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Treasures of the Irish Language: Some early examples from Dublin City Public Libraries

As Gaeilge

The first book printed in the Irish language did not appear until 1571, over one hundred years after Gutenberg’s invention. The earliest works printed in Irish and using the Irish typeface were religious works commissioned by Queen Elizabeth I which aimed to convert Irish speakers to the reformed church. The first book published using the type specially cut for the printing of Irish was Aibidil Gaeidheilge agus Caiticiosma, by John O’Kearney, printed in 1571.

Bishop William Bedell, Church of Ireland Bishop of Kilmore, completed the translation of the Old Testament into Irish. He ordered a new Irish type to be cut for the publication. The outbreak of the 1641 rebellion and the death of Bedell the following year meant that the printing was postponed. Over thirty years later Robert Boyle, Earl of Cork, took over the project. He commissioned a new typeface designed by the Irish scholar, Andrew Sall, and manufactured by Joseph Moxon. This type was used for printing Church of Ireland religious works from 1680 to the 1820s. Bedell’s Bible was published using this typeface in 1685.

In the early 17th century the Irish Franciscans established colleges on the continent to educate Irish Catholic students. The Franciscans set up a printing press in Belgium to publish Counter Reformation religious works for the Irish mission. They ordered the founding of an Irish typeface to print works in Irish. This typeface was designed by Irish scholars and based on the letters used in Irish manuscripts. An Teagasg Criosdaidhe, compiled by Bonaventure O’Hussey and published at Antwerp in 1611, was the first book to use this Irish type. In 1616 the press was moved to the College of St Anthony of Padua at Louvain, which opened in 1607. Irish books were printed at Louvain until 1728.

About 1675 Irish Catholic clergy in Rome ordered a new Irish typeface for the press of the Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide. This was used from 1676 until 1707 for the printing of Catholic religious works. When Napoleon reached Rome after the expedition to Egypt he took the Irish type back to Paris and it is lodged in the Imprimerie Nationale. Scholars at the Irish College in Paris published two books in a new Irish type in the early eighteenth century. MacCurtin’s English Irish Dictionary and An Teagasg Criosduidhe by Rev. Andrew Donlevy were printed in Paris by Jacques Guérin using this typeface in 1732 and 1742 respectively.

From the late 18th century books using the Irish typeface were printed in Ireland. Charlotte Brooke’s Reliques of Irish Poetry, published in Dublin in 1789, used a new Irish typeface. The first decades of the 19th century saw an increased interest in the history and antiquities of Ireland and in the Irish language. Several new typefaces came into use for the Irish language and heralded a new age in Irish language studies.

Dublin City Public Libraries seeks to collect early works printed in the Irish typeface and to make them available to scholars. The earliest work in the collections is Sgáthan an Chrábhaidh by Flaithrí Ó Maol Chonaire, published in Louvain in 1616.


Flaithrí Ó Maoil Chonaire, Sgáthan an Chrábhaidh. Emanuel leabhar ina bhfuil modh iarrata agus fhaghala fhoirbhtheachda na bethadh riaghaltha ar attugadh drong airighthe sgáthan an chrábhaidh drong oile Desiderius, Lobháin, 1616.

This is the first book by the Franciscan Archbishop of Tuam, founder of St Anthony’s College, Louvain. It is printed in the Louvain Irish type.


Scathan Shacramuinte na hAithridhe1618

Hugh MacCaghwell, Scathán Shacramuinte na hAithridhe, ar na chuma don bhráthair bhós dord San Froinsias Aodh Mhac Aingil lighthóir diadhása a gColáisdi na mBráthair hÉirionnach a Lobhá in, Louvain, 1618.

This religious work on the sacrament of penance was written by Hugh MacCaghwell, an Irish Franciscan, professor of philosophy and theology, and guardian at St Anthony’s College, Louvain.


Lucerna Fidelium1676

Francisco Molloy, Lucerna Fidelium, seu fasciculus decerptus ab Authoribus magis versatis, qui tractarunt de Doctrina Christiana, Romæ, Typis Sacræ Congreg. de Propaganda Fide, M.DC.LXXVI.(1676)

This is a catechism of the doctrines of the Irish church. It was printed at the press of the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith in Rome, with a new Irish typeface. The book was circulated in the Scottish and Irish missions.


An Teagasg Criosdaidhe1707

Bonaventure O’Hussey, An Teagasg Criosdaidhe an so, arna chuma do Bonabhenturá oheodhasa bráthar bocht dord San Próinsas accolaisde S. Antoin a Lobain, Secunda Æditio. Romæ, Typis Sacræ Congreg. de Propag. Fide. Anno M.DCC.VII. (1707) Superiorum permissu.

This catechism was the first book to use the new Louvain Irish typeface in 1611. This is the second edition published at the press of the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith in Rome in 1707.


Elements of the Irish Language1728

Hugh MacCurtin, The Elements of the Irish Language, grammatically explained in English, Louvain, by Martin Van Overbeke, 1728.

This is the last book known to have used the Louvain Irish typeface.



The English Irish Dictionary1732

Hugh MacCurtin, The English Irish Dictionary., An Focloir Bearla Gaoidheilge. Ar na chur a neagar le Conchobar O Beaglaoich mar aon le congnamh Aodh Bhuidhe Mac Cuirtin, a bPairis, ar na chur acclodh le Seamus Guerin, M.DCC.XXXII. (1732)

The first book published using the Paris typeface.


An Teagasg Criosdaidhe1742

Andrew Donlevy, An Teagasg Críosduidhe do réir ceasda agus freagar tha, a bPairís, Seumus Guerin, M.D.CC.XLII. (1742)

The second book published using the Paris typeface.


Reliques of Irish Poetry1789

Charlotte Brooke, Reliques of Irish Poetry, consisting of heroic poems, odes, elegies, and songs, translated into English verse: with notes explanatory and historical; and the originals in the Irish character, Dublin, George Bonham, 1789.

The Irish sections are printed in the Irish typeface.


Forus Feasa air Eireann1811

Seathr un Ceitin, Forus Feasa air Eirinn, mar a nochtar príomhdhála na hínse o Pharthalon go Gabhaltus Gall, ar na chnuasacch, 7 air na thiomsúghadh o phríomhleabhraibh sheanchusa Eireann, agas o iliomad d’ughdaraibh barantamhla coigcríche le Seathrún Ceitin. Ollamhdiadhachta, i mBaile Athchliath, le Seán Barluaidh (John Barlow), 1811.

This is a dual language text of Keating’s important history of Ireland. The Irish is on the verso and the English on the recto of each leaf.

An English Irish Dictionary1814

Thaddeus Connellan, An English Irish Dictionary, intended for the use of schools, Dublin, printed by Graisberry and Campbell, 1814.

This dictionary was intended to assist with the learning of both languages.



The Proverbs of Solomon1815

Seanraite Sholaim a Ghaoidheilge agus mBearla, The proverbs of Solomon, in Irish and English, Dublin, printed by Graisberry and Campbell, 1815.

This is a dual language text of the proverbs.



Leabhuir an tSean Tiomna1827

William Bedell, Leabhuir an tSean Tiomna, ar na dtarruing an teanguidh ughdarach go Gaidhlig, tre churam agus saothar, an doctur Uilliam Bhedel, roimhe so easpog Chillemoire a nErin, Dublin, printed by G. and J. Grierson and M. Keene, 1827.

This is a reprint of Bishop Bedell’s Old Testament in Irish, first published in 1685.

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