A Crafty Experience

National Print Museum Students visit to National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street 

Annie Birney, the National Museum of Ireland’s Educator, hosted an educational event on 19th May 2017, for the National Print Museum’s Cultural & Heritage Studies programme.

I was extremely fortunate to be one of the six learners, who together with our Course Co-ordinator Gillian Lamb, benefitted from a varied range of activities during this special day. At that time we were preparing for an assessment on Irish Leather Crafts. So in advance of our visit Annie, and our course’s Assistant Co-Ordinator Hillary O’Callaghan, devised a schedule that would maximise opportunities for learning in that context.

First Annie led us on a mini-tour of the museum, highlighting relevant craft or leather related artefacts. On previous visits we had self-guided –all agreed it was so much more useful to learn through Annie’s insider knowledge. After the tour one of the museums interns invited us to see Early Medieval pampooties. Found, preserved in a bog, these shoes were made from one piece of leather and were worn in the Aran Islands until the 20th century.

Next, we were introduced to the museums Handling Collection – a range of numbered replica artefacts were displayed. Their corresponding numbers were placed in a lucky dip jar. Once we picked a number off we went on a treasure hunt to find the real artefact in the museum. Our selection included Neolithic Bann Flake arrow heads and an Early Bronze Age funerary urn and afterwards everyone got to make a brief presentation on their chosen artefact.

Following a pic-nic lunch, which Catherine shared unexpectedly with one cheeky  feathered Stephens Green resident, we returned to do a Leathercraft Workshop.

Facilitated by Roísín Gartland, a conceptual artist and designer, the workshop proved to be an inspirational learning experience. Under Roisin’s gentle guidance we used prepared materials to create a simple leather phone case.

My prior knowledge of the ‘hairy vellum’ which medieval scribes had to work on made me extremely appreciative of the clean, soft leathers my inexperienced hands were manipulating. Our awls and hammers tapped out non-melodic rhythms, to create spiral patterns on the front of our cases. A satisfying, and relatively easy stage – almost therapeutic in nature.However the next stage was more challenging -the task of replicating our experienced facilitators perfect edge stitching. Tension mounted in more ways than one, resulting in a shortage of oiled cotton thread, mild frustration and in my case the tedium of unpicking of 74 loose stitches!

During this 60 minute process we chatted like the fictitious Ladies Aid sewing circles in L.M Montgomery’s  Anne of Green Gables. Reflecting afterwards, I had a sense of having been part of a temporary creative community. However, leather work I realise requires total concentration, good eyesight and a particular type of patience I have yet to acquire. The next time I pass a window displaying quality leather goods my first thought will be of the craftsmanship and not the price tag.!

Sincere thanks to The National Museum of Ireland, Annie Birney and all involved for making our visit a crafty learning experience

The National Museum of Ireland : www.nmi.ie

Roísín Gartland : http://www.roisingartland.com.

National Print Museum: www.nationaprintmuseum.ie


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Glasnevin Cemetery – A visit

The trainees from the Certificate in Cultural and Heritage Studies at the National Print Museum went on our Wednesday afternoon excursion to Glasnevin Cemetery on 17th May 2017.

We got the bus to Glasnevin and started with a leisurely stroll through The Botanic Gardens. It was looking beautiful as usual but with a bit of extra finesse because of the impending visit from Prince Charles and Camilla. The newly opened gate between the gardens and the cemetery is a bonus so a simple walk through brings you straight to the museum and tour start. It wasn’t always the way when I grew up beside ‘The Bots’ you had to walk around to the main gate but not anymore. It brought back some great memories and so nice to go mid-week.

We started our tour just outside the visitor centre. Our guide was Grainne and she definitely knew her stuff. She brought us to the grave of O’ Donovan Rossa and a eulogy from Patrick Pearse was read out by a fully uniformed gentleman.  He said it with such pride and conviction it was hard not to be stirred. It is read out everyday at 2.30 pm and well worth a look.


We then started the tour proper. Gráinne pointed out various graves relating to 1916. We then stopped at the monumental tomb of Daniel O’ Connell. She told us how he had a vision of one all inclusive cemetery so everyone can be lain together. The tower itself is not open to the public but should be within months. We then had to guess how much we thought a tomb in the O’ Connell circle would cost….€5,000….€10,000……..more like €40,000 She said. But this is for the whole family so do the maths. We then went inside his tomb, quite a sight to see his coffin and it is said to be lucky if you touch it. The walls are decorated with his achievements.

