An Teagasg Criosdaidhe is the material incarnation of the complex and fascinating history of Irish character types. It is the third edition of a catechism written by an Irish Franciscan exiled to Louvain after the pillage of Donegal monastery. While the first two editions were published in 1611 in Antwerp and 1614 in Louvain under the supervision of the author, Giolla Brighde Ó hEoghusa a.k.a. Bonaventure O Hussey (1574-1614), this volume was printed in Rome on the presses of the Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide in 1707.
This catechism in the vernacular is a direct product of the Counter-Reformation project defined by the Council of Trent: O Hussey composed it in response to the translation into Irish of the New Testament and the “daily appearing” of Protestant tracts dispersed through Ireland. Its reprint in Rome follows the migration of part of the Irish Franciscan community established in St Anthony’s College in Louvain to St Isidore College in Rome.
The migration of Irish Franciscan monks, from Louvain to Rome, symbolises the Catholic Church’s concentration of its propagandist effort around the Holy See as much as it reveals the fall of Antwerp and Louvain as printing capitals of Europe and the rise of Rome as home of the polyglot press. Indeed, difficult as the process of composition in and by itself might have been, the production and composition of texts in Armenian, Irish, Arabic, or Greek required exceptional skills from the typecaster and the compositor.
The first edition of An Teagasg Criosdaidhe is described by Brendan Leen as “the first authentic Irish character type”. While previous Irish typography mixed Roman types for letters and marks shared by both alphabets, the Louvain Irish script adapted Irish calligraphy found in manuscripts. After this long and painstaking effort for the printing of a single title, one could then imagine that the monks took the characters from Louvain to Rome and reused them for the 1707 edition. On the contrary, this re-edition is a very rare example of the Rome Irish type, cast after Papal approval in 1638. Created to complete the collection of types for the polyglot press, the script evolved away from a manuscript model to suit the technical advances of the mobile press. Although the typography seems much more elegant and coherent than its Flemish predecessor, Edward Lynam describes its slightly off-centered f as “a large policeman trying to keep an unruly crowd in order”.
The book was donated and annotated by Charles Plummer (1851-1927), the last life-fellow of Corpus Christi, editor of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History (1896) but also of several Lives of Irish Saints. He inserted an auction catalogue description and his coat of arms, underlines that it is in fact the third edition, and insists on the “very rare” quality of the volume (there are 12 identified copies in the ESTC). This small book holds between its modest calf binding a snippet of Irish book history, continued in Jesus College’s Celtic Library.
Louisiane Ferlier (Lecturer in French, 2012-14)
Sources and further reading:
- Catalogue record on SOLO
- Vincent Kinane, A Brief History of Printing and Publishing in Ireland (Dublin: National Print Museum of Ireland, 2002)
- Brendan Leen, Four Centuries of Printing in the Irish Character (Drumcondra: Cregan Library, St Patrick’s College)
- Edward Lynam, The Irish Character in Print 1571 to 1923 (Shannon: T.M. MacGlinchey, 1968)
- Dermot McGuinne, Irish Type Design, a History of Printing Types in the Irish Character (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1992)
- Salvador Ryan, ‘Bonaventura Ó hEoghusa’s An Teagasg Críosdaidhe (1611/1614): A Reassessment of Its Audience and Use’, Archivium Hibernicum 58 (2004) pp. 259-267.
- Valentina Sestini, ‘“Go Ye Into The World …”: Circulation and Disclosure of the Books of Propaganda in the Seventeenth Century at Traverso: Some Documents from the Archives’, Nuovi Annali Scuola Speciale per Archivisti e Bibliotecari 25 (2011) pp. 69-87.
- Mathew D. Staunton, ‘Trojan Horses and Friendly Faces: Irish Gaelic Typography as Propaganda’, in Aspects of the Irish Book from the 17th Century to the Present Day, special issue of LISA 3(1) (2005), pp. 85-98.