A visit to the National Print Museum

The National Print Museum, tucked away in the Old Garrison Chapel of the Beggars Bush Barracks on Haddington Road, Dublin 4 is a little gem dedicated to the history of letterpress printing.

The museum is small with a number of old printing machines laid out across its ground floor space. A number of temporary exhibits are also held throughout the year in a small space upstairs in the museum. During my visit, an exhibit called “Green Sleeves: The Irish Printed Record” is featuring, examining the Irish-printed album cover of Irish groups as well as albums from abroad referencing Ireland or Irishness dating from the 1950s to present day.

When I first stumbled upon this museum I had been looking for the PRESS Café, which is located beside it. On entering the Old Chapel building the large, old printers caught my interest as well as the team of people working on them.

This team of people are active retired printers and typesetters, volunteering their time occasionally to maintain the old print machines, and to assist with the Museum’s education programme.  One of the volunteers, Alf, kindly introduced himself and showed me around, demonstrating some of the machines such as the large Wharfedale Stop Cylinder Press, a machine similar to the one that printed the 1916 Proclamation. Hanging on the wall beside it, is an original 1916 Proclamation.

Alf gave first-hand accounts about the creation of the original Proclamation from the men who were involved in its production – he had heard these men speaking about their experience at a special 1916 commemoration event in 1966. He pointed out some of the technical imperfections in the printing on the original document, explaining that these were “understandable” given the circumstances the compositors and printer had been under at the time! He relayed their stories with great enthusiasm and I felt privileged to hear them.

I was also shown letterpress printing techniques by another volunteer – a retired print engineer, who shared his experience of being a newspaper editor 40 years ago and the difficulties he had faced every day using these techniques. Hearing his experiences of producing newspapers back then was fascinating.  I thoroughly enjoyed all their stories! A lovely, unexpected morning in the National Print Museum.

I did have coffee (and cake) eventually in Press café and it was delicious!

For more information about the National Print Museum and upcoming events and workshops, check out their website here.