The Gayfield Press
Owned ByBlanaid Salkeld
Caoilfhionn Ní Bheacháin
Background to the Gayfield Press
The launch of the modernist printing press, The Gayfield Press, was heralded by the national papers in Ireland on 25th October 1937, following the publication of its first book, a collection of poetry by the poet and owner of the press, Blanaid Salkeld. In an article entitled 'Woman Poet,' the influential networks of this female writer were underlined:
Blanaid Salkeld is to have a new volume of poetry out shortly, I hear. It is called '...the engine is left running.' Mrs. Salkeld, who has been published in the 'Spectator', 'London Mercury' etc., has a poem in the current number of the 'Criterion' edited by T.S. Eliot.
This was not the first time that Salkeld had been associated with Eliot; her poem 'In Dublin' was published by the Chicago-based periodical Poetry in January 1935, in Eliot's special edition of Irish poetry. She remained in contact with Eliot through her network of friends, involved in the influential and radical Women Writers' Club.
The Gayfield Press operated as a kitchen-press, printing on a wooden hand press from Salkeld's home on 43 Morehampton Road, Dublin. Over nine years from 1937 to 1946, the press published eight books as well as a series of broadsheets of poetry. Marketing its books and broadsheets through subscription and book events, and distributing through the large distribution channels operated by Easons & Co, the Gayfield Press was a commercial entity, publishing 'poetry, belles lettres, music, and fine arts', as its letterhead dictates, whilst maintaining a decisively modernist aesthetic to reflect the social, political and literary ethos of its owner.
Before establishing the Gayfield Press in 1937, Salkeld published two volumes of poetry with British Publishers: Hello Eternity (1933) with London publishers L.K. Mathews and Marrot, and The Fox's Covert (1935) with J.M. Dent. The first publication of the Gayfield Press, …the engine is left running (1937) was her third collection of poetry. Salkeld's son, the modernist artist Cecil ffrench Salkeld, worked alongside his mother, providing visuals to illuminate the text. Cecil's artistic influences stemmed from the German-inspired Neau Sachlicheit Movement, following his time studying in Germany under Ewald Dulberg at the Kunstakademie in Kassel. His experience in publishing stemmed from his involvement with the writer, Frances Stuart, the short-lived periodical To-morrow (1922), most widely known for its publication of William Butler Yeats' controversial poem, 'Leda and the Swan.'
Figure 1. …the engine is left running (1937). This is the first publication of the Gayfield Press featuring cover page with four pictures by Cecil ffrench Salkeld. Image Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.
The first book published by the press …the engine is left running (1937) was produced with a light brown cover, octavo book size, consisting of hard cardboard with a thread binding and using the distinctive typeface Bodoni in twelve-point. Visual designs created by Cecil ffrench Salkeld conjures the essential themes of the poems, situating the texts within their socio-historical context. For example, in the poem 'Shots'. Salkeld gives emotional expression to her sense of disenchantment in the newly independent nation. Powerful imagery adds richness and depth to the blunt semantics of the poem. Important landmarks such as the Mendicity Institution, where the 1916 revolutionaries fought for freedom, now ring 'hollow'; while the 'Guinness's barges', emblems of trade and metropolitan prosperity, 'export barrels' sequence of revolution' which echo the rampant emigration of the 1930s. The illustration of a man in a mackintosh and hat, reminiscent of the revolutionary men, shows a head bowed in disappointment at the development of the city, and by implication, the nation. This strategy is indicative of the aesthetic vision of the editor foregrounded in other books published by the Gayfield Press.
Figure 2. The poem 'Shots' by Blanaid Salkeld, illustrated by Cecil ffrench Salkeld, from the collection ...the engine is left running, (1937). Image Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.
The ideological impulse to promote new poets influenced the second publication of the little-known Ewart Milne, with his first collection of poetry, Forty North, Fifty West (1938). In it, their manifesto was succinctly laid out: 'The Gayfield Press publishes entirely at its own discretion – uninfluenced by fashionable tastes, cliques or coteries. It will continue to bring out limited and illustrated Editions [sic] of special interest.' In projecting a distinctive editorial policy, Salkeld was positioning her press as a specialist press aimed at well-heeled collectors with interest in the Irish book trade.
Figure 3. The poem 'Oboe for Yeats' from Ewart Milnes collection of poetry, Forty North, Fifty West (1938), illustrated by Cecil ffrench Salkeld. Image Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.
