For almost two thousand years, man has printed on wood. Each written language transcends boundaries and time, bound by a unique code of letters, numbers and symbols, and materials that connect pages of the printed word.
The printing presses and book binding machines that defined the written word are slowly subsiding, but that old world is preserved and re-created every day at the National Print Museum. First opened in 2000, the museum houses a range of old printing machines and artefacts, reflecting changes in innovation and needs, since printing from movable type came to Ireland in the sixteenth century.
A self-guided, free tour of the museum begins with a ten minute video of the different machines on display. Former printers and typesetters give commentaries on the different devices. Among the printing presses on display are the Heidelberg, a highly versatile press that can print on many materials, the Linotype, used for almost a century for printing newspapers, and the Wharfedale stop cylinder press.
The presence of the Wharfedale is fitting given a similar machine was used to print one of the jewels in the museum’s crown: one of the less than forty 1916 ‘Proclamation of the Republic’ posters known to have survived. James Connolly supposedly wanted two thousand printed, but only half of that were produced and posted. The size of the poster and its font will surprise you. It remains at the museum until next year.
For the full value of this museum, it’s probably best to get a guided tour. Tours are available for a small price twice daily on weekdays, mornings and afternoons (except Wednesdays, when there is only one) and Sunday afternoons. On the tour, guides talk you through the three-part, print-shop style exhibition – the composing, printing and finishing areas – laid out as such. Only about a third of the museum’s ten thousand artefacts are on display.
Staff are most helpful at this small museum, situated in the quiet surrounds of the old Beggars Bush Barracks. After your tour, there’s a bright, convivial café where you can unwind. It is a tribute to those who run the museum that a variety of educational events – training in the art of letterpress – lectures and exhibitions (one on exquisite book editions is on right now) are constantly happening, keeping the printed word alive. If you’re in Dublin, and in the area, it’s likely that you’ll find something to enjoy by going to print.