‘At the exchange’: the eighteenth-century book trade in Cork.



From its construction in the first decade of the eighteenth century the new exchange in Castle Street became the focal point of the Cork book trade. The concentration of public buildings housing the legal and civil administration in the Main Street/Castle Street area created a demand for stationery, books and newspapers. Over thirty booksellers can be identified trading here during the eighteenth century, some succeeding others in the same premises. The exchange acted as a central point for dissemination of information in the legal and commercial world. Bills, proclamations and printed addresses were ‘put on the Post within the new exchange for public view’.[2] Throughout the eighteenth century all city council orders were ‘posted up on the exchange’.[3] Sales by public cant were held at the exchange, or in the taverns and coffee houses nearby. In February 1754 a pleasure boat was sold at the exchange for the benefit of the infirmary, and in October of the same year the ship Lucy of Cork was sold there.[4] The exchange accommodated the town clock, where previously the clock on the steeple of Christchurch acted in this capacity.[5] The exchange was the hub of commercial and civic life until the establishment of the commercial buildings on the South Mall in 1813. Having outlived its use, and being considered an obstruction to traffic jutting out into Main Street, it was demolished in 1837.

Situation and commercial importance:

The medieval core of Cork city was contained within the divided channels of the river Lee. Main Street followed the central ridge from north to south, ending with the towers of the city walls at North Gate and South Gate bridges. Castle Street was situated in the centre of the walled city, running east-west from Queen’s castle to Roche’s castle. In the medieval period it fronted onto a water channel, the medieval ‘key’ of Cork, the street occupying the northern quay. This waterway was able to accommodate ships, as shown on the Pecata Hibernia map of 1595. By the eighteenth century the channel was arched over and the water culverted beneath the street.[6] In 1760 the corporation ordered that the exchange slip, which had lately been covered in, be converted into a shop, allowing access to the water by a trap door, in case of accidental fire.[7] Castle Street joined Main Street to the west, splitting it into North Main and South Main Streets. At its eastern end it met Tuckey’s Quay (later Grand Parade) to the south, and Cornmarket/Coal Quay to the north, and from the early eighteenth century had its continuation eastwards into Paul Street. This situation gave Castle Street its commercial importance, forming as it did the cross-axis of the old city.

Castle Street retained its economic ascendancy throughout the eighteenth century. The fine new exchange, begun in 1708 and opened in May 1710, celebrated the dominance of trade in the capital of the south. Located at the south-western corner of Castle Street at Main Street, it was built on the foundation of the medieval Paradise tower, later Roche’s castle. In 1732 Edward Lloyd considered the exchange more beautiful than the Dublin one and ‘exceeding that in Bristol, or the changes in any city or port in England excepting the magnificent building of the Royal Exchange in London’.[8] In 1750 Smith described it as:

an handsome regular structure of hewn stone. The front consists of five arches, with three others next the passage to the street. The middle arch or principal entrance is adorned with columns of the Doric order, over which are fluted ones of the Ionic order; … On the top is an elegant cupola covered with lead; a gilt ball, cross and dragon.[9]


Engraving of The Exchange, Cork, from Charles Smith, The antient and present state of the county and city of Cork, 1750.

The city court house was located south of the exchange, and the county court house south of King’s castle at the eastern end of Castle Street. Court Lane, running parallel to Castle Street, linked the two court houses. The exchange itself accommodated the council chamber on its upper floor and also provided space for the grand jury at the assizes and sessions, the mayor’s office, and an office for keeping the council records.[10] The grouping of offices dealing with city and county administration created demand for the services of bookseller, bookbinder, stationer and printer. Legal and administrative stationery and printed forms were staples of the trade. Information in book, pamphlet and newspaper form, was increasingly necessary for officials at all levels. Proclamations and notices were issued regularly, and local printers carried out these tasks for the corporation and the courts.

The concentrated central area continued to hold its commercial superiority until the last quarter of the eighteenth century, when the city was beginning to expand as the marshes to the east and west were drained and reclaimed, and the suburbs began to be developed.[11] Work continued in arching over the water channels, in the early 1780s the waterway at the Long Quay was covered and the new thoroughfare became St Patrick Street. At the same period the navigable channel at Tuckey’s Quay was covered in and Grand Parade formed. Newspaper advertising shows that the luxury trades were mainly located in the central areas of the city, first in the old core, and later in the eastern areas at George’s Street and Patrick Street: booksellers, stationers, confectioners, florists, perfumers, peruke makers, silversmiths, drapers, seed merchants, cabinet makers, cutlers and coach builders. In 1739 the mayor suggested that the post office be ‘kept near the exchange, being the centre of this city.’[12] William Flyn, printer and bookseller at the Shakespeare, ‘near the exchange’, pointed to the commercial advantages of the area when advertising his shop and apartments ‘under the exchange coffee house’ in 1775: ‘the situation for any kind of business is superior to most in the city’.[13] In the last two decades of the century bookselling businesses spread out from Castle Street, Main Street and Paul Street, into the newly formed Patrick Street, Grand Parade and Grattan Street.

From the early years of the century booksellers set up business in the vicinity of the exchange. From about 1715 Thomas Cotton, Andrew Welsh and John Redwood had bookshops in Castle Street, Welsh’s and Redwood’s located ‘near the exchange’. Thomas Pilkington was in Castle Street from 1729, succeeded by his widow, Martha, at the same address early in the 1740s. Cornelius Sullivan was ‘at the exchange coffee house’ in Castle Street in 1736. From the 1750s Castle Street was the address of Phineas and George Bagnell, ‘opposite the exchange coffee house’; Timothy Cronin ‘under the English coffee house’;[14] George and James Knight, and later Henry and John Knight. Eugene Swiney was on Main Street ‘near the exchange’ from 1754, having moved from Paul Street. John Bardin was at the Bible, Castle Street, in 1763, advertising imported paper and merchants’ account books, moving to Paul Street, where he died in 1773. William Flyn was at the Shakespeare, ‘near the exchange’, from 1764 to 1775, when he moved to ‘south-side of the exchange’. George Busteed, printer of the Cork Chronicle, was in Castle Street in the 1760s, moving to Paul Street in 1766. John Busteed, printer of the Hibernian Morning Post, was in Castle Street ‘near the exchange’ in the early 1770s, having moved from Paul Street. Thomas Lord had his bookshop and circulating library in Castle Street ‘under the exchange coffee house’ in 1770.[15]

Mary Edwards opened her new bookshop at 3 Castle Street, ‘next door to the exchange coffee house’ in June 1770, where she proposed to stock the ‘greatest variety of modern books’ from London and Dublin, as well as paper and stationery. She particularly targeted country dealers, offering to supply them ‘on the lowest terms’.[16] Her son and successor, Anthony Edwards, was at the same address from 1781, ‘opposite the new merchant’s coffee house’, until he moved to 6 Castle Street, where he remained until 1815, trading as Edwards and Savage from about 1806. Thomas Saunders Knox spent two years in Castle Street from 1776 to 1778, publishing the Cork General Advertiser, before moving to Ennis. In 1773 Michael Matthews had his bookshop in Castle Street, ‘opposite the exchange coffee house’, where he stocked books, pictures, stationery, ‘rare and curious pieces out of print and very scarce’.[17] From his bookshop and circulating library ‘under the exchange’ he offered the best prices for libraries and parcels of books in 1777.[18] In 1781 the bookshop in the ‘small house under part of the exchange’ was to be set by public cant.[19] Matthews continued to occupy the premises, paying an annual rent of £4.19s. until 1791, when his ‘shop and bulk’ was assigned to the trustees of the new coffee house, and he moved to North Main Street.[20]

Jeremiah Sullivan was ‘opposite the exchange’ from 1777. Thomas White carried on business at 55 the exchange, ‘opposite the west gate of the exchange’ on Main Street from 1770, occupying Eugene’s Swiney’s former bookshop, and moving to 4 Castle Street in 1793. Robert Dobbyn, printer of the Cork Weekly Journal, was at 9 Castle Street from 1779, moving to Bachelor’s Quay about 1787. The 1790s saw John Connor’s bookshop and circulating library established at 17 Castle Street, at the corner of Cornmarket, James Haly, son-in-law of William Flyn, at the King’s Arms, exchange, and Michael Harris at 6 Castle Street. In 1794 Thomas Boate’s ‘Stationary, music, map and print ware-house’ removed to 3 new buildings, Castle Street, under the Tontine coffee house. He advertised maps, prints, music and merchants’ account books, as well as children’s and school books, magazines and plays, and undertook ‘all manner of book-binding and printing work executed with neatness and dispatch’.[21] In 1797 Hugh Massey, bookbinder and stationer, conducted his business on Main Street ‘under the old mercantile coffee-house.’[22] In the first decade of the new century Castle Street accommodated the bookshops of William West, compiler of West’s Cork directory 1810, John Harris, at the Southern Reporter office, Jeremiah Geary at the Stanhope Press printing office, occupying Haly’s old premises at the King’s Arms, exchange, John Stephenson, printer of The Patriot, at 10 Castle Street, White and Shelborne, paper manufacturers, and Joseph and Robert McMullen, ‘at the exchange’.

Cork West

Castle Street, the bookshop of William West, printer, bookseller and stationer, and the shop of White and Company, paper manufacturers, near the exchange, c.1810.

