Commissioned, designed, printed, and hand-coloured by different women, the Cuala Press print, College Green, shows a lively scene in Dublin’s city centre. A traffic policeman stands in a moment of contemplation, as trams and cars trundle along the street, and people hurry on the pavements. Its distorted drone-like perspective allows the artist, Hilda Roberts, to bring together visually the familiar sculptures of Henry Grattan, created by John Henry Foley (1876), Thomas Moore by Christopher Moore (1857), and the pediment sculpture of Fidelity carved by Edward and John Smyth (1809) situated high on James Gandon’s House of Lords. Orientated as they are, the viewer can imagine they are in conversation with each other. The streetscape hasn’t changed much in the almost hundred years since this print was first produced. The public toilets beside the Moore statue are no longer extant but are immortalised by Joyce in Ulysses, ‘He crossed under Tommy Moore’s roguish finger. They did right to put him up over a urinal: meeting of the waters’. A satirical reference to Moore’s ode to the formation of Wicklow’s Avoca River, ‘The Meeting of the Waters’.
In the first part of this post, I shared something of the contents of TCD MS 667, and its value as a witness to the cultural hybridity of the activity of friars in medieval Ireland, but I never explained what might lead one to locate it in the Dominican priory in Limerick. In fact, for about a century, it was thought of as a Franciscan, not Dominican, manuscript, and located usually in Co. Clare, rather than the town of Limerick. What changed all this?
Among the many religious communities in the medieval town of Limerick was St Saviour’s Priory, home to the Friars Preachers or Dominicans. Right at the northern edge of Englishtown, it was founded in 1227 under the joint patronage of Gaelic aristocrat, Donncha Cairbreach Ó Briain, and the English crown.
Like any community of friars, St Saviour’s was not a stand-alone entity, but a node in an international network of friars, through which texts, ideas, stories, and friars themselves travelled with ease across national and ethnic boundaries. Like communities of friars everywhere, the founding aim of St Saviour’s was to preach the Gospel at a popular level, in an engaging and entertaining fashion, not only to those who worshipped in their church, but throughout the hinterland.
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.
The Cuala Press operated from different premises during its existence. Initially, under the Dun Emer Press imprint, it was part of Dun Emer enterprises in Dundrum from 1902 until 1908. Elizabeth and Lily Yeats split from Dun Emer and Evelyn Gleeson, in 1908 and moved their printing and embroidery operations to ‘a four roomed cottage’ on Lower Churchtown Road in July of that year. It was housed in William and Georges Yeats home on 82 Merrion Square from August 1923 until February 1925. Cuala then moved to Baggot Street and sub-rented upstairs rooms from the building’s main tenants, Norman Allen Ltd. They remained at Baggot Street until January 1942, by which time W. B. Yeats (the Press’s editor) and Elizabeth were both dead. After 1942 the Press, now managed by George (W.B.’s widow), moved to her house on Palmerstown Road. The thirty-two years in Churchtown and Baggot Street were the most productive. Photographs with decorative and historical detail exist from all locations and are rich sources about Cuala Press life, industry, output, location, and much more.
This blog looks at one photograph taken in the Cuala Press Baggot Street premises in 1932, and the avenues of research that image invites and the questions it asks.