The Gayfield Press had a radicalizing intent. It was used to challenge dominant cultures during a period of cultural and political conservatism, calling into question conventional worldviews and providing a vital forum for publishing experimental books. As an act of feminist agency, publishing was a resistance strategy to the growing repressive regime which followed Irish independence. New statutes such as sex-specific legislation, and censorship were introduced, which threatened to, and occasionally succeeded in, silencing women's voices. Ownership of a press conferred power and intellectual freedom for women and the establishment of a press facilitated the creation and production of modernist texts. Following the Censorship of Publications Act 1929, private printing presses were an effective means of circumventing censorship, with their limited editions and specialized readership. As Robin Skelton quipped, 'But what censor cares about a circulation of only 300 copies among the literary and artistic set?' Fergus N. Fitzgerald's book, Sennet for Coriolan (1941), a philosophical, religious, and poetic text, published during the Second World War, exemplifies this in its portrayal of the devastating effect of war on three generations of a German family. The left-leaning Milne published his collection of poetry, Letter from Ireland (1940), with the press, featuring a section on his experiences in the Spanish Civil War. In it, Milne's anti-war sentiments are reinforced by the bold incisive and dark illustrations of Cecil ffrench Salkeld.
Figure 4. Sennet for Coriolan: a chorus for six voices, by Fergus N. FitzGerald. Published by the Gayfield Press in 1941. Image author’s own collection.
Other book publications, listed below, include two children's books, a treatise on nationalism and religion, and a mythological tale from the 9th and 10th centuries, featuring a play entitled 'The Fire-Bringers' dedicated to the nationalist activist and icon Maud Gonne MacBride.
List of book publications
1. …the engine is left running (1938), a collection of poetry by Blanaid Salkeld. Light brown boards, front illustration by Cecil ffrench Salkeld. (8vo). Limited Edition, 250 copies.
2. Once Upon a Time ... Being Stories about a fierce Ogre and a small Boy, and a little Princess and a tiny Bird (circa 1939), by Marcella Ecclesine. This book features four monochrome illustrations by Cecil ffrench Salkeld. (8vo).
Figure 5. One of the four Illustrations by Cecil ffrench Salkeld for Marcella Ecclesine's book Once Upon a Time ... Being Stories about a fierce Ogre and a small Boy, and a little Princess and a tiny Bird (circa 1939).Image Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.
3. Towards Irish Nationalism: A Tract (1938), by Kathleen Kirwin (Sister Mary Bega). Limited edition, 250 copies.
4. Forty North, Fifty West (1938), a collection of poetry by Ewart Milne, including a cover and six original cuts, and a portrait of the author illustrated by Cecil ffrench Salkeld. (8vo) Limited edition, 250 copies.
5. Letter from Ireland (1940), a collection of poetry by Ewart Milne published by the Gayfield Press. Printed on oatmeal cloth, lettered and ruled in red. (9x6).
6. The Fall of the Year (1940) by Moirin Cheavasa. Printed on boards with green cloth, with the title stamped in gold. (9x6). Limited edition, 250 copies.
Figure 6. Moirin Cheavasa's The Fall of the Year (1940) Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.
7. Sennet for Coriolan: A Chorus for Six Voices (1941) by Fergus N. Fitzgerald. (8 x 6), printed on burgundy cloth boards and stamped with gold. Limited edition 250 copies.
8. Lisheen at the Valley Farm and other stories (1946) by Helen Staunton (Sybil Le Brocquy), Patricia Lynch, and Teresa Deevy. Illustrations for Lisheen at the Valley by Beatrice Salkeld (Granddaughter of Blanaid Salkeld). (8vo).
The Gayfield Press published a series of broadsheets featuring modernists such as Sheila Wingfield, Robert Grecean, Roy McFadden, Donagh Mc Donagh, alongside established poets and close friends of the family, Austin Clarke, Seumus O'Sullivan, and Padraig Colum. The nature and the motivation for the series were relayed in a letter to Wingfield, then Viscountess of Powerscourt, in 1939: 'The Gayfield Press intends on bringing out a series of broadsheets – of representative Irish poets. We hope to include with these poets the work of the best Irish Artists.' Despite the commercial set-up of the press, outlined above, contributions were voluntary. Salkeld's intent to encourage the arts was pointed out succinctly to Wingfield in a letter in 1939: 'We [The Gayfield Press] are not in a position to pay fees – as the scheme is a large one and not a commercial proposition – as you may understand.' The bohemian creed of art for art's sake, espoused publicly by Salkeld, depended on like-minded altruistic motivations and a shared passion for an Irish poetic tradition.
The series was a great success. In 1939, they published the poem 'The Jackdaw' by Padraig Colum, with illustrations by Jack B. Yeats, and reproduction of Yeats's hand-colored print, 'The Saddling Bell'. In 1941, Robert Greacen's 'The Bird,' was published with a woodcut produced by Leslie Owen Baxter. Maurice J. Craig's 'Black Swans', with a frontispiece by Sidney Smith. Other broadsheets from 1941 include Austin Clarke's 'The Straying Student' with an illustration by the modernist and cubist artist Mainie Jellet, and Roy McFadden's 'Russian Summer,' with illustrations by Leslie Owen Baxter. In 1942, 'Two Poems' by Norman G. Reddins and an untitled poem by Emily Hughes were published - both with a frontispiece by Cecil ffrench Salkeld. The mix of poems from established poets and new poets appealed to a broad audience – so much so that 300 copies of each poem or pamphlet were required instead of the usual 250.