Coffee houses and taverns clustered here also, frequented by the better-off citizens in search of news and gossip. At mid-century Cork had two coffee houses, the Exchange and English coffee houses, situated opposite each other on Castle Street, and a number of prominent taverns: the Cork Arms and Turk Head taverns in Castle Street, and the Raven opposite Christchurch. In 1750 Smith noted: ‘Here are only two coffee-houses, both near the exchange; they are much frequented, and besides the English news-papers, have most of the Dublin ones: the better sort are fond of news and politics, and are well versed in public affairs.’[23] By 1777 Thomas Campbell reported: ‘One of the coffee-houses is conducted somewhat like those in London. The taverns are pretty good, and very cheap…’[24] The merchant’s coffee house, situated at the corner of Castle Street and North Main Street, subscribed to Finn’s Leinster Journal from at least 1778.[25] In 1795 it was reopened by D. Manly, supplying newspapers from London and Dublin, three Cork papers, two each from Waterford and Limerick, Finn’s Leinster Journal, the Northern Star and Londonderry Chronicle.[26] The Tontine coffee house was opened in Castle Street in 1793, the charter to raise the fund for its establishment had among its shareholders two booksellers, Thomas White and Jeremiah Sullivan.[27]

Coffee houses traditionally occupied the first floor or parlour apartments, with shops or other commercial concerns at street level. In Cork, as in Dublin, there was a close relationship between coffee house and book trade, as both concerned themselves with the dissemination of information. A proposal to publish The mercantile assistant or, exchange pocket companion by subscription was advertised in 1781. This periodical was aimed at merchants and traders, giving lists of the imports and exports of the port of Cork, financial information from abroad, up-to-date prices of commodities, and accounts of trade hazards, such as seizure of ships by ‘the belligerent powers’ during the American war. The subscription cost of one-and-a-half guineas per annum was taken at the bar of both coffee houses. Likewise for subscribers to a new twice-weekly newspaper, the Cork Mercury, in March 1781, subscription books were available at the coffee houses.[28] When the Cork Herald, a loyalist newspaper, was established in 1798, subscriptions were taken by Thomas White, Michael Harris, Anthony Edwards, James Haly and John Connor, all booksellers in Castle Street, and the bar of each coffee house.[29] A notice in the New Cork Evening Post from November 1793 informed its readers that the only copy of the Saturday issue of the London Gazette had been received at the Tontine coffee house, forcing the paper to give an abstract, instead of a full account, of the news.[30]

The book trade and the administration of the city:

In the early decades of the eighteenth century the legal and civil administration of the city accounted for the bulk of booksellers’ business. Printed forms, parchment for official records, printed proclamations and hand bills, advertising in newspapers, the supply of a range of newspaper titles for official information, stationery, copies of Statutes, Acts of parliament, law books and other relevant works, were the mainstay of the city’s book trade. Scriveners and copyists, as well as printers, were employed by official bodies. Loyal addresses from the corporation to the king, queen or lord lieutenant were engrossed on parchment.[31] Bookbinders found work binding and repairing official ledgers and manuscript record books for the courts and corporation, as well as binding for the retail book trade. For example, the corporation ordered payment in 1776 for veal skins to cover the Tholsel office books.[32] In 1732 Thomas Pilkington advertised books, merchants’ account books, shop books, paper and stationery by wholesale and retail. ‘He writes every month to London for the newest books to accommodate gentlemen with’.[33] William Flyn, at the Shakespeare, sold promissory notes, processes and parchment.[34] In the 1790s ‘processes, with printed copies’, ‘presentments for roads, bridges &c.’, hearth money certificates, magistrates’ warrants and summonses, and police certificates were advertised by Anthony Edwards.[35] Processes were also offered by Thomas White, with a range of paper, account books, message cards and stationery.[36]

In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries official newspapers and parliamentary votes were ordered from London for the mayor and common council, while the coffee houses provided a more varied fare. Official papers included the London Gazette, a twice-weekly paper which was the most widely circulated official publication, the News Letter and Votes of parliament, which appeared daily during the parliamentary session and provided an outline of parliamentary proceedings. An extant ledger showing the distribution of newspapers by one London supplier, Charles Delafaye, covering the period 1710 to 1714, shows that he supplied newspapers to the mayor of Cork.[37] In 1704 the mayor paid £4.19s. to Mr De-laffa for the ‘public news’, and in January 1713/14 Delafay was paid £36 for six years newspapers, with the proviso that ‘he desist sending any more’.[38] In 1714 the corporation received the Postman, Flying Post, Evening Post and votes of parliament from London.[39] In 1715 the mayor sent for ‘the news from London at the cheapest rate he could agree for’ and by 1716/17 the corporation expended six guineas for ‘the English news, four papers and the votes of parliament’.[40] English and Irish newspapers and Votes of both English and Irish parliaments were supplied to the corporation by Walter Pallisser in the 1740s and 1750s and by Edmond Browning in the 1760s and 1770s.[41] In 1776 William Maturin, clerk of the Munster road at the General Post Office, Dublin, began to supply Irish and English newspapers.[42] Local booksellers supplied the Cork newspapers to the corporation.

The corporation’s own resolutions, proclamations, orders, public notices, advertisements and the ‘assize of bread’ were printed in the local newspapers, first in the Cork Intelligence and later in Bagnell’s Cork Evening Post, Flyn’s Hibernian Chronicle, Knight’s New Cork Evening Post and the Cork Gazette. Extra printed copies were used as hand bills, to be posted on the exchange and around the city. Corporation lands and buildings for sale or lease, the publication of the city accounts, proposals for lighting, cleansing, repairing and paving the city streets, contracts for public works, notices offering rewards for the conviction of criminals, and notices of public meetings were regularly inserted in the papers. An advertisement for setting leases of stalls in the meat market was inserted in ‘Bagnall’s paper’ in 1772, and in addition 100 copies were printed to be posted up in the city.[43] The weekly assize of bread was published in the local papers and also posted up around the city. By giving the current price of wheat and the official weight and price of loaves, consumers were assured of the quality of this staple commodity; bread which did not meet the requirements was seized and the bakers fined. In 1738 the mayor issued a proclamation that the acts of parliament for weighing corn, potatoes and salt be put in force, George Bennett, alderman and one-time mayor of the city, got the contract to ‘print five quires of paper, in order said proclamation be duly published’.[44]

During a period of crisis in the spring of 1762, when the army regiments were withdrawn from the city, due to the continuing conflict of the seven years war, the corporation ordered arms to be distributed to the protestant inhabitants of the city. One thousand copies of the orders were printed, to be posted on the exchange, the north and south gates, the custom house, and distributed among the citizens.[45] The oath taken by citizens when becoming freemen was printed: in 1748 the council ordered ‘six quires’ of the oath to be printed for distribution, and in 1758 one thousand copies were printed.[46] The corporation ordered the printing of lists of the freemen at large from time to time.[47] An act of parliament concerning the city of Cork, passed in 1772, was ordered to be printed and thirty copies sent to the mayor.[48] William Flyn printed The by-laws of the city of Cork in 1776 by order of the council. In this way the regular business of the mayor and corporation required the expertise of local printers. This jobbing work was not complicated, nor large enough to tie up type for extended periods, probably just the kind of work that a printer found profitable.

In addition to its paper, stationery and binding requirements in the day-to-day administration of the city, books, pamphlets and acts of parliament were purchased by the corporation on a regular basis. In the 1720s and 1730s George Bennett supplied acts of parliament, abridgements of the statutes and prayer books from his bookshop on Main Street, opposite Broad Lane.[49] In 1754 Timothy Cronin was paid £3.18s.7d. for law books.[50] The current statutes affecting the administration of the city were essential reference works for the mayor and council. Cornelius Sullivan, opposite the Main Guard, supplied Bolingbroke’s Abridgement of the statutes, and five appendices in 1766.[51] The nine volumes of Vesey’s Acts of parliament and the statutes passed from 1769 to 1771 were purchased in 1772, and two years later Bolingbroke’s Abridgement, Vesey’s Appendix and Blackstone’s Commentaries were bought for the mayor’s office. Bolingbroke’s Abridgement and Vesey’s Appendix were again required in 1784.[52] Mary Edwards supplied two sets of acts from the previous session, bound, in 1780/81, one for the mayor’s office and the other for the corporation.[53] Thomas White provided the statutes at large for the Mansion House in 1791, and Anthony Edwards Vesey’s Appendices for the town clerk’s office.[54]

In the first half of the century Bibles and prayer books were purchased in quantity by the corporation for institutions within its authority. In 1708/9 ‘four dozen Bibles, unbound’ were ordered for the use of St Stephen’s (or Blue Coat) Hospital.[55] In 1718 the corporation ordered 300 Bibles, published in Dublin, again for the Blue Coat Hospital.[56] It is not clear which printing of the Bible was purchased, most likely the folio edition of The Holy Bible printed in Dublin in 1714.[57] In 1723, 243 Bibles in sheets were received from Dublin, and the contract for binding was awarded to George Bennett.[58] The following year each member of the council was given discretion to distribute the Bibles ‘to such charitable uses as they think fit.’[59] In 1738 and again twenty years later, in 1758, the city gaol was supplied with a Common prayer book and a Bible ‘for the use of the poor prisoners’, at the corporation’s expense.[60] Prayer books were purchased for the use of council members at official church ceremonies. In 1727 George Bennett was contracted to supply ‘seven folio prayer-books for the use of the corporation in the churches, three whereof to be gilt for the mayor’s cushion and the others for the other seats’.[61] Again in 1741 Bennett was ordered to ‘furnish the mayor’s gallery with four large prayer books’.[62]