We continued on to other notable graves; Charles Stewart Parnell, de Valera , the Republican plot and also the cremation wall.

Then as ever the rains came and we all went inside to the visitor centre and upstairs Grainne very obligingly continued on with the tour. We had a great vantage point and we could pick out different graves. She had a wealth of knowledge and knew where everyone was resting.

We spoke a bit about the proclamation and we added our knowledge of the document from our original copy at the Print Museum. There was a big number on the tour and when the rain stopped not all continued outside again. Now we had a chance to ask where specific notables were buried like Erskine Childers, Elizabeth O’ Farrell and Countess Markievicz. Gráinne also brought us to the war memorial wall. It was sad to read all the names and ages. We had time at the end to go explore the museum and ask any questions. It is a very worthwhile tour and long overdue on my behalf.

I can’t recommend it enough.

Louise is a student on the Certificate in Cultural and Heritage Studies course at the National Print Museum.

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Green Sleeves (The Irish Printed Record Cover 1955-2017)

Henry Vlll may have conceived of ‘Greensleeves’ in the first place but the exhibition currently running at the National Print Museum probably wasn’t what he had in mind.

Launched by Sean Sills on 4th of May and unveiled by curators Ciaran Swan and Niall McCormack, it’s a display of Irish album and singles covers from a variety of genres over a span of different decades.

On opening night Sean related how, when he was a lad, he used to fill Dickie Rock’s tank at a Sandymount petrol station and how he can vouch that the red sports car which features on Dickie’s album cover displayed in the exhibition was no mere prop.

Some of these album covers are ‘so naff they are cool’ (words of Niall McCormack) and some are just cool anyway. Many are organised into their own sections –Religious, Gael Linn, Traditional and a few others but all the album covers seem to have a relationship with one another and to speak to the viewer.

Horslips have their own Celtic Rock Wall of Fame, their sleeves designed chiefly by band member Charles O’Connor.

Steve Averill’s iconic ‘Boy’ design graces the wall, supported by a couple more covers it helped influence (Paranoid Vision’s ‘I Will Wallow’ for example).

Green Sleeves is not all about the designers and not all about the bands. D.I.Y. before punk expectorated its first gob, the exhibition is about public and private passions and working to tight budgets.

These sleeves create an indefinable chemistry and magic and prompt several emotional responses.

Each one’s a gem in its own right, but you have to be there… The exhibition closes in October.

Róisin is a trainee on the CDETB Culture and Heritage Studies Certificate at the National Print Museum.


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UCD Centre for Experimental Archaeology and Material Culture

One of the best excursions of the Cultural and Heritage Studies class so far was to the UCD Centre for Experimental Archaeology and Material Culture. Professor Aidan O’Sullivan, Director, and Brendan O’Neill, Assistant Director made our group very welcome and explained the fascinating practice of finding out about how people lived in the past.

The Centre is one of only a few worldwide which is specifically designed to carry out experimental archaeology; that is, testing theories as to how dwellings were built, food produced, tools fashioned, using only materials from the period. Our visit began with a reconstruction of Ireland’s oldest dwelling, from the Mesolithic era. The surviving evidence from the site at Mount Sandel was re-created at UCD to build an interpretation of the dwelling.

Seeing the physical materials brought the theory learned in class to life; as a visual learner it made a great impression in my mind as to what conditions were like in prehistoric Ireland. Brendan then showed us an early Medieval dwelling which he had built, using heather as a roofing material. We learned of the practice of people bringing the wooden threshold and lintel with them to their new home. A house such as this only lasted about a decade as the people lived in harmony with their environment; cutting the trees when they were sufficiently grown and building a new home only when necessary. The one room dwelling had no chimney and therefore the smell of smoke permeated our clothes. In this room we were shown a block of butter and cheese crafted in the same manner as in the past.

Finally we were brought inside a Viking house, a rectangular structure still under construction. We learned that despite what we may have seen in tourist attractions, there was in fact no daub used in the making of the walls but the process of wattle was practiced by Vikings. Aidan described Viking Dublin as a multicultural city as it is today, with much trade, bustling business and activity making the fabric of daily life.

The Centre is very open and welcoming to the public. Staff are encouraged to talk to passers-by, especially as a public path runs outside the facility which is regularly used by dog-walkers and others.




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From Craft to Technology and Back Again: Print’s Progress in the 20th Century

The National Print Museum, Printing Historical Society and Centre for Printing History and Culture hosted the international conference “From Craft to Technology and Back Again:  Print’s Progress in the 20th Century” at the Labour History Museum, Beggars Bush on Thursday and Friday 30th and 31st of March.

