From Small Acorns!Written by Lorcan
James Duffy was arguably the man who started it all off. Born in Co. Cavan in 1809 he was the product of the nineteenth century hedge schools. These schools, sometimes conducted out in the fields and hedgerows, were the recourse for Catholics who wanted an education, in the face of the Penal Laws. It’s not recorded how and by what motivation Duffy went to the school. However the Dictionary of Irish Biography has it that he is believed to have first made a living as a pedlar in Cavan and Meath. He had much bigger achievements in mind.
His life in the publishing trade life started with the formation of a relationship with one Bryan Geraghty. According to a contributor to the Irish Magazine, writing in 1895 twenty-five years after Duffy’s death,
‘During his wanderings he picked up sundry old Irish manuscripts which he took to Bryan Geraghty of Anglesea Street, Dublin an old bookseller of antiquarian proclivities, getting from him in exchange, Catholic prayer-books.’
Proselytizing protestant missionaries in those days, distributed copies of the Bible to Irish households, in an attempt to encourage conversions. Duffy bought these up from houses which he visited, took them to Liverpool and traded them for saleable books which he then took back to Ireland. On reaching the age of thirty he in turn set up shop in Anglesea Street trading as a publisher, printer and bookseller specialising in catholic books.
In 1725 William Ged a goldsmith from Edinburgh had developed a printing technique that removed the need to reset type every time a page in a book or pamphlet had to be reproduced. “Stereotyping” as the process was named was the result of making a cast of the type and setting it in a lead plate. The plate could then be used for repeat, high-speed print runs.
By the time Duffy started operating, the technology was available in Ireland, and he made good use of it. The demand for low-priced catholic books was high and he proceeded to corner the market. A popular old prayer-book entitled ‘The Key of Heaven’ was his first venture, having bought the plates from Geraghty. Then he printed several books, bringing them in to the reach of the pockets of the ‘poorer classes’. The existing publishing trade got a shake when he re-published a devotional tome ‘Instructions for Youth’ and reduced the price from nine shillings to two shillings. A contract to print and distribute the public statements of catholic prelates then allowed him to claim to be ‘bookseller to the cardinal archbishop of Dublin.
Young Irelander, Charles Gavan Duffy (no relation), editor of the ‘Nation’ newspaper asked him, in 1843, to publish a book of nationalistic ballads ‘The Spirit of The Nation’. This also was a great success and he then moved on to producing popular historical writings. The magazines came next. There had already been some venturing into this field in Ireland. However their writers and audiences were of the sophisticated and learned classes. Weightiness was their hallmark and often they ran to five-hundred pages. Obviously, there was a gap in the market for a quick and easy read.
Duffy filled this with publications which fostered a cosy, family Catholicism, Duffy’s Irish Catholic Magazine, Catholic Guardian, Duffy’s Hibernian Magazine and others. His sales team members were travelling pedlars who sold the product for tuppence a copy. Thus was founded the beginnings of a popular magazine trade in Ireland.
Duffy’s adventurism, dear readers, is how you come to be reading today’s West and Mid Kerry Live. This much esteemed magazine, started in hope and continued with conviction, has reached its one hundredth edition. It has in the time of its existence become essential reading in the community it serves. More power to your elbow.