Every Christmas, people send and receive cards from family and friends. This tradition is evident in the Burns Library’s Cuala Press Printed Materials Collection, MS.2005.035. The Cuala Press began as the Dun Emer Press, which was part of the Dun Emer Industries founded in 1902 by Anglo-Irish carpet designer Evelyn Gleeson in Dublin, Ireland. Elizabeth Yeats and Lily Yeats, sisters of Irish poet and dramatist W. B. Yeats, joined Gleeson’s Dun Emer Industries, contributing their skills while Gleeson contributed the financial capital. Lily Yeats was in charge of the embroidery department and Elizabeth Yeats ran the press. In 1908, due to personal and professional differences with Gleeson, Elizabeth and Lily Yeats left Dun Emer to found their own Cuala Industries. The Cuala Industries included the Cuala Press and the Cuala Embroidery Department. Besides providing works for publication, William Butler Yeats acted as editor and adviser for the Cuala Press. Cuala Industries, while producing books, broadsides, greeting cards, hand-colored prints, and embroidery designs, employed Irish artisans, writers, and artists. The Cuala Press Printed Materials Collection at the Burns Library is especially unique because it originally belonged to the longest-serving employee of the Cuala Press, compositor Mollie Gill (1891 – 1977).
The Cuala Press Printed Materials Collection contains a wide variety of Christmas cards. Some are religious with images of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, while others are more secular showing pastoral cottages in snowy landscapes. Within the whole collection, there were three that stood out from the rest. These three cards have very different images and poems, but they were classic images of Christmas for me. The first card (Box 1, Folder 2) contains words by L.H. Brindley and an illustration by Dorothy Blackham. The poem accompanying it is entitled “Christmas”. The image is picturesque, and the poem describes the happiness of family and friends surrounding the warm fire. The ideas of peace, love, and hope are evoked through the words.
The second card (Box 1, Folder 40) features text by Nancy Campbell and an illustration by Jack B. Yeats. “Child’s Thought” has bright watercolors that create a happy and joyous scene of Christmas. Like the child who narrates the poem, I wanted to share my presents with Jesus when I was little. One year, I even bought a gift for Jesus. The child describes how the angels give Baby Jesus stars to play with, “And He Could Not Reach As High/ As the Bright Star In the Sky”. He or she then continues saying that “Mary Must Have Put Away, The Myrrh, Frankincense, and Gold As Too Precious For His Play”. As such, the narrator, who may be the slumbering child depicted, wishes that “Maybe If I Said A Prayer,/ LITTLE CHRIST And I Might Share?”
The third card (Box 1, Folder 44) has text by Eleanor Sinclair and an illustration by Dorothy Blackham. Although no specific Christmas motifs are present, the idea of being with loved ones is synonymous with the spirit of Christmas. The poem reflects this by likening friendship to a garden in which, like a hedge, we try to protect our friends from the danger of the world. As the poem describes, “So that this Christmas time,/ Think we with cheer/ Of all our kindly friends/ That we hold dear.” These three poems reflect the sentiments of sharing, peace, and friendship that truly express the meaning of Christmas. With Christmas just around the corner, I cannot wait to celebrate with friends and family and send my own Christmas cards. Visit the Burns Library Reading Room to look at these wonderful cards or view this online slideshow photographs of Cuala Press Christmas Cards by Gary Wayne Gilbert.
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Nollaig Shona agus Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh!
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
- Danica Ramsey-Brimberg, Burns Library Reading Room Student Assistant and History & Irish Studies, Class of 2013