Not all relations between the book trade and the administration were amicable. In 1732 the ballad sheet ‘Cork association, or the clothiers garland’ was ordered to be suppressed and the printer bound over to appear at the quarter sessions.[63] Tensions came to the fore in the lead-up to the 1798 rebellion as printers in Cork, as elsewhere in Ireland, printed hand bills, ballads, newspapers and pamphlets not approved of by government. The Cork Gazette was suppressed in 1797 and its printer, Denis Driscol, charged with publishing seditious matter.[64] The Harp of Erin, a radical newspaper advocating reform, founded in March 1798 ‘on the principles of freedom’, was printed by John Daly in Patrick Street. Its opponents, considering that ‘for treason and rebellion [it] will far surpass the Press itself’, had it suppressed after a few issues.[65] The Hibernian Chronicle records the paper’s demise: ‘Last Saturday some magistrates, with a party of the army, searched several houses to discover where the Harp of Erin was printing; at last they found out the place to be Carey’s Lane, where they seized on all the papers, part of which were printed, threw out the forms, and carried the entire to the Mansion House.’[66] John Daly was sentenced to stand one hour on the pillory, to six months imprisonment and to give securities for his good behaviour for seven years.[67] In April 1798 Cork corporation offered 100 guineas reward for the conviction of the author of an inflammatory hand bill, addressed ‘To militia men’, and twenty guineas for the prosecution of the printer.[68]

The printing and stationery requirements of the military were substantial, several regiments being stationed in Cork at any one time. Anthony Edwards styled himself ‘military stationer’ from the 1790s, catering for the requirements of the army and militia. He carried a variety of army stationery, such as muster rolls, review returns, orderly and memorandum books.[69] In an advertisement of 1793 he offered to ‘gentlemen of the militia … all kinds of books and stationery, made use of by the army’.[70] He reprinted Instructions for the yeomanry of England ‘for the use of the county corps of Ireland’ in 1796. His military printing work included rules, regulations, standing orders, manuals of exercises, relevant acts of parliament, and printed forms.[71] In the early 1800s he printed certificates for families of militiamen to apply for financial allowances, with the blank date 180-.[72] In 1801 Edwards’ daughter, Elizabeth, married Osborne Savage, stationer.[73] From about 1806 Edwards and his son-in-law went into business as Edwards and Savage at 6 Castle Street. Trading as military stationers, printers and booksellers, they advertised their stock of ‘brigade, regimental, hospital, barrack and recruiting returns’.[74]

The governors of the several charitable institutions in the city needed the services of the book trade in the administration of their societies. Advertising, printing of hand bills, stationery, and the publication of reports and accounts provided regular work for printers. An account of the dispensary was printed by William Flyn in 1788. The Cork Society for the relief and discharge of persons confined for small debts produced proceedings of its annual meetings.[75] Accounts of the Society for bettering the condition and increasing the comforts of the poor were printed by Anthony Edwards in 1799 and John Connor in 1800. The annual report of the House of Recovery for 1802/3 was printed by James Haly, at the King’s Arms, exchange. Among the annual expenses of the institution were substantial amounts for printing, stationery, and advertising: £26.4s.5½d. in 1801/2 and £10.4s.0½d. in 1802/3.[76]

The general book trade:

The general book trade in Cork was wide-ranging and varied, catering for an extensive market made up of country gentry, city professionals and the rising urban middle classes.[77] In the first half of the century Cork’s patrician families, persons associated with the civil and legal administration, and those involved in the commercial life of the city, continued to live in the mansion houses on Main Street, in the lanes running east and west from it, and in the newly constructed houses on the quays. Smith notes the newly built brick houses, with balcony windows in Spanish fashion, to be seen along Main Street in 1750.[78] It was not until the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that professionals and merchants moved to the fine terraced houses being built east and west of the old walled city, and out to the suburbs at Sunday’s Well to the north and towards Blackrock to the south. The concentration of well-educated families within the city centre created a demand for information, professional and leisure reading. The country gentry came to town for the assizes, to do estate business, shopping, and to partake of the city’s assemblies, theatres and other entertainments. In 1781 William Flyn appealed to country gentlemen indebted to him for the Hibernian Chronicle, books and stationery, to settle their accounts at the assizes.[79]

Readers in the surrounding towns and villages, whose access to reading matter was likely to be more limited than city dwellers, nevertheless had remote access to the city bookshops through newspaper advertising and bookseller’s catalogues. From the second half of the century newspapers were distributed to the main towns in the county: Youghal, Cloyne, Midleton, Castlemartyr, Cobh, Passage, Rathcormack, Kilworth, Kinsale, Mallow, Buttevant, Charleville, and westwards to Macroom, Bandon, Clonakilty, Rosscarbery, Skibereen, Bantry, Berehaven and Skull.[80] Readers in these towns could keep up-to-date with the latest publications from newspaper advertising and could place orders for books and periodicals through the newspaper agents. When William Flyn published The modern monitor in 1770 he informed readers of the Hibernian Chronicle that it would be on sale ‘at all the country places where this paper is left.’[81] Catalogues, lists of books published in newspapers, and advertising leaves in local publications, helped inform a dispersed readership, some of whom may have been unable to visit the city bookshops.

Anthony Edwards issued a priced catalogue of his stock in 1785, and a supplementary short catalogue at the back of Edwards’s Cork remembrancer in 1792.[82] As well as books and periodicals in English and French, he stocked religious works, school books, plays, almanacs, directories, pocket ledgers, memorandum books, and ‘all public acts of parliament, as soon as printed’. School books included grammars and dictionaries in Greek, Latin, French, English, Irish, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, and for the young ‘Newbery and Burton books, for the amusement of children’. He carried a range of devotional works and prayer books, many intended for the wholesale market. He printed editions of The new week’s preparation from 1793.[83] His own publication, a new edition of Mann’s Catechism, sold at 4d. each, or £1.4s. per hundred. Prayer books in various sizes and bindings ranged in price from 1s.6d. to £2.5s.6d. His wide-ranging stock included musical instruments and ruled music books, maps, stationery, paper and patent medicines. His printing work, encompassing books, pamphlets, and a newspaper, The Cork Courier (1793-94), was probably largely taken up with jobbing work for businesses and the administration. He lists such items as ‘shop-bills, hand-bills, leases, brewers permits, landlords receipts, tithe notes, manor-court processes and decrees; Free-Masons summonses, magistrates informations, warrants, recognizances, commitals and supercedeses, promissory notes, freeman’s passes &c.’, almost certainly the bread-and-butter trade of a bookseller outside the metropolis.

Because of the diversity of the market specialisation within the trade was not economically viable, most booksellers carried on an extensive range of activities. In addition to the sale of new and secondhand books, periodicals and pamphlets, a bookseller could be printer, stationer, bookbinder, newspaper proprietor, papermaker or importer, circulating library proprietor, patent medicine dealer, lottery office keeper, musical instrument seller, purveyor of fancy goods, and agent for loans or the sale of lands. Subscription editions of Dublin-printed books had Cork booksellers as agents from the first decades of the century, and lasting partnerships were established between members of the Dublin and Cork trades. The book trade in Cork did not wholly depend on Dublin printers and wholesalers. Books, periodicals and newspapers were imported directly from London. An inter-regional trade was in operation between the towns and cities in Munster and South Leinster, especially with Waterford, Limerick and Kilkenny, and to a lesser extent Clonmel, Ennis and Tralee. From the last quarter of the century some continental trading also occurred. In 1773 William Flyn imported foreign language books from Holland, where he had established a correspondence with ‘a principal bookseller’. Bookbuyers were offered ‘elegant and cheap editions’ in any language, which could be chosen from a catalogue.[84]

A cultured and sophisticated audience supported the summer theatre at Dunscomb’s Marsh, later George’s Street. The earliest theatrical performances took place in Cork from 1713, when players from the Smock Alley theatre in Dublin, and later from the Theatre Royal in Aungier Street, came south for a period in the summer to perform the season’s hit plays from London and Dublin.[85] Advertisements for performances and benefits were inserted in the local newspapers, and hand bills were printed and placed strategically around the city. A mild storm blew up in the summer of 1761 when the theatrical company posted its printed hand bills without asking the consent of the mayor, who then refused them permission to perform. The matter was resolved, though not without a certain rancour and the threat of legal proceedings on the part of the players.[86] Newspaper advertising was required to carry the unequivocal formula ‘by permission of the Right Worshipful …, mayor of Cork’.[87]

Plays were often locally printed to coincide with popular productions. Reprints of Dublin and London editions could be rushed out cheaply to satisfy demand. In 1741 George Harrison, at the corner of Meetinghouse Lane, printed a ballad opera which was in performance at the Theatre Royal, Dunscomb’s Marsh: A wonder, or, an honest Yorkshireman.[88] In the 1760s Eugene Swiney, and Phineas and George Bagnell, were prominent in reprinting popular plays, issuing such staples of the Cork theatre as The beggar’s opera (Gay), King Lear, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Venice preserv’d (Otway) and Conscious lovers (Steele) in 1761, Douglas (Home) and All in the wrong (Murphy) in 1762, and Othello in 1763. Jeremiah Sullivan was active in reprinting plays in the 1780s and 1790s, while Anthony Edwards, John Connor and Michael Harris printed them in the 1790s. William Preston’s controversial Democratic rage; or, Louis the unfortunate, was printed by Anthony Edwards in 1793, the same year it was performed in Cork.[89] A large selection of plays, printed in Dublin and London, formed part of any good bookshop’s regular stock. In July 1775 John Busteed advertised a list of forty-four plays and twelve farces to coincide with the summer season at the Theatre Royal in George’s Street.[90] These plays corresponded with performances during the 1775 season, but also included perennial favourites at the Cork theatre.[91]

The reading public had varying budgets for the purchase of books and other print media. Instead of the wealthy patrons of literature encountered in the metropolis, or more especially in London and other European capitals, Cork booksellers were supported by the professional and middle classes, country gentry, and persons of lesser means. Thus, stocks reflected the differing means of potential purchasers. Subscription editions of the works of local authors, or reprints of more celebrated authors, were regularly offered by Cork booksellers. Books published in parts, where the cost could be spread out, allowing buyers to invest in an expensive work, popular reprints of plays, political pamphlets and trials which could be produced and sold cheaply, monthly magazines, children’s and school books, formed an important segment of the market. Small format religious works, often sold in bulk, were intended for distribution to the poor. Ballad sheets, cheaply printed, and celebrating or satirising local persons and events, were within the price range of all but the very poor. The secondhand market was also buoyant, as booksellers offered ready money for libraries and parcels of books. The more renowned libraries, such as that of Dr Joseph Fenn Sleigh, were put up for sale and priced catalogues issued.[92] Expensive editions from Dublin, London and the continent, were offered for sale side by side with the cheaper material.

