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 but fascinating with a number of old printing machines laid out across the exhibit floor space. Upstairs there is an exhibit space. When I visited, there was an exhibit called, “Green Sleeves: The Irish Printed Record”, examining the Irish-printed album cover of Irish groups as well as albums from abroad referencing Ireland or Irishness. The collection dated from the 1950s to present day and it brought back a lot of good memories as I walked around.

When I first stumbled upon this Museum I had been looking for the PRESS Café, which is located beside it. When I entered the Old Chapel building, there were a several people looking around at old printers dotted around the floor space. There were also a few men working on some of the old machines.

Turns out the men were active retired printers and typesetters, volunteering their time to maintain the old print machines, and to assist with front of house duties as well as with the Museum’s education programme.  Alf, one of the volunteers, kindly introduced himself and offered to show me around. He demonstrated some of the machines, including the large Wharfedale Stop Cylinder Press, the machine similar to the one that the 1916 Proclamation was printed on. Framed and hanging on the wall beside it, is an original 1916 Proclamation.

Alf told me first-hand accounts about the creation of the original Proclamation from the men who were involved in its production. He explained to me that he had these accounts because he had heard the men speaking at a special 1916 commemoration event in the 1960s! He then pointed out some of the technical imperfections in the printing on the original document, which he explained “as 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 then shown letterpress printing techniques by another volunteer, a retired print engineer, who also shared with me his experience as a newspaper editor over 40 years ago and the difficulties he had faced every day using these techniques. This, I thoroughly enjoyed! 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.