The Book of Famous Irish Spy Stories, Daniel O’Keeffe, Irish Pocket Books (1956). Design: M.G. (Michael Gallivan)

The Book of Famous Irish Ghost Stories, Edited by Daniel O’Keeffe, Irish Pocket Books (c. 1956). Design: Michael Gallivan. (Courtesy of Larry Hynes)

Memorable Irish Trials, Kenneth E.L. Deale, Irish Pocket Books (c. 1956). Design: Osborne. (Courtesy of Larry Hynes)

Valentine Vaughan Omnibus, R. Thurston Hopkins, Grafton (1947). Design: unknown

A Case Book of Ghosts, F.W. Gumley & M.P. Mahon, Northern Whig (1971). Design: unknown

Triúr don Chómgargadh, Eoghan Ó Grádaigh, Sáirséal 7 Dill Scéalta Mistéir Uimhir 5 (1968). Design: Úna Ní MhaoilEoin

Ruathar Anall, Eoghan Ó Grádaigh, Sáirséal 7 Dill Scéalta Mistéir Uimhir 3 (1962). Design: Seoirse Mac Aodhagáin

Genre fiction has never really taken hold with Irish publishers. The zealous censorship of publications during the first few decades of the State probably played a role but it is more likely that there just isn’t a big enough population to sustain indigenous mass market paperbacks. The above examples of crime, mystery and horror covers display a charming amateurishness.

The first three are from The Mercier Press’ Irish Pocket Books imprint which operated in the mid-fifties. Michael Gallivan illustrated the first two and the third is by a mysterious ‘Osborne’. I’m afraid I can find no information on either artist. Larry Hynes kindly provided two of the examples which he included in a beautiful poster design celebrating 21 years of Charlie Byrne’s book shop in Galway.

There are 24 years between the next two examples, 1947’s Valentine Vaughan Omnibus and A Case Book of Ghosts from 1971, although the latter cover could easily be from the same period. Unfortunately, I don’t own a copy of the Valentine Vaughan book. The October 2010 issue of Book and Magazine Collector, from which the image is taken, estimates it’s value at £150-£200 sterling! The book is set in London but was published in Dublin by Grafton.

The final two covers are from Sáirséal agus Dill’s Scéalta Mistéir (Mystery Stories) series from the sixties. Úna Ní MhaoilEoin presents a rather naive rendering of a smoking pistol on the fifth book in the run, Triúr don Chómgargadh. I previously posted another of her designs for the series, An Masc. Ní MhaoilEoin wrote and illustrated a number of travel books for Sáirséal agus Dill during the sixties including An Maith Leat Spaigiti? (Do You Like Spaghetti?) (1965) and Turas Go Tuinis (Trip to Tunisia) (1969). According to Manchán Magan the Sunday Dispatch described her books as the most amusingly outspoken books ever to have appeared in the Gaelic language.

Sáirséal 7 Dill

March 1, 2010

Miss Crookshank agus Coirp Eile, Leon Ó Brion, Sáirséal 7 Dill (1951) Cover by Aodhagán Brioscú

Dialann Oilithrigh, Donchadh Ó Céileachair, Sáirséal 7 Dill (1953) Cover by Domhnall Ó Murchadha

An Masc, Eoghan Ó Grádaigh, Sáirséal 7 Dill (1966) Cover by Úna ní Mhaoileóin

An Uain Bheo, Diarmaid Ó Súilleabháin, Sáirséal 7 Dill (1968) Cover by Paul Funge

Seacht mBua an Éirí Amach, Pádraic Ó Conaire, Sáirséal 7 Dill (1970) Cover by Seán Ó Ceallaigh

Sáirséal agus Dill was founded in 1945 by husband and wife Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh and Bríd Ní Mhaoileoin. While the examples above show a variety of  cover styles over two decades, they do give a good indication of the importance that was placed on the design and presentation of the books in the imprint. High profile artists were brought in to work on the covers and, unlike many  of its contemporaries, Sáirséal agus Dill always credited their designs.

Aodhagán Brioscú was an architect and one of the founders of Gael Linn. Paul Funge, who designed the striking cover of An Uain Bheo, was a founding director of the Project Arts Theatre, ran the Gorey Arts Festival for over 15 years and is still an active artist. The sculptor Domhnall Ó Murchadha (1914-1991) was born in Carraigrohan, Co Cork and worked mainly in stone and wood. He became director of NCAD in the seventies.

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