Monthly periodicals, such as Walker’s Hibernian Magazine, Exshaw’s Gentleman and London Magazine, Ladies’ Magazine, Town and Country Magazine, and Monthly Review, were advertised regularly and could be sent with their newspapers to subscribers in the nearby towns and in the countryside. At a cost of 6d. to one shilling per month the magazines provided a varied diet of literary, social and political content. Accompanied by engravings of prominent contemporary or historical figures, places of interest, military or naval actions, sentimental prints, needlework patterns, music, etc., and carrying advertising on their blue paper wrappers, these productions were good value for money for the less wealthy reader. In 1777 and 1778 a French-language periodical, the Magazin à la mode, was published in Dublin by William Whitestone. Compiled by Charles Praval, writer and teacher of French, it aimed to replicate the Anglophone periodicals, while promoting French language and literature. It circulated in Cork through the bookshops of Mary Edwards, Daniel Hood, Jeremiah Sullivan and Thomas White.[93] Throughout the century locally-produced literary and general periodicals were a feature of the market, with a flowering in the last decade. The Medley and the Serio-Jocular Medley were rival publications, printed in the 1730s. The Weekly Repository, begun in 1779, covered a broad range of topics: history, philosophy, mathematics, poetry, ‘with several curious and entertaining originals’. Lord’s Cork Weekly Magazine from 1790, the Quiz (1794), the Medler (1795), the Tickler (1795), the Rover (1795-96), the Museum (1796), the Monthly Miscellany (1796), and the Casket (1797-98) were all short-lived literary periodicals in the closing years of the eighteenth century.[94]

Books published in parts, and selling for the price of a monthly magazine, were frequently advertised. The Corke Journal carried advertisements for A new and complete dictionary of arts and sciences in 1754. Published in London by W. Owen in seventy-four weekly numbers, priced at a British 6d. each, and stitched in blue paper, the whole work was to contain 300 copper plates. A four-page prospectus was issued in 1754 and subscriptions were taken by Richard James in Dublin and Eugene Swiney in Paul Street, Cork. The finished work came to four volumes octavo, with over 3,500 pages and 302 plates, and the cost of £1.17s. was spread over a year and a half.[95] In 1770 A new description of England and Wales was sold in sixty numbers at 6½d. each, complete with 240 copper plates.[96] In 1775 The exemplary life of the pious Lady Guion, translated from the French by Henry Brooke, was printed by subscription in ten numbers at 6½d. each, with John Busteed as Cork agent. The work was to come to one volume octavo of about 500 pages, costing 5s.5d. The only surviving edition was printed in Dublin by William Kidd in 1775, and contains a list of subscribers, and therefore is likely to have been the edition advertised.[97] A ‘new and improved edition’ of the Complete dictionary of arts and sciences was proposed in 1778. This would be a folio edition published in seventy-five weekly parts, costing one British shilling each. Subscribers could purchase the weekly parts, receive four numbers monthly to be delivered with their monthly magazines, receive each volume as published, or wait for the completed work in three volumes, ‘elegantly bound and lettered’. Booksellers in the main cities and towns around Ireland were agents for the publication, in Cork subscriptions were taken by Thomas White, Mary Edwards and William Flyn.[98]

Local publications consisted of books, newspapers, periodicals, pamphlets, and ephemera such as song sheets. Book production was mainly made up of reprints, concentrating especially on social and political tracts, religious works including sermons and works of controversy, plays, novels, poetry, school books, history, travels and literary miscellanies. Original works by local authors were also published, consisting mainly of tracts relating to political issues of the day, school books, poetry and novels. James Solas Dodd, naval surgeon turned schoolmaster, contributed to the literary life of the city in the 1770s on a number of levels. He published his Essay on education in 1770, setting out in detail his plan for a new academy on Hammond’s Marsh. The venture was supported by some of Cork’s leading cultural figures: Henry Sheares, Dr Joseph Fenn Sleigh, Dr John Longfield and others. An advertisement was placed in the Hibernian Chronicle for the Essay, which could be purchased from booksellers in Cork, Waterford and Limerick.[99] Dodd’s Essays and poems were published by Eugene Swiney in the same year, the work attracting 255 subscribers. The last leaf carried proposals for printing by subscription Dodd’s Satyrical and moral lecture upon hearts.[100] When the theatre came to town in the summer of 1770 Dodd performed his Satirical and moral lecture in the Theatre Royal, George’s Street, on 7 August. It was accompanied by his Comical dissertation on noses, and his recitation of Garrick’s Ode in honour of Shakespeare, written for the Shakespeare jubilee in 1769. The night’s performance was ordered by the deputy grand master of masons of Munster. The Hibernian Chronicle carried the advertisement, which also announced that Essays and poems would be ready for subscribers by 4 August.[101]

The last decade of the century saw a much increased level of literary activity in the city, and the publication of several original works. The locally-produced literary magazines, although short-lived, testify to this upsurge in literary interest. John Connor, James Haly and Michael Harris were to the fore in publishing original works of fiction and poetry, usually by subscription. Conor’s literary output was especially significant, publishing at least twenty-seven literary titles in the twenty year period from 1794, more than half of which were original works.[102] Women authors were prominent from the 1770s, when literary contributors of both sexes were encouraged by William Flyn and the Hibernian Chronicle.[103] A selection of pieces from the newspaper were published in a volume entitled The modern monitor, or Flyn’s speculations in 1770.[104] The contributors included Henry Sheares, Dr John Longfield, Dr Joseph Fenn Sleigh, Mrs Sheares, Mrs Elizabeth Gray, Mrs Stack, Miss Waterhouse and Mrs Therry. Flyn’s daughter, Eliza, who married James Haly in 1788, was a frequent contributor to the Hibernian Chronicle.[105] Anna Millikin’s novels and other writings began to be published in Cork from the 1790s. She and her brother Richard, lawyer and poet, founded the Casket, or Hesperian magazine, a literary periodical, in 1797, which lasted until the rebellion in 1798. Her first novel, Corfe castle, was published by James Haly in 1793, and later novels, Eva (1795), Plantagenet (1802), and The rival chiefs (1804) were published by John Connor. Her works attracted a popular audience as can be seen from the subscription lists, and in particular the number of copies taken by booksellers for resale.[106] As a teacher in the English academy for females in Cork, she also wrote textbooks ‘for the use of her pupils’.[107]

Circulating libraries catered for those wishing to read, rather than purchase or collect. In 1770 Thomas Lord’s new circulating library, ‘under the exchange coffee house’, was open to the public from six in the morning until nine at night, where he offered to lend ‘the most extensive variety of books’, including newly published books.[108] Michael Matthews ran his circulating library in conjunction with a secondhand and rare book trade. It is most likely, however, that only new and popular books were lent from the library.[109] Anthony Edwards announced his new circulating library in 1787, comprising 6,000 volumes from London and Dublin, with a promise to lend every new publication.[110] Not much is known about the actual operation of circulating libraries, it seems likely that books were chosen from catalogues or written lists, but readers may have taken pot luck, hoping to borrow whatever popular titles were available. A certain insight is forthcoming from a proposal to establish a circulating library ‘on a new and elegant plan’, carried in the Cork Gazette in February 1794. At a subscription fee of 11s.4½d. per year, the female proprietors targeted women and young persons, with the objective of blending amusement with instruction.[111] They intended to fit up the library in a neat manner for the reception of ladies, thus giving them an opportunity of ‘looking over the books’ instead of sending servants. This implies that it was the norm for library books to be chosen from catalogues, with readers not actually visiting the premises. It is not clear if the same conventions applied to male readers. John Connor’s circulating library at 17 Castle Street contained ‘upwards of 4,000 volumes’ in 1794 and he offered to hire out every new publication.[112] He imported new novels from London, ensuring that he carried the most up-to-date stock.[113] His own printing output was strong on novels, plays and poetry, as well as political pamphlets and trials. Dominick Jacotin, a teacher of French and Italian, embarked on a new venture at the end of the century, establishing a bookshop and circulating library for English, French and Italian books, in Patrick Street. The only remaining fragment of his 1803 catalogue lists a portion of his English novels, and gives no indication of his foreign language stock.[114]


Because of its situation and topography Cork retained its medieval contours until the eighteenth century, resulting in the dominance of the intra-mural core until well into the century. The expense and difficulty of draining the marshes and arching over the water channels ensured that expansion was slow. Thus prime sites were reserved for public buildings, mansion houses for affluent citizens, and up-market businesses. The exchange, arguably Cork’s finest public building, exerted a major influence in the city. The custom house, situated by the river, east of the walled city, while the hub of the port, accommodating the collector of Cork and the customs and excise, did not dominate the administration of the city to the same extent. The book trade established itself where it was most needed: in the heart of the commercial and administrative centre, and close to the homes of the wealthy.

Bookselling enterprises in the city were long-lived, many staying in business for some decades, with succession by family members or other booksellers a feature of the trade. This stability resulted from a guaranteed market for the goods and services offered. The range of business activities engaged in by booksellers was impressive, covering every aspect of production, distribution and marketing, and extending to ancillary profit-making concerns: conducting circulating libraries, acting as agents for the sale of patent medicines and lottery tickets, leasing lands and hiring servants. Expansion is evident from about mid-century when towns in the county were brought within the distribution network of the city booksellers, thanks to the contacts set up for newspaper sales and the supply of stationery. Booksellers catered for the luxury trade, creating an audience for their works among the population through extensive advertising. Their products and services had become essential in the practice of local government, legal and commercial affairs. Throughout the century the newspaper had become indispensable to corporate bodies for information, advertising and the publication of notices. The reading public, too, came to depend on the newspaper for news, advertising, and contact with the outside world.

