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.

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B’Fhiú an Braon Fola (Front), Séamas Ó Maoileóin, Sáirséal 7 Dill (1958). Cover design: Anne Yeats

B’Fhiú an Braon Fola (Back), Séamas Ó Maoileóin, Sáirséal 7 Dill (1958). Cover design: Anne Yeats

An tSraith ar Lár, Máirtín Ó Cadhain, Sáirséal 7 Dill (1967). Cover design: Anne Yeats

An tSraith Dhá Tógáil, Máirtín Ó Cadhain, Sáirséal 7 Dill (1970). Cover design: Anne Yeats

An tSraith Tógtha, Máirtín Ó Cadhain, Sáirséal 7 Dill (1977). Cover design: Anne Yeats

Codladh an Ghaiscigh, Máire Mhac an tSaoi, Sáirséal 7 Dill (1973). Cover design: Anne Yeats

Anne Yeats (1919-2001) was the daughter of poet WB Yeats and a niece of painter Jack B Yeats. She studied at the Royal Hibernian Academy Schools before working at the Abbey Theatre as chief stage designer. From the early 1940s on she concentrated on painting but over the years she created many covers for Irish language publishers Sáirséal agus Dill.

Much less retrained by commercial considerations than other contemporary publishers, Sáirséal agus Dill’s cover designers were free to explore styles which didn’t have to fit with markets or genres. Most of their designers were primarily artists who dabbled in book design and illustration as an extra income stream. The work that they created has a timeless quality that is lacking from a lot of covers where commercial considerations are foremost.

These examples of Yeats’ designs cover a twenty year period from 1958. It would be hard to guess the year that any of them was designed just from looking at the cover. Particularly strong is the illustration on B’Fhiú an Braon Fola which wraps around to the back. The book is an account of Séamas Ó Maoileóin’s involvement in the Rising, War of Independence and the Civil War. The title translates as ‘The drop of blood was worth it’ but Yeats’ gory depiction is far less glorious.

Less obviously figurative but equally striking is the cover of Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s An tSraith ar Lár. The grey background is in fact a metallic silver ink which really sets off the rough pen and ink illustration.

Cor Klaasen Exhibition

Thank you to everyone who came along and supported the Cor Klaasen exhibition. The reaction was great and it was a pleasure to be able to present such a strong body of work to a wider audience. I would very much like to thank the Klaasen family for being so open and enthusiastic about sharing Cor’s work. You can view photos of the exhibition and opening here. I hope to add much more of his work to the website, www.corklaasen.com over the coming weeks.

Lá agus Oidhche, Micheál MacLiammóir, An Gúm (1929). Jacket design by Micheál MacLiammóir.

Ceo Meala Lá Seaca, Micheál MacLiammóir, Sáirséal 7 Dill (1952). Jacket design by Micheál MacLiammóir.

Aisteoirí Faoi Dhá Sholas, Micheál MacLiammóir, Sáirséal 7 Dill (1956). Cover design Micheál MacLiammóir.

As a designer Micheál MacLiammóir (1899-1978) is best known for his stage sets and costume designs for the Gate Theatre, which he founded in 1928 with Hilton Edwards. He also worked as an illustrator providing designs for magazines and books. Above are examples of three jackets which he designed for his own books.

The jacket of Lá agus Oidhche from 1929 is masterful and as good an example of book cover design as you are likely to find from the 1920s. The playful illustration of the title (Day and Night) shows the influence of Aubrey Beardsley albeit with cruder rendering. In fact, it is this rougher line which makes it much less of a period piece.

The other two examples are from the 1950s and don’t have the same inpact as Lá agus Oidhche Indeed, it is hard to believe that the cover of Aisteoirí Faoi Dhá Sholas is from the same hand.

Culture Night 2010 – Mary’s Abbey

As part of Culture Night this Friday, I am putting together an exhibition of Irish book cover design from the late 20s up until the 1970s. It will include a lot of covers which I have yet to feature on the blog. It will take place in Mary’s Abbey, Meetinghouse Lane, off Capel Street from 6-9pm. If you are in the Capel Street area on friday night please drop in. There will also be a projection of photographs entitled “Life thru my mobile phone” and music by Barry McCormack from 8.30.

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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