When Evelyn Gleeson (1855-1944) moved to Ireland to establish the Dún Emer Guild with Lily and Elizabeth Yeats she purchased a house named ‘Runnymede’ in Dundrum, a South Dublin village suburb. The house had been named for Runnymede in England where The Magna Carte was sealed in 1215. Evoking the spirit of Irish Revivalism, the Dundrum house was redesignated Dún Emer by Gleeson, meaning Emer’s fort in Gaelic, after the wife of the legendary Irish hero Cuchulainn. Emer was renowned for her craft and needlework skills. Gleeson oversaw the Guild’s weaving department; Lily (1866-1949) ran the embroidery workshop; and Elizabeth (1868-1940) managed the private printing press.
The recovery and use of Irish legends, the story Cuchulainn in particular, during the Irish Revival in the early twentieth century is well documented. Douglas Hyde and Eoin MacNeill founded the Gaelic League in 1893 to promote the Irish language. Ancient heroic tales were retold by writers such as Standish O’Grady and many of their central characters peopled the poems of W. B. Yeats (1865-1939) such as in “The Death of Cuchulain”, “The Only Jealousy of Emer” and numerous others. Lady Gregory’s translation from the Irish of Cuchulainn of Muirthemne, which W. B. Yeats described in the introduction as ‘the greatest book ever to have come out of Ireland in my time’, was published in 1902.
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.