Images courtesy of Dublin City Library & Archive (www.dublincitypubliclibraries.ie )

[1] This article was published in Charles Benson and Siobhán Fitzpatrick eds, That woman! studies in Irish bibliography. A festschrift for Mary ‘Paul’ Pollard (Dublin, The Lilliput Press for the Library Association of Ireland, Rare Books Group, 2005), pp 139-61.

[2] Richard Caulfield, The council book of the corporation of the city of Cork (Guildford, Surrey, J. Billing and Sons, 1876), p. 343.

[3] Council book, pp 617, 644.

[4] Corke Journal, 14 January 1754; 21 October 1754.

[5] Council book, p. 296.

[6] Maurice Hurley, ‘Below sea-level in the city of Cork’, Howard B. Clarke ed., Irish cities (Cork, Mercier Press, 1995), p. 47.

[7] Council book, p. 734.

[8] Edward Lloyd, A description of the flourishing city of Corke (Cork, printed by Andrew Welsh, 1732), pp 5-6.

[9] Charles Smith, The antient and present state of the county and city of Cork (Dublin, printed by A. Reilly for the author, 1750), pp 401-2.

[10] Lloyd, Description of Corke, p. 6. Council book, pp 340, 497, 907.

[11] Maura Cronin, ‘From the “flat o’ the city” to the top of the hill: Cork since 1700’, Clarke, Irish Cities, pp 55-68. W. O’Sullivan, The economic history of Cork city, from the earliest times to the act of union (Cork, Cork University Press, 1937). For the county context in the 1790s see David Dickson, ‘The South Munster region in the 1790s’, John A. Murphy ed., The French are in the bay: the expedition to Bantry Bay 1796 (Cork, Mercier Press, 1997), pp 85-94.

[12] Council book, p. 588.

[13] Hibernian Chronicle, 31 August – 4 September 1775.

[14] Corke Journal, 22 August 1754.

[15] James de la Cour, A prospect of poetry (Cork, T. Lord, 1770), last leaf.

[16] Hibernian Chronicle, 28 June 1770, 30 August 1770.

[17] Hibernian Chronicle, 15 March 1773.

[18] Cork Evening Post, 24 April 1777.

[19] Council book, pp .968, 1066.

[20] Council book, pp 1066-7. The new Cork directory for the year 1795 (Cork, printed and sold by James Haly, 1795).

[21] Cork Gazette, 7 June 1794.

[22] Cork Gazette, 23 August 1797.

[23] Smith, Antient and present state of Cork, p. 407.

[24] Thomas Campbell, A philosophical survey of the south of Ireland (London, printed for W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1777), p.184.

[25] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 31 December 1777-3 January 1778. Richard Lucas, The Cork directory for the year 1787 (Cork, printed for the author by J. Cronin, 1787).

[26] Cork Gazette, 31 October 1795.

[27] Copy of the deed or charter entered into by the associated society to raise a fund for erecting a coffee-house … in the city of Cork (Cork, printed by Anthony Edwards, 1794).

[28] Hibernian Chronicle, 1 March 1781, 5 March 1781.

[29] National Archives of Ireland: Rebellion Papers 620/35/85, no. 5, single sheet flyer.

[30] New Cork Evening Post, 28 November 1793.

[31] Council book, pp 287-8.

[32] Council book, p. 905.

[33] Lloyd, Description  of Corke, p. 12.

[34] Hibernian Chronicle, 8 March 1770; 2 August 1770.

[35] New Cork Evening Post, 28 February 1793. Hibernian Chronicle, 8 August 1793.

[36] New Cork Evening Post, 28 February 1793.

[37] Michael Harris, ‘Newspaper distribution during Queen Anne’s reign’ in Studies in the book trade in honour of Graham Pollard (Oxford, Oxford Bibliographical Society, 1975), pp 139-51.

[38] Council book, pp 306, 363.

[39] Council book, p  368.

[40] Council book, pp 379, 388.

[41] Council book, Walter Pallisser 1746-1760: pp 640, 648, 650, 666, 680, 684, 690, 697, 704, 719, 724, 740. Edmond Browning 1761-1774: pp 747, 764, 772, 791, 810, 819, 831, 839, 849, 860, 870, 885, 896.

[42] Council book, William Maturin 1776-1799: pp 911, 922, 933, 944, 949, 952, 956, 1000-1, 1091, 1132.

[43] Council book, p. 867.

[44] Council book, p. 579.

[45] Council book, p. 757.

[46] Council book, pp 649, 715.

[47] An exact list of the freemen, Cork, 1783, advertised in Volunteer Journal, 1 September 1783. List of the freemen at large, of the city of Cork (Cork, printed by James Haly, [1789]). A ‘correct list of the freemen at large’ was appended to The new Cork directory 1795.

[48] Council book, pp 869, 876.

[49] Council book, pp 477, 521, 581, 612, 616.

[50] Council book, p. 682.

[51] Council book, p. 812.

[52] Council book, pp 875, 893, 988.

[53] Council book, p. 962.

[54] Council book, pp 1071, 1080.

[55] Council book, p. 334.

[56] Council book, p. 404.

[57] The Holy Bible (Dublin, printed by A. Rhames for Eliphal Dobson and William Binauld, 1714).

[58] Council book, p. 433.

[59] Council book, p. 449.

[60] Council book, pp 575, 713.

[61] Council book, p. 474.

[62] Council book, p. 612.

[63] Council book, p. 520.

[64] National Archives of Ireland: Rebellion Papers 620/32/136, three letters. Michael Durie, ‘Irish deism and Jefferson’s republic: Denis Driscol in Ireland and America 1793-1810, Éire-Ireland, xv, 4 (Winter 1990), pp 58-61.

[65] The Harp of Erin, 10 March 1798. National Archives of Ireland: Rebellion Papers 620/35/85 (1) Letter from Nathaniel Massey to the Rt. Hon. Thomas Pelham, 30 January 1798.

[66] Hibernian Chronicle, 17 March 1798.

[67] National Library of Ireland: Seamus Ó Casaide, A history of the periodical literature of Cork from the beginning up to A.D. 1900, typescript, p.58, quoting from The Crown Book of Cork 1798 (Royal Irish Academy, Ms 12.I.4, pp 146-58.)

[68] Council book, p.1123.

[69] Edwards’s Cork remembrancer, by Anthony Edwards, printer, bookseller and stationer, Castle Street (Cork, 1792), final 5 leaves of bookseller’s advertising.

[70] New Cork Evening Post, 14 October 1793.

[71] Rules and regulations for the discipline of His Majesty’s forces (Cork, A. Edwards, 1797). Standing orders for His Majesty’s 30th regiment of foot (Cork, printed by A. Edwards, 1797). The manual and platoon exercises (Cork, printed and sold by A. Edwards, military stationer, 1805).

[72] Certificate to apply for financial allowances for families of militiamen (Cork, A. Edwards, n.d.)

[73] Representative Church Body Library: 331/1/1 Parish register of Douglas, p. 74.

[74] Booksellers’ label pasted inside front cover of General regulations and orders (Cork, printed and sold by Edwards and Savage, military stationers, 1811).

[75] Surviving examples printed by William Flyn in 1774, 1777, 1784, 1787, 1797.

[76] Annual report of the House of Recovery of the city of Cork from November 8th 1802, to November 8th 1803 (Cork, James Haly, 1803), second appendix.

[77] For a discussion of book collecting in the Cork region see J.P. McCarthy, ‘In search of Cork’s collecting traditions: from Kilcrea’s library to the Boole library of today’, Journal of Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, 100 (1995), pp 29-46.

[78] Smith, Antient and present state of Cork, pp 407-8.

[79] Hibernian Chronicle, 9 April 1781.

[80] Máire Kennedy, ‘Eighteenth-century newspaper publishing in Munster and South Leinster’, Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, 103 (1998), pp 67-88. Corke Journal, 8 April 1754. Hibernian Chronicle, 30 April 1770, 14 May 1770, 26 June 1770, 2 January 1772.

[81] Hibernian Chronicle, 20 August 1770.

[82] A catalogue of books in most branches of literature and music, now selling by Anthony Edwards, 3 Castle Street (Cork, 1785). Edwards’s Cork remembrancer, 1792, final 5 leaves.

[83] New Cork Evening Post, 7 October 1793. The new week’s preparation, 17th ed. (Cork, printed and sold by A. Edwards, 1793); 18th ed. (Cork, printed by A. Edwards, 1801).

[84] Hibernian Chronicle, 25 October 1773.

[85] William Smith Clark, The Irish stage in the country towns 1720-1800 (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1965), pp 69-145.

[86] Council book, pp 747, 752.

[87] Hibernian Chronicle, 2 August 1770.

[88] Clark, Irish stage, p. 73.

[89] Hibernian Chronicle, 12 August 1793.

[90] Hibernian Morning Post, 24-27 July 1775; 21-24 August 1775.

[91] Clark, Irish stage, pp 293-347.

[92] Hibernian Chronicle, 23 August 1770.

[93] Máire Kennedy, ‘The distribution of a locally produced French periodical in provincial Ireland: the Magazin à la mode, 1777-1778’, Eighteenth-Century Ireland, 9 (1994), pp 83-98.

[94] Ó Casaide, Periodical literature, pp 50-1.

[95] Corke Journal, 6 May 1754. English short title catalogue (ESTC) N32424; T138158. A British 6d. was equal to 6½d. Irish, and one British shilling to 1s.1d. Irish.

[96] Hibernian Chronicle, 12 July 1770.

[97] Hibernian Morning Post, 23-26 October 1775. ESTC T105810.

[98] Freeman’s Journal, 15-17 January 1778.

