From hooky chancers to being the nation’s cultural backbone—Fergal Tobin discusses The History of Irish Book Publishing


Tony Farmar’s The History of Irish Book Publishing covers a period of nearly 500 years. The first book published in Ireland was A Book of Common Prayer, issued at the behest of Dublin Castle in 1551. It was, as Tony mentions, part of a colonising enterprise: Anglicanism and the Elizabethan colony went hand in hand; indeed, a contemporary wrote that the prayer book would challenge ‘the accustomed, most forward and devilish seditions of the Irish’. A prayer book in English wasn’t much use in an Irish-speaking country, however. By the time the Bible was available in English, the Counter-Reformation had swept everything before it outside Ulster.

This initial moment, 1551, is worth recording not just because it was first but because so little happened after it. As the author explains early in this book, the Irish publishing industry doesn’t really get going until the 1890s. Why so little activity across three centuries? Well, Ireland was a remote, rather belated place until relatively late in history. In the early 1700s, for instance, Dublin was a small trading town on the western reaches of the British Isles. But by 1800 it was one of the most consequential cities in Europe. In short, there was an enormous, sudden expansion of the city; and cities attract businesses such as publishing because cities are forcing houses for talent, creativity and cultural life. Irish publishing took its first baby steps as part of this urban boom. Thus, little activity did not mean no activity at all. […]

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March/April2019 (issue no.384)

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