Oxford History of the Irish Book

The Oxford History of the Irish Book is a major series of books that charts one of the most venerable book cultures in Europe, from the earliest manuscript compilations to the flourishing book industries of the late twentieth century.


For the first time, The Oxford History of the Irish Book offers a history of the Irish book as a created object situated in a world of communications, trade, transport, power, and money, and examines the ways in which books have both reflected and influenced social, political, and intellectual formations in Ireland.

It is an important project for the understanding of Ireland's written and printed heritage, and is by its nature of profound cross-cultural significance, embracing as it does all the written and printed traditions and heritages of Ireland and placing them in the global context of a worldwide interest in book histories.

Volume III: The Irish Book in English, 1550-1800

Volume III: The Irish Book in English, 1550-1800 contains a series of groundbreaking essays that seek to explain the fortunes of printed word from the early Renaissance to the end of the eighteenth century.

The essays in section one explain the development of print culture in the period, from its first incarnation in the small area of the English Pale around Dublin, dominated by the interests of the English authorities, to the more widespread dispersal of the printing press at the close of the eighteenth century, when provincial presses developed their own character and style either alongside or as a challenge to the dominant intellectual culture.

Section two explains the crucial developments in the structure and technical innovation of the print trade; the role played by private and public collections of books; and the evidence of changing reading practices throughout the period.

The third and longest section explores the impact of the rise of print. Essays examine the effect that the printed book had on religious and political life in Ireland, providing a case study of the impact of the French Revolution on pamphlets and propaganda in Ireland; the transformations illustrated in the history of historical writing, as well as in literature and the theatre, through the publication of play texts for a wide audience. Others explore the impact that print had on the history of science and the production of foreign language books.

The volume concludes with an authoritative bibliographical essay outlining the sources that exist for the study of the book in early modern Ireland. This is an authoritative volume with essays by key scholars that will be the standard guide for many years to come.

Volume IV: The Irish Book in English 1800-1891

Volume IV: The Irish Book in English 1800-1891 details the story of the book in Ireland from the Act of Union, which ended Ireland's lucrative exemption from British copyright, to the Irish revival, with its emphasis on cultural nationalism. Though retaining its own identity during this period the Irish publishing industry also participated in a wider British publishing culture, less perhaps the result of political change than the result of the industrialization of production.

The chapters in this volume deal with book production and distribution and the differing of ways in which publishing existed in Dublin, Belfast, and the provinces. The nineteenth century saw a dramatic rise in literacy rates in Ireland, the advent of national education, and the development of new opportunities and spaces for reading that eclipsed previous communal reading practices. Religious publishing was a major enterprise not only because of the rise in devotionalism but also because of the religious controversies that raged in the early part of the century.

Literary genres engaged both Irish and British audiences with Irish issues, though they found a publishing outlet largely through London publishers. Scholarly societies of both the antiquarian and scientific varieties sustained a relatively high degree of local publishing, mostly through journals. Medical and musical publishing appeared for quite a while to defy the centralizing pull of British publishing.

In spite of the challenges of the times, writers, publishers, readers, and institutions often responded with energy and creativity to a world of extraordinary change. It was a world of considerable diversity and great fascination.

Relying on a high degree of original research, both archival and bibliographical, this volume treats both general trends and individual stories.

Volume V: The Irish Book in English 1891-2000

Books have played a role of key importance in shaping Ireland's twentieth century cultural and political heritage. Volume V: The Irish Book in English 1891-2000 charts that heritage from the beginnings of the Literary Revival in the 1890s to the end of the twentieth century.

Part One consists of general survey chapters which examine developments in the cultures of Irish reading and publishing during the twentieth century. These chapters cover four specific periods, divided as follows: 1891-1921 covering the Literary Revival, and the often turbulent developments which led to the partition of the island; 1922-1939 looking at the social, economic and political machinations of print culture amidst an atmosphere of intense cultural conservatism, and during the so called economic 'war'; 1939-1969 examining the difficulties which Irish publishers continued to face, as well as the popular trends of reading 'Westerns'; 1969-2000 looking at the renewal of the Irish publishing industry, and the growth of cultural self-confidence which came about as literary censorship receded into the past.

Part Two examines some of the thematic issues raised in these survey chapters, including the financial and market factors governing the Irish book trade; the concerns of Irish regional publishing; the creation and reception of Irish books in the US and Australia; censorship; the Irish book in the informatics age; and publishing for Catholic Ireland.

Part Three is concerned with assessing the specific achievements of some of Ireland's most culturally significant publishing houses, and includes chapters on Gill and Macmillan; the Cuala Press; Maunsel and Company; the Dolmen Press; the Gallery Press and Blackstaff Press. This section also includes chapters on two British firms which have done much to support Irish writers: Macmillan and Faber.

The book concludes with a bibliographical chapter outlining 'Sources for Irish Book History, 1891-2000'. This is the first attempt to comprehensively outline the history of twentieth century Irish book culture, and will be the standard guide for many years to come.

Note on Editors

The Oxford History of the Irish Book was series was edited by Professor Robert Welch (Ulster University) and Professor Brian Walker of Queen’s University, Belfast. Please read the following obituary in The Guardian, written on the passing of Professor Welch in 2013.