[99] J. S. Dodd, An essay on education. With a new plan of an academy (Cork, printed for the author by Eugene Swiney, [1770]). Hibernian Chronicle, 17 May 1770.

[100] J. S. Dodd, Essays and poems, satirical, moral, political and entertaining (Cork, printed by Eugene Swiney for the author, 1770).

[101] Hibernian Chronicle, 26 July 1770, 2 August 1770.

[102] Rolf Loeber and Magda Stouthamer-Loeber, ‘John Connor: a maverick Cork publisher of literature’, 18th and 19th century Irish fiction newsletter, no. 5 (May 1998), pp 1-4.

[103] Hibernian Chronicle, 2 January 1772.

[104] Hibernian Chronicle 30 July 1770.

[105] Ó Casaide, Periodical literature, p.33.

[106] Máire Kennedy, ‘Women and reading in eighteenth-century Ireland’, in Bernadette Cunningham and Máire Kennedy eds The experience of reading: Irish historical perspectives (Dublin, Economic and Social History Society / Rare Books Group (LAI), 1999, pp 78-98).

[107] Anna Millikin, An epitome of ancient history, designed for the use of her pupils (Cork, printed by Edwards and Savage, 1808).

[108] De la Cour, Prospect of poetry, last leaf.

[109] Hibernian Chronicle, 15 March 1773. Cork Evening Post, 24 April 1777.

[110] Hibernian Chronicle, 26 March 1787.

[111] Cork Gazette, 8 February 1794

[112] Edward Holland, Poetical miscellany (Cork, John Connor, 1794).

[113] Cork Gazette, 5 September 1795. Cork Advertiser, 3 May 1800.

[114] Catalogue of the English, French and Italian circulating library, St Patrick Street, Cork, where books are lent by D. Jacotin (Cork, 1803).

William Flyn, provincial bookseller (1764-1801)


Throughout his career William Flyn, at the Shakespeare, Castle Street, Cork,  juggled the various strands of the business of a provincial bookseller. Proprietor of The Hibernian Chronicle newspaper from 1769, he also printed books, pamphlets, legal and administrative documents, and imported books from abroad. Disaster struck in October 1770 when a large stack of chimneys fell through the roof of his printing office, breaking three floors and burying the printing materials in the ruins. Fortunately his journeymen and apprentices were at breakfast and nobody was injured.[1] He put this setback behind him and his business was resumed. He continued to offer money for libraries and advertised secondhand books for sale, he held a diverse stock of printed materials and stationery, including printed forms, parchment, processes, wafers, music, and stamped paper. He stocked the monthly magazines Exshaw’s Gentleman’s and London Magazine and the Gentleman’s Magazine.

He imported paper and in 1773 he received Post, Propatria, Demi, Royal and Imperial papers made by the ‘noted Sterlings of Rotterdam’.[2] Flyn co-operated with other booksellers in Cork, especially with Thomas Lord and Thomas White, and he acted as subscription agent for books published by Dublin and Limerick printers, subscribing to multiple copies. Publishing books of local interest, often by subscription, he used his Dublin and Limerick contacts to sell these works. In 1773 he opened up a ‘correspondence with a principal bookseller in Holland’ for the importation of books, he kept a catalogue at his shop and readers wanting books in any language would be supplied on reasonable terms.[3] As part of his secondhand stock he carried books in French, and it is likely that his customers sought continental publications which could be supplied from the Netherlands.[4] He sold part books and specialised in the sale of children’s books, some of which were imported from Newbery in London.[5] He issued sale catalogues for libraries which were sold by auction, including the libraries of Dr Joseph Fenn Sleigh and Rev. Dr Marmaduke Phillips in 1770 and Sir Richard Cox in 1772.[6] He was a lottery agent and purveyor of patent medicines. As printer of a successful newspaper he established contacts throughout the Munster region for the sale of his publications.


Flyn is not listed as a freeman of Cork, which suggests that he was a Catholic.[7] However, he managed to span the religious divide in a city whose administration was Protestant-dominated at this period. One of the main strands of his business was the publication and sale of works of Catholic interest, many imported from London. In 1773, together with Thomas White, he advertised a catechism written by the Church of Ireland bishop of Cork and Ross, Dr Isaac Mann, and a Bible for children, offering a discount to ‘the benevolent to buy parcels to bestow’.[8] He carried out printing work for Cork Corporation and other bodies in the city. Cork Corporation paid a total of over £762 for printing work and advertisements in The Hibernian Chronicle from 1777 to 1799, averaging just under £35 per annum for 22 years.[9] Showing a humane and charitable face Flyn was one of the founding members of The Society for the Relief and Discharge of Persons Confined for Small Debts, to which he acted as secretary for thirty years.[10] This society was a model of religious co-operation as can be seen by the make-up of its committees. Flyn printed the accounts of the society from 1774.[11] From subscription lists to his publications it is evident that support for his business came from the clergy and congregations of several denominations, officers of the English army stationed in Cork, local landed gentry and aristocracy, and local officials from the major cities and towns in the region.

All images courtesy of Dublin City Library & Archive (www.dublincitypubliclibraries.ie )

[1] Hibernian Chronicle 4 October 1770. Freeman’s Journal 9-11 October 1770.

[2] Hibernian Chronicle 11 February 1773.

[3] Hibernian Chronicle 25 October 1773.

[4] In 1769 he advertized a two-volume Bible in French, St. Francis de Sales in French, as well as grammars, works of history and philosophy. Hibernian Chronicle 25 December 1769.

[5] Hibernian Chronicle 20 August 1770; 2 January 1772; 16 April 1772; 24 December 1772.

[6] Hibernian Chronicle 12 July 1770; 23 August 1770; 30 October 1770. A Catalogue of a Valuable Library, Collected by the late Chancellor Cox, Sir Richard Cox, and the Rev. Sir Michael Cox, Bart. … which will be sold by auction … at Mr Zachery Morris’s Great Room … (Cork, printed by William Flyn, 1772). ESTCT162448.

[7] Cork City and County Archives, ‘Alphabetical list of freemen of the city of Cork’. Transcribed from collection U.11 ‘Index/Digest to Council Books of the Corporation of Cork with alphabetical list of the freemen’ by John O’Shea. Covers freemen admissions from 31 October 1710 to 25 October 1841.

[8] A Familiar Exposition of the Church Catechism by Dr Isaac Mann, Bishop of Cork and Ross, and The Children’s Bible by an eminent divine of the Church of England. Hibernian Chronicle 20 April 1772.

[9] Richard Caulfield, The Council Book of the Corporation of the City of Cork (Guilford, Surrey, 1876), pp.915, 985, 1009, 1015, 1021, 1042, 1078, 1097, 1107, 1117, 1127, 1132.

[10] Cork Mercantile Chronicle 20 December 1811.

[11] A Short Account of the Institution, Rules, and Proceedings of  the Cork Scoiety for the Relief and Discharge of Persons Confined for Small Debts, accounts have survived for 1774, 1777, 1783, 1784, 1787 and 1797.

William Flyn, bookseller at the Sign of Shakespeare, Cork.

William Flyn worked as a printer, bookseller, stationer and newspaper proprietor at the Sign of Shakespeare in Cork for nearly forty years. He had his bookshop in the heart of the old city at Castle Street, close to the civil and legal administration.[1]


The earliest reference to Flyn is in 1764 when his name appears on the imprint of John Dryden’s The Hind and the Panther, printed by Thomas Meighan the younger in Drury Lane, London, and sold by William Flyn, bookseller in Cork.[2] The verso of the final leaf carries advertisements for Flyn’s stock of works of Catholic interest. The imprint is tantalising and presents two main possibilities. The 24 year old Flyn, newly in business, may have printed this classic work himself, but lacking confidence in the market or fearing danger due to the subject matter, decided to give it a London imprint. Thomas Meighan’s name would have been an obvious choice to use as a false imprint, and it is interesting to note that his surname is misspelt as Meaghan. Thomas Meighan the elder was a Catholic, overtly dealing in books of Catholic interest from about 1715 to 1753. His high-profile stance on political matters relating to Catholic affairs would have made his name known. His son, Thomas, continued to publish and sell Catholic books, thus keeping the name alive in Catholic circles. The second possibility suggests a reciprocal arrangement with Meighan, in which Flyn tapped the Irish market for the sale of the book and Meighan printed Flyn’s advertisement at the end of the publication. Meighan would certainly have been one of Flyn’s main suppliers of Catholic works. In either case Flyn chose to place himself at the centre of Catholic book production and distribution by associating himself with one of the chief London printers supplying the market in Catholic books.

The books advertised at the end of The Hind and the Panther, 22 in all, are Catholic works, and set the tone for Flyn’s future business. The list included a five volume Bible, works by Challenor and Blyth, An Introduction to a Devout Life by St Francis de Sales, The Catholic Christian Instructed and Scupoli’s The Spiritual Combat. No publication details are given and there are no surviving examples of any of these titles printed by Flyn at this time, although he did print an edition of The Spiritual Combat in 1772. An examination of editions published in or before 1764, indicate that many could have been Dublin imprints, issued by Bartholomew Gorman, Eleanor Kelly or, after 1755, by the executors of Eleanor Kelly. Two titles, The Evening-Office of the Church in Latin and English and Challoner’s The Garden of the Soul, could have come from the press of Thomas Meighan, the first published in 1759, the second in 1751 and again in 1764. The Evening-Office was also printed by Eleanor Kelly in 1754, and The Garden of the Soul printed for her executors in 1759. Flyn set out his business plan at the end of the volume: intending ‘to keep himself well supplied with all sorts of books fit for the closet or school’, offering money for libraries or parcels of books, offering a binding service, and willing to ‘write for books by commission’.


Flyn continued to print and sell works of Catholic interest. His imprint on the publication of An Abstract of the Doway Catechism in 1774 read ‘where may be had the greatest variety of Catholick books by wholesale and retail’.[3] In it he advertised a ‘variety of Catholic books and school books, printed and sold by William Flyn’. He noted two titles ‘just published’ by him: Challoner’s Considerations upon Christian Truths in two volumes, selling at 5s.5d. bound, which he printed the previous year, and The Spiritual Combat, a new edition printed on a large type and fine paper, priced at 1s.7½ d, printed in 1772.[4] Flyn had advertized proposals for printing Challoner’s Considerations by subscription in January 1772, his subscription agents were Richard Fitzsimons and Thomas Walker in Dublin, Hugh and James Ramsey in Waterford, Edmund Finn in Kilkenny, and Catherine Long in Limerick. Volume one was completed in February 1773, with volume two due to follow shortly.[5] He printed the single sheet prospectus for the new Augistinian Catholic school, the Brunswick Street Academy, established in 1783.[6] Flyn was involved with the Catholic Committee as they sought relief for Catholics from civil and legal restrictions. He is noted as secretary to the committee in an advertisement placed in The Hibernian Chronicle in October 1792 announcing a meeting of the Roman Catholics of the county and city of Cork ‘for the purpose of signing a declaration of their sentiments’.[7] He printed a single sheet account of this general meeting, chaired by Dr Justin McCarthy. The account was also printed on the front page of the Chronicle on 18 October 1792.[8]


Flyn managed to span the religious divide in a city whose administration was Protestant-dominated at this period. In 1773, together with Thomas White, he advertised a catechism written by the Church of Ireland bishop of Cork and Ross, Dr Isaac Mann, and a Bible for children, offering a discount to ‘the benevolent to buy parcels to bestow’.[9] He carried out printing work for Cork Corporation and other bodies in the city. Cork Corporation paid a total of over £762 for printing work and advertisements in The Hibernian Chronicle from 1777 to 1799, averaging just under £35 per annum for 22 years.[10] Showing a humane and charitable face Flyn was one of the founding members of The Society for the Relief and Discharge of Persons Confined for Small Debts, to which he acted as secretary for thirty years.[11] This society was a model of religious co-operation as can be seen by the make-up of its committees. Flyn printed the accounts of the society from 1774.[12]

All images courtesy of Dublin City Library & Archive (www.dublincitypubliclibraries.ie )

[1] Máire Kennedy, ‘At the Exchange: the eighteenth-century book trade in Cork’, in Charles Benson and Siobhán Fitzpatrick (eds), That woman! Studies in Irish Bibliography, a Festschrift for Mary ‘Paul’ Pollard (Dublin, 2005), pp 139-61.

[2] John Dryden, The Hind and the Panther (London, printed by T. Meaghan in Drury Lane, and sold by William Flyn, bookseller in Cork, 1764). ESTC T221936

[3] An Abstract of the Doway Catechism. For the Use of Children, and Ignorant People (Cork, printed by William Flyn, 1774). ESTC T183672.

[4] The Spiritual Combat … Also Twelve Advantages Arising from the Contemplation of Death (Cork, printed by William Flyn, 1772). ESTC T82143. Richard Challoner, Considerations upon Christian Truths (Cork, printed by William Flyn, 1773). ESTC T221720 (ESTC wrongly gives date of [1780?]).

[5] Hibernian Chronicle 13 January 1772; 4 February 1773.

[6] William D. O’Connell, ‘An Eighteenth Century Cork Manuscript. The Augustinian Academy at Brunswick Street, 1783-1787’, Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society,  XLV., no. 161 (January-June 1940), pp 33-7.

[7] Hibernian Chronicle 8 October 1792.

[8] At a General Meeting of the Roman Catholics of the County and City of Cork … held at the Cork Tavern, the 15th October, 1792, [Cork, Mr Flyn, printer, 1792]. ESTC N033349. Hibernian Chronicle 18 October 1792.

[9] A Familiar Exposition of the Church Catechism by Dr Isaac Mann, Bishop of Cork and Ross, and The Children’s Bible by an eminent divine of the Church of England. Hibernian Chronicle 20 April 1772.

[10] Richard Caulfield, The Council Book of the Corporation of the City of Cork (Guilford, Surrey, 1876), pp 915, 985, 1009, 1015, 1021, 1042, 1078, 1097, 1107, 1117, 1127, 1132.

[11] Cork Mercantile Chronicle 20 December 1811.

[12] A Short Account of the Institution, Rules, and Proceedings of the Cork Scoiety for the Relief and Discharge of Persons Confined for Small Debts, accounts have survived for 1774, 1777, 1783, 1784, 1787 and 1797.

William Flyn and a family of booksellers

Of the many successful booksellers working in Cork in the second half of the eighteenth century William Flyn offers an insight into a number of different aspects of the book trade and the cultural life of the region. Flyn was advertising books of Catholic interest from the start of his career, and as printer of The Hibernian Chronicle, he established a rapport with his readership throughout Munster, offering literary fare through the pages of the paper. William Flyn was born in 1740, possibly in Limerick.[1] His father, Sylvester, was residing in Engine Alley in Dublin at the time of his death in 1778.[2] His uncle, Laurence Flin, had a thriving bookselling, bookbinding and book auctioneering business at Castle Street, Dublin, from the mid 1750s until his death in 1771. Laurence Flin was warden of the Guild of St Luke the Evangelist, the guild of cutlers, painter-stainers and stationers, and was elected to Dublin’s Common Council. Laurence was succeeded by another nephew, Laurence Larkin, who took the surname Flin when he took over the business.[3] Edward Flin, printer in Limerick, may also have been a relative. William was in Cork from at least 1764 and he remained in the city for the rest of his life. He gave up the bookselling business in 1801 and died a decade later, in December 1811.[4]

Exchange-CorkWilliam Flyn seems to have been a Catholic, he is given as secretary to the committee of Roman Catholics of the county and city of Cork in 1792 (Hibernian Chronicle 8 October 1792). His daughters and their families were prominent in Catholic circles, although his Dublin cousins were almost certainly members of the Church of Ireland, holding high office within the guild and on the common council. He is not listed as a freeman of Cork, which supports the idea that he may have been a Catholic. Flyn had at least four daughters, Eliza, the eldest, married the bookseller James Haly in 1788, Mary married Francis Hynes, from Galway, a linen draper in 1791; both sons-in-laws had their businesses near the Exchange in Cork.[5] James and Eliza Haly had six sons and three daughters. At least three of their sons attended the Jesuit Stonyhurst College in England, their third son, Robert, joined the Jesuit order and was rector of Clongowes Wood College, County Kildare, from 1836 to 1850.[6] James Haly died in 1850, aged 86 years. Mary and Francis Hynes lost their eldest son, William, in 1807, he died in his 13th year while attending Carlow College, a leading Catholic school.[7] In 1822 their son, Timothy, was taken into partnership with his father in the linen and silk drapery business.[8] Mary Hynes died in 1827 leaving a large family.[9] Another daughter, Charlotte, married John A. Pearce, merchant and grocer, in 1800.[10] Flyn’s 11 year old daughter, Lelia Sophia, died after a long illness in 1795 and his wife died in 1799.[11] William Flyn died at his home on George’s Quay on 20 December 1811, aged 71 years.[12]

Hibernian-ChronicleJames Haly, Flyn’s son-in-law and himself a successful bookseller, took over the printing of The Hibernian Chronicle in 1801, changing the name to Flyn’s Hibernian Chronicle. Haly also specialised in Catholic publications, one of his earliest being An Humble Remonstrance, published in 1789, in which the author argues for Catholic participation in the commercial life of Cork. An Irish language catechism, An Teagusg Criesdeegh, was published by Haly and Thomas White in 1792. According to his son Robert, James Haly kept a classical school in which he provided instruction for boys who wished to become priests.[13] Haly’s business seemed to thrive, but one year after Flyn’s death, in 1812, he got into serious difficulties.[14] He was guaranteed to the sum of £7,000 by his brother-in-law, Francis Hynes. When he failed to recover Hynes withdrew support, turned him out of his bookshop and handed it over to Jeremiah Geary, also a printer of Catholic books. Eliza Haly later described her ejection from her home, with nothing but ‘a slop bowl of raspers’.[15]

All images courtesy of Dublin City Library & Archive (www.dublincitypubliclibraries.ie )

[1] International Genealogical Index compiled by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

[2] Walker’s Hibernian Magazine, VIII (January 1778), p.64. Hibernian Chronicle 12 January 1778.

[3] M. Pollard, A Dictionary of Members of the Dublin Book Trade 1550-1800 (London, 2000).

[4] Cork Mercantile Chronicle 20 December 1811.

[5] Cork Evening Post 17 June 1788; 29 August 1791.

[6] Rev. Henry Browne, S.J., ‘Father Robert Haly, S.J. (1796-1882)’ in A Roll of Honour: Irish Prelates and Priests in the Last Century, with preface by Most Rev. John Healy, D.D. (Dublin, 1905), pp.247-94. I am very grateful to Penny Woods, Librarian at the Russell Library, Maynooth, for this reference.

[7] Cork Advertiser 21 April 1807.

[8] The Constitution 15 July 1822.

[9] The Constitution 8 March 1827.

[10] Hibernian Chronicle 3 November 1800.

[11] Cork Evening Post 10 December 1795; 23 May 1799.

[12] Cork Mercantile Chronicle 20 December 1811.

[13] Browne, ‘Father Robert Haly’, pp.248-49.

[14] Cork Advertiser 14 April 1812.

[15] Séamus Ó Casaide, A History of the Periodical Literature of Cork from the Beginning up to A.D. 1900, typescript, National Library of Ireland (Ir 6551 C2).

The book trade in eighteenth-century Munster

Hibernian-Atlas-MunsterIn the last quarter of the eighteenth century Cork was Ireland’s second city, with a population estimated at about 70,000.[1] Travellers to the city described how busy it was, the streets thronged with people.[2] As early as 1732 Edward Lloyd of London considered Cork the second city of Ireland but the first sea-port for trade.[3] Two decades later Charles Smith encountered the outlines of the medieval city still much in evidence, but he noticed new houses beginning to replace the decayed ones; he described the Spanish-style mansion houses with balcony windows being built along the North and South Main Streets.[4] From the middle of the century the city began to expand beyond its medieval core, channels of the river were culverted, marshy areas were drained and new streets formed.[5]

The city was at the centre of a wealthy and populous hinterland.[6] Agricultural produce from much of the Munster region was brought to the port of Cork for export and to supply the lucrative provisioning trade for transatlantic shipping, including the vessels of the English navy. Wool was brought from as far afield as Galway and Roscommon for export.[7] Thomas Campbell, in his tour of 1777, echoing the observations of other travellers before him, was impressed with Cork Harbour: ‘The harbour called the Cove is one of the best in the world; the entrance is safe; and the whole navy of England may ride in it secure from every wind that blows.’[8] The size and security of the deep-water harbour, in addition to the prime situation of Cork for trade with the West Indies and the Americas, ensured its prosperity throughout the century. Cork merchants became wealthy thanks to the export trade, and many built fine villas on the salubrious hillsides overlooking the harbour, from Blackrock, Glanmire and Tivoli, to Passage and Monkstown.

By the 1760s the city was only beginning to find its place as a cultural centre although the book trade was active from the early years of the century and visiting troupes of actors had been bringing theatrical entertainment in the summer season from the late 1730s.[9] The first newspapers published in the city were short-lived: The Idler and The Cork Intelligence were published in 1715, the Cork News-Letter and a reprint of the Free-Holder were issued about 1717, but it was not until the 1750s that regular newspapers could be sustained.[10] In 1750 there were two coffee houses, the Exchange and English coffee houses, situated near the Exchange in Castle Street. Here the English and Dublin newspapers could be read, Smith tells us that: ‘The better sort are fond of news and politics, and are well versed in public affairs.’[11] Later in the century two new coffee houses were established, the Merchant’s coffee house, and the Tontine coffee house which opened in 1793.[12] In the coffee houses newspapers and pamphlets could be read and book subscriptions were taken.

By the last quarter of the century the Irish language was still spoken by many of the inhabitants of the city and surrounding areas.[13] The business of the city and port, however, was carried out in English, and virtually all printing work was in English. Many booksellers and stationers worked in the city from the early years of the century catering for the civil administration and Cork’s intellectual elite. Books were distributed from Dublin or imported directly from London. Because of Cork’s prime position for trade the road networks were extensive. Local booksellers distributed their printed works to the main towns in Munster using the Post Office network and private couriers to circulate newspapers, periodicals and books.

Image courtesy of Dublin City Library & Archive (www.dublincitypubliclibraries.ie )

[1] K.H. Connell, The Population of Ireland, 1750-1845 (Oxford, 1950). Thomas Campbell, A Philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland, in a series of letters to John Watkinson, M.D. (London, 1777), p.4. ESTCT84447. Campbell estimates the population of Dublin to be above 160,000. Samuel Derrick, Letters Written from Leverpoole, Chester, Corke, the lakes of Killarney, Dublin, Tunbridge-Wells, and Bath, 2 vols (Dublin, 1767), i, p.34. ESTCT135402. Arthur Young, A Tour Through Ireland, 2 vols (Dublin, 1780), ii, p.66. ESTCT78931. Derrick estimates the population of Cork at 80,000 in 1760, while Young puts it about 67,000, based on hearth money returns, in 1780. Young’s figure is considered the more accurate.

[2] Arthur Young, A Tour Through Ireland, ii, p.65.

[3] Edward Lloyd, A Description of the Flourishing City of Corke (Corke, 1732). ESTCT164728

[4] Charles Smith, The Antient and Present State of the County and City of Cork (Dublin, 1750), pp.407-8. ESTCT97653

[5] Maurice Hurley, ‘Below sea-level in the city of Cork’, Howard B. Clarke (ed.), Irish Cities (Cork, 1995), p.47.

[6] For a detailed discussion of Cork’s importance as an agricultural centre see David Dickson, Old World Colony: Cork and South Munster 1630-1830 (Cork, 2005), and for a more succinct account David Dickson, ‘The South Munster Region in the 1790s’, in John A. Murphy (ed.), The French are in the Bay: the expedition to Bantry Bay, 1796 (Cork, 1997).

[7] Young, A Tour Through Ireland, ii, p.68.

[8] Campbell, A Philosophical Survey, p.191. Edward Lloyd, Description of Corke, p.8.

[9] William Smith Clark, The Irish Stage in the County Towns 1720-1800 (Oxford, 1965).

[10] James O’Toole (ed.), Newsplan, revised edition (London and Dublin, 1998). Robert Munter, The History of the Irish Newspaper 1685-1760 (Cambridge, 1967).

[11] Charles Smith, The Antient and Present State of Cork, ii, p.407.

[12] Copy of the Deed or Charter entered into by the Associated Society to Raise a Fund for Erecting a Coffee-House … in the City of Cork (Cork, 1794).

[13] Seán Beecher, An Gaeilge in Cork City: an historical perspective to 1894 (Cork, 1993).

Ireland’s 18th-century provincial book trade

The Dublin book trade experienced a golden age in the eighteenth century. Its prosperity was largely due to the reprint business. The provisions of the British Copyright Act of 1709 were not considered by the Irish Parliament and were not adopted as law in Ireland. Dublin booksellers could legally reprint any new publication first published in London, without having to pay for copy. Production costs were also lower in Dublin resulting in substantially lower prices for the reprints than for the London originals. This angered the London booksellers who labelled the Dublin booksellers ‘pirates’. The loss of the Irish market was considerable (Ireland was the second largest export market for books after America), but when Irish reprints were sold into Britain, undercutting local publications, steps were taken to reduce the impact. The British Importation Act of 1739 forbade the importation into Britain of any book first written, printed and published in Britain and reprinted abroad.[1] This act also had implications for the Dutch book trade. Relations between Irish and British booksellers were not all negative, authorised reprints and exchange of copy did occur. Subscriptions were taken for British publications and advertising of London publications did appear in the Irish press, but this was less than it would otherwise have been.

Irish provincial towns in which the eighteenth-century book trade was centred acted as focal points for their own regions, but all were inextricably linked to the Dublin trade. Dublin dominated all other ports in the importation of books, and Dublin booksellers provided for the bulk of the country trade in books and stationery. Yet from at least mid-century the regions could boast a vigorous local trade which, while largely dependent on the capital, displayed distinct local characteristics. Each of the four provinces can be seen to have regional variations, in some instances linked to linguistic or ethnic factors. The Post Office network, so vital to the book trade up to 1800, employed four clerks to administer the service, clerks of the north, south, east and west roads, connecting the four provincial capitals to the G.P.O. in Dublin. These clerks were responsible for newspaper and periodical distribution to subscribers in the country. The publication days of the early Dublin newspapers were set to coincide with post days for the country.


A spread of towns was active in the eighteenth-century book trade, towns where printing was carried out, where a newspaper was produced, where books were imported from abroad, or where books, periodicals and stationery were sold by wholesale and retail. Chief among these towns by mid-century were Kilkenny, Carlow, Drogheda and Athlone in Leinster, Galway and Sligo in Connacht, Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Ennis, Tralee and Clonmel in Munster, and Belfast, Derry and Newry in Ulster, with many others becoming important in the last quarter of the century. It is noticeable that towns in the hinterland of Dublin were slower to set up their own printing and newspaper businesses, as they could be supplied promptly and cheaply from the main distributors in Dublin.

Seaport towns had many advantages over their inland counterparts when it came to book and newspaper production and sale. As transport costs contributed greatly to the price of books, booksellers who could directly import paper, type and leather for binding, as well as unbound books, periodicals and newspapers, could dispense with the extra costs involved in purchasing through a wholesale distributor in Dublin. In practice, provincial booksellers tended to employ both methods of acquiring materials. Up-to-date news was also more readily available in the ports, where incoming packets brought personal and commercial correspondence and foreign newspapers and gazettes. During the American war of independence, newspapers from southern ports like Cork and Waterford, often scooped the Dublin papers with the latest news, gathered from trans-Atlantic shipping carrying the mails. For the sale of books also the ports had the advantage of regular connections with other ports in Ireland and abroad. John Ferrar, printer and bookseller in Limerick, and proprietor of the Limerick Chronicle, offered quantities of his publications at special reduced rates to ‘Masters of ships’ in 1769. [2] It has long been suspected that an illicit trade in book exportation may have been carried on with the American colonies in the period prior to the free trade acts of 1780/81, but evidence to date is slight. It is known that a thriving trade in smuggled books existed between Dublin and Scottish ports in the late eighteenth century. [3]

Literacy and the means of communication: Two basic elements are necessary for a provincial trade in books to be viable. The first is the ability to read, combined with the wish to acquire reading matter, on the part of a significant proportion of the population, and the second involves the means of supplying the printed texts to likely consumers, advertising to draw attention to them and to create a demand among readers. By the middle of the eighteenth-century in Ireland both elements were beginning to be in place. Literacy in the English language increased substantially throughout the country, but development was uneven.

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  1. M. Pollard, Dublin’s trade in books 1550-1800, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1989, pp 70-72.
  2. Limerick Chronicle, 13 March 1769.
  3. Warren McDougall, ‘Smugglers, reprinters, and hot pursuers: the Irish-Scottish book trade, and copyright prosecutions in the late 18th century’ in R. Myers and M. Harris eds. The Stationers’ Company and the book trade 1550-1990, Winchester, 1997, pp 151-183.