Little Magazines: Literary Periodicals 1950 – 1970

July 10, 2013

TheBell-Dec1950

The Bell, Vol. XVI No. 3, December 1950. Design: uncredited

icarus-No17-1955-PaulineBewickIcarus, Vol. 5 No. 17, November 1955. Design: Pauline Bewick

KilkennyMagazine-Issue2-Autunm1960-ChristopherFayThe Kilkenny Magazine, No. 2, Autumn 1960. Design: Christopher Fay

Dolmen-PoetryIreland-1962-Issue1-unknownPoetry Ireland, No. 1, Autumn 1962. Design: uncredited (Ruth Brandt)

Threshold-No23-Summer1970-ColinMiddletonThreshold, No. 23, Summer 1970. Design: Colin Middleton

Literary magazines held a special place in the cultural life of mid-century Ireland. Although print-runs were low, their impact was disproportionate and they managed to reflect a more varied and complex Ireland then the mainstream media. The five examples above all follow a set format – octavo in size, each has a mono interior with a 2-colour cover on heavy uncoated card.

The Bell is the best know of the magazines here. The first issue appeared in 1940 under the editorship of Seán Ó Faoláin. It managed to continue publication throughout the ’40s, challenging the then dominant, and restrictive, notion of Irishness. The above cover from 1950 bears more then a passing resemblance to the classic Penguin covers of the period. The magazine ceased publication in 1954.

Icarus is a literary magazine published by Trinity College, Dublin. It was founded in 1950 and I believe it is still extant despite a very low profile. Iain Sinclair, Hackney historian and psycho-geographer, served as editor in the mid-sixties when he attended TCD. The arresting cover featured here is an early commercial commission by Pauline Bewick. Some simple but very effective spot illustrations in scraper-board, also by Bewick, appear in the interior. The cover art has generally moved with the times but hasn’t always been as successful as this example. Tim Booth of Dr Strangely Strange fame delivered a comic book inspired cover in 1965 and Tom Doorley, food critic, supplied a decent design for the Trinity Term 1982 issue.

The Kilkenny Magazine lasted 18 issues from 1960 to 1970. Issue no. 2, Autumn 1960 (above) includes a linocut by Christopher Fay on the cover. I can find no further artistic endeavors by the elusive Fay. The Spring 1963 issue included the first publication of Seamus Heaney’s Mid-Term Break.

Poetry Ireland has appeared in a number of different formats since it’s initial publication under founding editor David Marcus in 1948. This original iteration lasted 19 issues until 1952. For a few more years it ran as a supplement to Irish Writing, petering out in 1955. In 1962 it was resurrected as a magazine in its own right under the editorship of John Jordan. This new version lasted 8 issues until 1968 and was printed and published by the Dolmen Press.

The cover above is the first one under Dolmen’s watchful eye and is a triumph of earthy elegance, combining the unsophisticated beauty of letterpress with refined and understated layout and typography. The “fabulous bird”, as John Jordan referred to it, is the work of Ruth Brandt (1936-89). Brandt was the daughter of Muriel Brandt and married fellow artist Michael Kane in 1961. She provided illustrations and lettering for a number of Dolmen books but I can’t tell if she is responsible for the wonderfully blocky and not quite uncial lettering of the Poetry Ireland masthead.

Threshold was a publication of Belfast’s Lyric Players Theater. The first issue emerged in 1957 with Mary O’Malley as editor and it continued irregularly until 1990. The example shown is the 1970 “Northern Crisis” issue and sports striking cover art by Colin Middleton (1910-83).

It is probably no surprise that literary magazines looked to artists rather than designers for their cover art. There is certainly a discernible aesthetic sensibility running through these disparate publications.

One Response to “Little Magazines: Literary Periodicals 1950 – 1970”


  1. Reblogged this on Selina Guinness and commented:
    Here’s a rare design perspective on the history of Ireland’s “little magazines” by Niall McCormack, designer of gorse.


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