Reverting to Type: National Print Museum

Printed copy of 1916 Proclamation

Reverting to Type: National Print Museum

16 August 2017
3 min read

In a world where digital reigns supreme, where cloud communication hovers above us, and personal data can be carried about in our pockets - is there still time for the tangible?

Tucked away in the old garrison chapel of Dublin’s Beggars Bush Barracks, you’ll find nothing but tangible, inky evidence of a time when mass communication involved deliberate and considered craft. Founded by a group of savvy printers and typesetters who began collecting print equipment during the decline of letterpress printing in the 1980s, The National Print Museum is today the home of Ireland’s printing history and heritage.

Within the former chapel space lies a hub of satisfyingly hands-on activity. Replicating the layout of an actual printing workshop, complete with composing, printing and finishing areas, visitors are immersed in a wealth of interpretative material that details print heritage. You can also get to grips with some beautiful machinery of the era too, like the majestic Wharfedale Stop Cylinder Press. A glorious juggernaut of a machine, this type of printing press is very similar to what the 1916 Rising Proclamation was printed on, and for history buffs there’s even an original copy of the Proclamation on display too.

With an impressive 10,000-strong collection of objects including presses, printing blocks, movable type, preserved documents and more, the National Print Museum offers a real opportunity to discover the traditional craft of letterpress printing and gain a true appreciation for the importance and often political significance of the humble printed word.

The museum was founded by a group of savvy printers and typesetters who began collecting print equipment during the decline of letterpress printing in the 1980s.

In pre-Rising Ireland for example, print and politics enjoyed a very unique relationship. With Dublin’s then position as the second city of the British Empire, the capital’s print industry produced considerable quantities of advertising for Britain’s main political parties. At the same time, these print shops were also printing opposing views, not to mention anti-Empire print materials too.

The political power of print to inform and gain public favour was palpable, so it’s no surprise that the era saw the emergence of a nationalist print counter-culture. After all by 1916, many of the key political activists of the day were printers, compositors and editors by trade, with the Rising’s GPO Garrison alone housing 22 printers.

The museum’s current exhibition takes a musical turn. Green Sleeves explores the era of the Irish-printed record cover from 1955-2017, displaying the iconic LP sleeves of Planxty, The Blades, Clannad and The Dubliners, as well as modern favourites like The Redneck Manifesto, Le Galaxie and Little Green Cars. Catch these covers before the exhibition's end on 1 October 2017.

A working museum, a panel of active retired printers and typesetters maintain and demonstrate the extensive collection, providing regular training sessions too. Workshops in letterpress, printmaking, calligraphy, bookbinding, batik, origami and silk painting are also on offer, so you’re sure to find something that’s just your type.