Irish Women and Children's Books
Extracts and Original Anecdotes for the Improvement of Youth
Mary Leadbeater (neé Shackleton) (1758-1826) was a Quaker and lived her entire life in the village of Ballitore, Co. Kildare. She corresponded with writers such as Maria Edgeworth and Edmund Burke.
You can read more about Mary Leadbeater on the NCCB database.
OLS POL 7982 no.3
This collection of Edgeworth's stories was illustrated by Norah McGuinness (1901-1980) who studied at The Metropolitan School of Art, Dublin, under Patrick Tuohy and Harry Clarke. She was a founding member of The Irish Exhibition of Living Art and became its president in 1944.
McGuinness's edition breathes new life into Edgeworth's stories and shows their continued appeal to modern readers. The lessons learned by the child characters - about good moral decisions and savvy consumer choices - are just as applicable in the 21st century as in the 19th.
Illustrated by Gertrude D. Hammond
A Daughter of Erin
When translated into Irish, the title of Finny’s book is ‘Iníon na hÉireann’. ‘Inghinidhe na hÉireann’ (Daughters of Ireland) would later become the name of the Irish nationalist women’s group founded and led by Maud Gonne in 1900. The cover art by Gertrude D. Hammond depicts a woman wearing the colours of the Women’s Social and Political Union – green, white and purple.
OLS POL 1258 no.1
Illustrated by Beatrice Elvery
Heroes of the Dawn
Also known as Lady Glenavy, Beatrice Elvery (1883-1970) was an illustrator, stained-glass artist, and sculptor. She attended the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art from the age of thirteen. She painted the above picture while living in Howth. Violet Russell and her husband George Russell (Æ) were actively involved in the Irish Cultural Revival.
OLS POL 5567
Illustrated by Margaret Gregory
The Golden Apple: A Play for Kiltartan Children
Lady Augusta Gregory (1852-1932) was an editor, author, playwright, and co-founder of the Abbey Theatre. Her daughter-in-law, Margaret Gregory (1884-1979), was a prolific artist in both ink and watercolour. The Golden Apple is a play written in the Kiltartan dialect, created by Lady Gregory to portray realistic Irish voices.
OLS POL 7557
Illustrated by Maud Gonne
Ella Young (1867-1956) was an Irish poet and mythologist who later held a Chair in Irish Myth and Folklore at the University of California Berkeley. Born in England, Maud Gonne (1866-1953) was a suffragette and Irish revolutionary who founded Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland) in 1900. In a 1949 speech, Gonne pointed to the continued need for Irish girls to fight for equality, remarking - ‘Irish girls of today, don’t be flappers. Do your work for your country as Inghinidhe na hÉireann did.’
Herminie Templeton Kavanagh
Darby O’Gill and the Good People
New York, 1932
In her 1903 literary fairy tale "The Banshee's Comb", Anglo-Irish-American children's author Herminie Templeton Kavanagh (1861-1933) celebrates empowered and autonomous women with her representation of the iconic banshee from Irish folk tradition. She is ultimately revealed in this extract as a misunderstood figure who is kind and compassionate and has a wry sense of humour. In 1959, Walt Disney released a film based on Kavanagh’s tales called Darby O’Gill and the Little People.
Sinéad de Valera
Illustrated by Charles Bradbury
Irish Fairy Tales (1973)
Sinéad de Valera (neé O’Flanagan) (1878-1975) published over thirty books for children in both Irish and English. A lifelong patriot, she was a founding member of Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland). She wrote fairytales and folktales to help build a specifically Irish national identity, complemented by her teaching of the Irish language.
Illustrated by Edward Ardizzone
The Second Best Children in the World (1972)
Mary Lavin (1912-1996) is one of Ireland’s most celebrated short-story writers and novelists. The Second Best Children in the World follows the adventures of three siblings as they travel around the world. Her other story for children is A Likely Story (1957). Edward Ardizzone (1900-1979) was an English illustrator and in 1957 was awarded the first Kate Greenaway Medal for the best illustrated children’s book that year.
On this page, Ardizzone's illustration complements Lavin's words, showing the mother hard at work in the kitchen. Lavin's text notes that "she never had time to play" because she works so hard.
Illustrated by Barry Castle
The Cottage in the Bog (1992)
Maura Laverty (1907-1966) was a journalist, broadcaster, writer of cookery books, novels, children’s books and wrote Ireland’s first soap opera, ‘Tolka Row’. In the 1940s - according to Laverty - two of her novels were banned for exposing the dreadful conditions of poor Irish families. This edition of her classic text, originally published in 1945, is illustrated by her daughter, Barry Castle (1935-2006).
