Irish Poets and the Irish Presses

This article provides a chronological insight into some of the private presses and small presses largely created to support Irish poets from the beginning of the 20th century to present day. 

Cuala Press | Dun Emer Design | Cheltenham Rare Books
1902 : The Dun Emer Private Press was founded by Elizabeth and Susan (Lily) Yeats and Evelyn Gleeson in Dundrum near Dublin. It was part of the movement at that time to recover Ireland’s mythic and folkloric heritage. Additionally, the group sought to train and create work for young Irish women. They set up a bookbinding and printing operation, as well as other crafts. The illustrative style was influenced by William Morris, who Elizabeth had known in London. Dun in Gaelic means hill fort - and was most likely influenced by the location in Dundrum. Emer was an Irish mythological figure, famous for both her beauty and her artistic skills. The title page wood engraving was designed by the artist Elinor Monsell, part of a literary circle that, in addition to the Yeats family included her brother John Roberts Monsell (children's author and illustrator) and her husband, Bernard Darwin (children's author). The design depicts Emer leaning against a tree. 

After six years, and eleven titles, the Yeats sisters moved to Churchtown in Dublin and founded the Cuala Press.

W B Yeats | On the Boiler | Irish Poetry | Irish Poets | Cheltenham Rare Books

1908 : The Cuala Press was supported by Elizabeth's brother William Butler Yeats and continued to play an important part in the Celtic Revival through to 1946. In addition to W B Yeats (30 of the 68 titles were by or about Yeats - see On the Boiler for example) and other leading literary figures of the day, authors published by the Cuala Press included Baron Dunsany (Selections from the Writings of Lord Dunsany 1912. See The King of Elfland albeit published by G P Putnam for an example of his work) and Augusta, Lady Gregory (Kiltartan Poetry Book 1918 and Coole 1931). "Cuala’s ambition to produce beautiful limited-edition books was continually hampered by its restricted finances: Susan Yeats described how “we toil all day and all year round and only get in at the Industry something over £800 a year – to pay ourselves what no man over 25 would do clerk work for, we want to get in another £250.” (source:  Irish Times). Elizabeth Yeats worked at the press until her death in 1940 at the age of 71. The press continued until 1946.

In 1951 the founders of the Dolmen Press, Liam and Josephine Miller began work using a borrowed hand press. In common with all the presses featured here their original objective was to support Irish poets and artists but they expanded to include prose literature as well as literary and theatrical criticism. Poets they supported through the press went on to become leading Irish literary figures, such as Thomas Kinsella. They also published work by W B Yeats. The press operated through to 1981, the year of Liam Miller's death.  

Alan Gillis | Irish Poets | Gallery Press | Here Comes the Night | First Edition | Cheltenham Rare Books

The Gallery Press published their first book in 1970. It was founded by Peter Fallon, who continues as editor. Given he was just 18 when he started it, it must be on target to become the longest operating Irish small press. It is known to be a leading Irish poetry publisher - currently we stock ten first editions of their titles (here). Peter Fallon has attempted to champion Irish female poets, although just under 25% of their titles are by women he says “no list includes more of the finest Irish women poets... Irish poetry is a broader church now, with more diversity, which we welcome and encourage.” (source:  Irish Times) 

McCabe, Pat - The Adventures of Shay Mouse - SIGNED | Irish Poets | Raven Arts Press | Cheltenham Rare Books

The Raven Arts Press was founded in Dublin in 1977 by Dermot Bolger when he was seventeen. Bolger was encouraged by another Irish poet, Anthony Cronin, to publish his own work as well as others. Through the 80's and early 90's the scope enlarged to include fiction and non-fiction. Raven Arts Press authors included Sara Berkeley, Paddy Doyle, Anthony Cronin, Harry Clifton, Paul Durcan, in addition to Dermot Bolger. The Press closed in the 90s, partly as a result of Bolger's burgeoning writing career - he said at the time “Raven was two fingers being shoved in the face of tradition...but after publishing 122 books, your fingers get a bit sore.”

Francis Stuart | Arrow of Anguish | Cheltenham Rare Books | Irish Poets
Bolger became one of the founders of New Island Books based in Dublin. Started in 1981, it is an independent Irish publisher of literary fiction, poetry, drama, biography, and books on politics and social affairs. Authors include Paul Durcan, Francis Stuart, Joseph O'Connor, Roddy Doyle and, of course, Dermot Bolger.


We additionally carry books from the following small press publishers:

 All our current stock of Irish poetry, plays and literature can be found here.

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