Reading Room Log: Celebrating the Cuala Press

Cuala Press frontispieces & press marks, from the Cuala Press Printed Materials Collection, MS2005-35.  Photograph by Gary Wayne Gilbert.

Cuala Press frontispieces & press marks, from the Cuala Press Printed Materials Collection, MS.2005.35, John J. Burns Library, Boston College. Photograph by Gary Wayne Gilbert.

Boston College Libraries, in collaboration with the Association of College & Research Libraries, New England Chapter (Women’s Studies Interest Group), are sponsoring a seminar today at the Burns Library.  The title of the seminar is, “The Women of the Cuala Press and the Irish Literary Revival.”  Marjorie Howes, Associate Professor of English, Boston College; Justine Sundaram, Reference Librarian of the John J. Burns Library; and Andrew Kuhn, doctoral candidate at Boston College will all give presentations on various aspects of the Cuala Press.

Rare made-to-order Cuala Press books, part of the Cuala Press Printed Materials Collection, MS2005-35.  Photograph by Gary Wayne Gilbert.

Rare made-to-order Cuala Press books, part of the Cuala Press Printed Materials Collection, MS.2005.035, John J. Burns Library, Boston College. Photograph by Gary Wayne Gilbert.

If you haven’t heard of the Cuala Press before, then here are some basic facts.  In 1902, Elizabeth and Lily Yeats went into business with Anglo-Irish carpet designer Evelyn Gleeson’s Dun Emer Industries. Lily was in charge of the embroidery department and Elizabeth ran the press while Gleeson provided the capital and headed the tapestry and carpet division. In 1908, due to personal and professional differences with Gleeson, Elizabeth and Lily left Dun Emer to found their own Cuala Industries, which included the Cuala Press and the Cuala Embroidery Department. Besides providing works for publication, Elizabeth and Lily’s brother,  William Butler Yeats acted as editor and adviser for the Cuala Press. Cuala Industries, while producing books, broadsides, note cards, hand-colored prints, and embroidery designs, employed Irish artisans, writers, and artists.

Photo of Máire Gill, as revolutionary with a pistol, ca. 1922, part of the Cuala Press Printed Materials Collection, MS2005-35, John J. Burns Library.

Photo of Máire Gill, as revolutionary with a pistol, ca. 1922, part of the Cuala Press Printed Materials Collection, MS.2005.035, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

What makes the Cuala Press Printed Materials Collection here at the Burns Library so unique is that it was originally collected by the “Pressman” of the Cuala Press, Máire Gill. Máire Gill was born in 1891, the daughter of a shoemaker. She was a member of Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland) and an early member of Cumann na mBan (League of Women). Máire began working with Elizabeth Yeats in 1908 and soon became chief compositor in Elizabeth Yeats’s printing shop.  However, Máire’s political activities led to her arrest in 1923.  Documents were captured from Máire’s home, including material on the Irish Republican Prisoners’ Dependents’ Fund and material relating to Cumann na mBan in south Dublin. She was arrested on July 20, 1923 at the Cuala Press along with her co-worker Esther Ryan. She and Esther were imprisoned for some weeks but were able to return to work about a month later. Máire was also the first President of Cumann Camógaíochta na nGael from 1923-1941.  Máire Gill worked at the Cuala Press until 1969, making her the longest serving employee of this celebrated press. Máire’s story has so many facets – from political activism and athletics to her work as a compositor at the Cuala Press.   I invite you to examine a part of Máire’s story by perusing the Cuala Press Printed Materials Collection here in the Burns Library Reading Room. You may also want to take a look at our Cuala Press Printed Materials Collection Album on the Burns Library’s Facebook page.

  • Justine Sundaram, Burns Reference Librarian/Bibliographer, justine.sundaram@bc.edu, 617-552-4861

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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