The Cuala Press an important contributor to the Celtic Revivalist movement was a creative and pioneering female-led enterprise.
Elizabeth Corbet Yeats (1868-1940) was a painter, designer, art teacher and publisher. Also known as 'Lolly' she founded Dun Emer Industries and Press with her sister Susan Yeats and Evelyn Gleeson in Dundrum in 1902.
The company consisted of two entities. One was the Dun Emer Guild which produced textiles. Susan (also called ‘Lily’) a skilled embroiderer ran the needlework section.
Elizabeth oversaw Dun Emer Press, which published limited editions of books. Her older brother the poet William Butler Yeats acted as contributor in chief as well as editor, and her younger brother artist Jack B Yeats provided many of the illustrations.
Business was initially good, with a commission from Loughrea Cathedral for embroidered banners, and sales of books heading in the right direction. Not everyone was appreciative of Dun Emer’s high artistic standards however. James Joyce in his novel ‘Ulysses’ unkindly described the enterprise’s efforts as
Five lines of text...printed by the weird sisters in the year of the big wind...
Lolly and Lily also had their oldest brother’s opinions to deal with, and creative differences were a regular occurrence. The state of the company’s finances were a constant strain on the Yeats family as a whole.
Susan and Elizabeth Yeats eventually parted company from Evelyn Gleeson and with the support of WB Yeats Elizabeth set up The Cuala Press in 1908.
Its offices on 133 Baggott Street in Dublin were staffed entirely by women, and it played an important role in the Celtic Revival, printing works by leading writers of the era such as Lady Gregory, John Millington Synge, Oliver St John Gogarty, Douglas Hyde, Frank O’Connor, Padraic Colum and Elizabeth Bowen, in addition to Jack B Yeats and WB Yeats himself.
Elizabeth kept the business running in spite of financial uncertainty and the national and international conflicts which dominated the first four decades of the twentieth century.
An indication of the Cuala team’s outlook and dedication to their work is summarised by poet Susan Langstaff Mitchell in her poem ‘Cuala Abu!’
Gladly we come to our work every morning,
Daughters of Ireland, faithful and true;
Some setting stitches to help your adorning,
Some printing magic words, Cuala, for you.
This episode of ‘Irish Men and Irish Women’ was broadcast on 26 September 1977. The presenter is Ronnie Drew.
'Irish Men And Irish Women' was a television series about notable people in Ireland's history, described by producer Joe O'Donnell as "Mainly unsung unsung heroes...not unknown, but outside the orthodoxy of our national pantheon." (RTÉ Guide, 19 September 1975).
First broadcast on RTÉ Television on 25 September 1975, it ran for three series until 1977.