. B. Yeats, Stories of Michael Robartes and his friends (1931). Two illustrations by Edmund Dulac. Unicorn device is also by Dulac. Illustrations were previously used in the first version of A Vision (London 1925) by W. B. Yeats.
  7. Teresa Shiel, Poems by Teresa Shiel (Cherry Shiel) (1930), Two illustrations, one by Beatrice Glenavy and one by Elizabeth Yeats. Hand-coloured floral device and two initials by Elizabeth Yeats.
  8. Seán Ó’Faoláin, selected by, Lyrics and Satires from Tom Moore (1929). Five illustrations by Hilda Roberts.
  9. Emmeline Cadbury, A message for every day (1923). Illustrated by Elizabeth Corbet Yeats. Eleven hand-coloured designs. Angel design on the cover. Hand-coloured initials.
  10. W. B. Yeats, Reveries over Childhood and Youth (1915). Two volume publication, text contains two devices by T. Surge Moore, second portfolio holds three illustrations produced by Emery Walker after two drawings by John B. Yeats and a watercolour by Jack B. Yeats.
  11. Susan Mitchell, Frankincense and Myrrh (1912). One illustration by Jack B. Yeats.

Illustrated pamphlets/booklets.

  1. Mary Byrne, trans., Be Thou My Vision (1940). Hand-coloured initial and tailpiece by Elizabeth Yeats.
  2. 1937 Broadsides, monthly editions.
  3. 1935 Broadsides, monthly editions.
  4. The Wren Boys (1925). One hand-coloured illustration by Jack B. Yeats. This illustration first appeared in Pamela Coleman Smith’s Green Sheaf (1904. No. 10).
  5. James Stephens etc., Requiescat (1921) [‘for Michael O’Callaghan, the first Republican Lord Mayor of Limerick 1920, murdered in his home in March 1921’]. A hand-coloured wreath design on the cover, an elaborate hand-coloured initial letter, by Elizabeth Yeats.
  6. St. Patrick’s Breastplate (1920). Hand-coloured cover design and eight initials by Elizabeth Yeats.
  7. Katharine Tynan, Flower of Youth (1916). Hand-coloured cover design and initial letter by Elizabeth Yeats.
  8. Katharine Tynan, “Haud Immemor” (1916). Hand-coloured cover design by Jack B. Yeats.
  9. In Memoriam” (1916) [for Easter Rising martyr, Thomas MacDonagh]. Hand-coloured wreath design on the cover by Elizabeth Yeats.
  10. Poems by O.H.B. and O.M.B (1915). Hand-coloured cover design by Elizabeth Yeats.
  11. Mary Aldiss, “A Prayer” [“May 11, 1915”] (1915) printed at Cuala under the title “1915”. A hand-coloured golden cross on the cover and an Irish landscape inside by Elizabeth Yeats.
  12. Lord Aberdeen, Fragrance (1915). Hand-coloured design of roses and initial ‘A’ by Elizabeth Yeats.
  13. In Memoriam F.H.H. (1914). Hand-coloured cover and initial page designs by Elizabeth Yeats.
  14. St. Patrick’s Breastplate (1912). Hand-coloured cover design and initial by Elizabeth Yeats.
  15. 1908-1915 Broadsides, monthly editions.
  16. A New Song called Anna Liffey (1907). Cover illustration. Anonymous woodcut.
Hilda Roberts’ design, “Tis the last rose of Summer” (TCD MS 11535, Cuala Business archive) one of five illustrations for Sean O’Faolain (selected by), Lyrics and Satires from Tom Moore, Dublin: Cuala Press, 1929) page 33.

%d bloggers like this: