Friday, November 6, 1992

Printing and Publishing in Athy

Printing and publishing was a thriving activity in Athy around the middle of the last century. The earliest reference to an Athy printer was in Walkers Hibernian Magazine of 1802 which noted the death of John Richardson, Printer, Athy. In 1833 H.W. Talbot had a printing office in the town. The only known example of his work is a 16 page pamphlet titled "A letter to R.M. O'Farrell and E. Ruthven Esqs. Members of Parliament for the County of Kildare". Successive members of the Talbot family were involved in printing and publishing in Athy over the following 50 years. The Portlaoise branch of that family had an even longer involvement with the publishing world through it’s ownership of the Leinster Express founded in 1831.

Another name which has long passed from public memory is that of Thomas French who had a spectacular but unsuccessful publishing career in Athy in the 1830's. From his printing office in Market Square, French carried on a general printing business including amongst his customers, Athy Borough Corporation. In 1836 he came to the notice of a wider public with his printing of the 7th edition of the "Biographical Sketch of the Adventures of Captain Grant with a full report of his trial". On November 14th of the following year French embarked upon the ambitious scheme of publishing and printing a literary magazine from his printing works in Market Square. "The Athy Literary Magazine" was to have a longer life than later publishing ventures based in Athy. The only known copies of the magazine end with the 25th issue dated 13th February, 1838. On sale every Tuesday the small eight page magazine cost one penny. Throughout its short life the magazine gave an unvarying mixture of leading articles of local interest, extracts from literary works such as Dickens Pickwick Papers, and material from National magazines of the period. To these were added contributions, poetic and otherwise from the magazines readers.

In the first Editorial there was an exhortation to the reading public to support the publication "which had no other principal of action than that of being the medium of imparting useful information, adapted to all classes but especially the middle classes."

Local contributors whose poetic effusions were particularly welcome did not always find a ready forum in the columns of the Athy Literary Magazine. Despite this, hopeful correspondents continued to supply the Editor with material and throughout the 25 known issues one finds numerous contributions which if they had nothing else to their merit, no doubt helped the hard pressed Editor to keep his weekly magazine before the public.

The last edition of "The Athy Literary Magazine" of which we know was the 25th number which appeared on Tuesday 17th April, 1838. Each of the issues consisted of eight pages of large post octavo, double columns per page with a running head on each page. Pagination was continuous throughout each issue. The first three issues had a simple masthead which had changed from the fourth issue onwards by the addition of a woodcut.

In January 1852 Samuel Talbot, a member of the Talbot family was responsible for the last major publishing event in Athy. He published Volume 1 Number 1 of “The Press” which was intended as a monthly magazine “devoted to the advancement of Science Literature and the Industrial Arts”. Unfortunately it did not survive to a second number. Costing 4d it consisted of 36 pages of large post octavo with a simple masthead. It is assumed that the publication was thread sewn although the only copy known to the writer was bound with other booklets making confirmation of this point impossible.

Material in “The Press” included a report of an address delivered on November 26th, 1852 at the Athy Mechanics Institute by its Secretary Thomas H. Cross. The report read :-

“The style of his lecture was rather studied and florid, and to our mind, too enwrapt in vivid imagery and poetic embellishment, which in the plan matter-of-fact subject in which he was treating, were by no means required”.

The early demise of “The Press” may indicate that Mr. Cross had a wider circle of friends than the magazine imagined.

The only other items of local interest included in the first and last edition of “The Press” was an article on Woodstock Castle and a summary of a lecture delivered by Mr. Reece, Manager of the Irish Peat Company on December 10th, 1851 at a meeting of the Athy Mechanics Institute. In the course of his talk Reece stated :-

“a coal merchant in Lancashire is able to send a ton of coal cheaper to London (200 miles away) than a ton of turf can be brought from Cloney to Athy, but 5 miles”.

The absence of a railway from the bog meant that kish of turf which cost 3d on the bog cost 8d in Athy.

Talbots unsuccessful venture was the last major publishing event in Athy. Thereinafter Samuel Talbot confined himself to job printing and an 1870 edition of Slater’s Directory listed Talbot as carrying on business in Emily Square. Michael Carey with his printing office at Barrow Quay was another Athy printer in the mid 19th century. In 1864 Carey published “The 24th Report of the Kildare Diocesan Education Society”. No further trace of his work can be found today.

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