Figure 7. Roy McFadden's poem 'Russian Summer' (1941). Part of a series of broadsheets published by the Gayfield Press. Image author’s own collection.
Figure 8. Illustration by Leslie Owen Baxter for Roy McFadden's poem 'Russian Summer' (1941). Image author’s own collection.
To date, no record exists of any publication from the press after 1946. The reason for its demise is not yet apparent. Nonetheless, the legacy of the Gayfield Press is seen through the prism of its creative success, its importance as a vehicle for facilitating the careers of emerging poets and modernist artists, as an act of feminist agency, and as representative of poetry from Ireland of the period. The story of the Gayfield forms part of the history of influential small Irish presses in the twentieth-century. These include the Dun Emer Press and the Cuala Press, and later the Dolmen Press. Indeed, Thomas Kinsella's first chapbook The Starlit Eye was printed on the press used by the Gayfield Press. Kinsella would in later years acknowledge the importance of Salkeld to the discussion of essential poets of the twentieth century, suggesting that her poetry should be included in a re-edited The New Oxford Book of Irish Verse. The biography of the Gayfield Press also locates a central role for women in the history of modernist presses.
Bheacháin, Caoilfhionn Ní, 'The Dun Emer Press,' available. https://modernistarchives.com/business/the-dun-emer-press
Brady, Deirdre F., 'Modernist Presses and the Gayfield Press,' Bibliologia, Vol. 9, 2014, pp. 113-128.
Brady, Deirdre F., 'Literary Coteries and the Irish Women Writers’ Club (1933-1958),' unpublished thesis, 2013, University of Limerick.
Collins, Lucy, Poetry by Women in Ireland: A Critical Anthology 1870-1970, Liverpool: Liverpool UP. 2012.
Ingman, Heather and Ó Gallchoir, Clíona (eds), A History of Modern Irish Women’s Literature, Cambridge: Cambridge UP. 2018.
Travis, Trysh, ‘The Women in Print Movement History and Implications’, Book History, vol.11, 2008), pp 275-300.
List of Archival Holdings
Austin Clarke Papers, MS 83, MSS 38,651-38,708, National Library of Ireland.
Sheila Wingfield Papers, MS107, MS 29,047-062/MS 25,559-25,616, National Library of Ireland.
Acknowledgement: I would like to thank the staff of the National Library of Ireland for their assistance.
 The Irish Press, 25 Oct. 1937, p. 5.
 Brady, Deirdre F. Literary Coteries and the Irish Women Writers’ Club (1933-1958), unpublished thesis, University of Limerick, 2013, and forthcoming book of the same title with the Liverpool University Press (Spring-Summer 2021).
 Salkeld, Blanaid to Clarke, Austin, 18 May 1939. Austin Clarke Papers, MS 83, MSS 38,651-38,708, National Library of Ireland.
 For examples of women-led presses, see Wilson, Nicola, 'The Hogarth Press,' available https://modernistarchives.com/business/the-hogarth-press, and Ní Bheacháin, Caoilfhionn, 'The Dun Emer Press,' available https://modernistarchives.com/business/the-dun-emer-press
 Skelton, Robin. 'Twentieth-Century Irish Literature and the Private Press Tradition: Dun Emer, Cuala and the Dolmen Presses 1902-1963.' Massachusetts Review, vol. 5, no. 2, 1964, pp. 374.
 See also Brady, Deirdre F. 'Modernist Presses and the Gayfield Press,' Bibliologia, Vol. 9, 2014, pp. 113-128.
 Salkeld, Blanaid to Wingfield, Sheila, 18 May 1939 (National Library of Ireland, Sheila Wingfield Papers, 107, MS29047/34)
 Salkeld, Blanaid to Wingfield, Sheila 27 May 1939 (National Library of Ireland, Sheila Wingfield Papers, 107, MS 29,047 /34).
 Redshaw, Thomas Dillon. '"The Dolmen Poets": Liam Miller and Poetry Publishing in Ireland, 1951-1961.' Irish University Review, vol. 42, no. 1, 2012, pp. 141–154.
 Ní Bheacháin, Caoilfhionn 'The Dun Emer Press,' available. https://modernistarchives.com/business/the-dun-emer-press
 Gardiner, David 'The Other Irish Renaissance: The Maunsel Poets”,' New Hibernia Review/Irish Éireannach Nua, vol.8. no. 1, 2004, pp 54-79.
 Thomas Kinsella in Interview with Michael Smith, The Poetry Ireland Review, 75 (Winter), 108-119.