Twenty speakers covered a range of subjects such as Industrial Photogravure and its Influence on Design, The Psychological Profile of the Monotype Caster, Hiding in Plain Sight: Irish Commercial Label Art and Elizabeth Yeats & The Cuala Press.  Also included were Non-Latin type & Typography: Harmony & Discord:  the Visual Language of Iranian Graphic Design, The Plebian Newsaper, state printing restrictions in 1963 Singapore and Colm O’Lochlainn , Irish Font Design:  From Colm Cill to Columcille.  The latter a brief history of the man behind the intriguing Sign of Three Candles.

We, the volunteers from the Cultural and Heritage Studies course helped out showing visitors around, manning the refreshments stand and sitting in on many of the fascinating talks.

The weather defied the forecasters.  Spring sunshine was enjoyed by all during breaks along with coffee, tea, sandwiches and cake in plentiful supply from the Press Café. The merits of heating your teacup before committing yourself to a cup of tea was hotly discussed along with many of interesting facts and stories that had been learned about the legend and lore of the print industry.

A hugely successful conference, speakers and attendees from Ireland, America, Sweden, Singapore and the U.K., rounded off by an animated discussion on the subject of ‘fine art, finer art, and finest art’ and whether Irish commercial art is ever truly appreciated.  It is.

*See http://printinghistoricalsociety.org.uk/forthcoming_phs_events/index.html for full programme

Róisín Sheerin, CDETB Culture and Heritage Studies Trainee.

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Course Open Day 2016!


Are you interested in finding out more about our Cultural & Heritage Studies course?

Are you thinking about applying for the course in September 2016?

Then come along to our Open Day!!

Our Open Day takes place on Monday 22nd August 2016 in the National Print Museum. The day starts at 10am with a presentation by the Course Coordinators explaining the different modules and elements of the course. This will be followed by a free tour of the museum for all attendees. Candidates who would like to be considered for the course will then be interviewed.

If you have any queries about the Open Day, or would like to confirm your attendance please email the Course Coordinator at claireanderson@nationalprintmuseum.ie .

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Letterpress Printing Course


By Tina Brescanu

Letterpress is the oldest form of printing in Europe and in its time it didn’t just change the world, it revolutionised the world.

Letterpress printing had an enormous influence on the Renaissance and now letterpress printing itself is having a renaissance.

As tour guide trainees in the National Print Museum we had the opportunity to learn what it was like to print using letterpress techniques, by printing our own book.



Mary Plunkett, graphic designer and printmaker, started us off slowly by printing a postcard each with one or two words which was both easy and fun. We printed this on the Farley Proofing Press. Then we got serious. First we picked a theme for our book and as it is the year of the rebellion we decided on 1916/2016.

We all picked our own text and on a personal note if I would have known how hard it was going to be I would have picked a shorter piece. I ran out of type and had to use italic type. I also picked type that was too small and I had to constantly ask for help, driving both Mary and myself mad! Despite this I ended up with g’s instead of a’s and b’s instead of d’s and u’s instead of n’s so in my case it was much more problematic than just minding my p’s and q’s!


When the text was finally set, we picked either an image block to go with our text or made a linocut from our own design. Holly made an amazing linocut of James Connolly. We printed five pages in sections of three to make 64 books. We each printed our own pages on the Vandercook Press. This part was enjoyable once I got over my nerves of doing it wrong.

For the main colour of the cover, we decided on different shades of green and we also used big wooden block type with words from all of our pieces. Finally, we selected the title “Making Our Case for the Seditious Types”.

Lastly, we sewed the book together.

The finished book is one of a kind and something we’re all very happy and proud to have been part of. Thank you, Mary!

I enjoyed the end product.” Mark

“I enjoyed Mary’s enthusiasm, she knew exactly what she was doing and she passed it on.” Terrence

It’s a good skill to have. I learnt a lot and I appreciate the printers and the craft more.” Feargus

Handy skill to have and it was great being part of making our own book. If I’d do it again I’d pick an anime quote.” Sarah

It wasn’t my thing, but it was still a good thing to learn.” Aaron

Very enjoyable good skill to have, you need patience, good eyesight and lots of time.” Graham

Fascinating, I’ve never done anything like it, being part of making our own book gave me an insight and appreciation of the skills of printers.” Charlotte

I appreciate the printers’ craft. Their patience is astounding.” Barry

It was nice to learn the skills of the old days.” Joe


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