Read more about Maura Laverty on the NCCB database.
PD Linín (Róisín Bean Mhic Dhonnchadh)
Illustrated by A. Murray Hayden
A foreign diplomat and one of the co-founders of the Irish-language literary magazine Comhar, PD Linín wrote a series of four children's novels in the Irish language about a naughty yet good-natured schoolboy named Maidhc. Reminiscent of Richmal Crompton's Just William series, each novel features the adventures of Maidhc as he grows up in Rathmines with his three best friends, one of whom is a girl named Nuala. The fourth and final Maidhc novel was published in 1968 in the year of Linín's untimely death in New York City.
S & D 35:1
Four Little Mischiefs
Rosa Mulholland (1841-1921), whose writing was encouraged by Charles Dickens, wrote over 40 novels for adults and children. Many of her novels are set in rural Ireland and feature bold, independent female characters who are Catholic. She was described by WB Yeats as “the novelist of contemporary Catholic Ireland”.
OLS POL 2693 no.1
Siobhán Ní Shúilleabháin
Born in Baile an Fheirtéaraigh in the West Kerry Gaeltacht, Siobhán Ní Shúilleabháin (1928-2013) was a respected and prolific author of Irish-language novels, short stories, poems and plays for adults, but she also wrote for children. Triúr Againn, from 1955, is about three teenage girls solving a mystery which unfolds as they return for another year at their boarding school, Coláiste Ghobnatan. Ní Shuilleabháin's fictional boarding school is clearly based upon Coláiste Íde in the West Kerry Gaeltacht, where she lived and studied during her own teenage years.
S & D 26:1
The Island of Ghosts (1990)
A key figure in Irish literature, Eilís Dillon (1920-1994) wrote nearly 40 children’s books. Her adventure stories are characterised by the tension between tradition and progress, and by a rich sense of place. In The Island of Ghosts, two girls enact the daring rescue of their brothers who have been kidnapped. Dillon began her career as a children's author by writing books in Irish, the first being An Choill Bheo (1948).
The Island of Ghosts begins as a typical boys' adventure story but when two boys are kidnapped it is their sisters, Barbara and Cait, who take charge and set out to rescue them.
Sophia Rosamond Praegar
The Young Stamp-Collectors (1985)
Irish artist and suffragette Sophia Rosamond Praeger (1867-1954) was a member of the London-based women artists' organization, the Suffrage Atelier. She wrote and illustrated twenty children’s books, including The Young Stamp-Collectors (1985).
The Search for the Tinker Chief (1968)
Bríd Mahon (1922-2008) joined the Irish Folklore Commission in 1949, then taught in the Department of Irish Folklore at University College Dublin. A prolific writer, her works for children are heavily influenced by Irish folklore. The Tinker Chief was hugely popular and was optioned by Disney. Mahon uses the word ‘tinker’, an outmoded term now offensive, to refer to members of the travelling community.
Orla of the Burren (1970)
Patricia Lynch (c. 1894-1972) was a prominent activist in the suffrage movement, who spoke at rallies and even travelled to Dublin to report first-hand on the events of the 1916 Easter Rising for The Worker’s Dreadnought. She moved in radical circles and was friends with Maud Gonne, Constance Markievicz, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, and with the Fabian writer, Edith Nesbit. In her autobiography, Lynch acknowledges the influence of an older writer, Miss Carmichael, who advised her to "learn shorthand and typewriting. With them and a good knowledge of English, a girl can go through the world."
Winifred M. Letts
Illustrated by F. Gardner
The Story-Spinner (1907)
This inscription was written by a young girl named Annie Faires, who was an orphan staying at Miss Carr’s Children’s Home on Northbrook Road, Dublin, in 1921. Annie was thirteen years old at the time. In 1922 it is believed that she left Ireland for the UK, and was employed as a maid in Colwyn Bay, Wales. The title of this book from Letts (1882-1972) inspired the title for this exhibition.
OLS POL 2267
A Swift Pure Cry (2006)
Siobhan Dowd (1960-2007) established the Siobhan Dowd Trust, a registered charity that helps young people access and enjoy literature. Set in Ireland in 1984, A Swift Pure Cry is loosely based on the events of the Kerry Babies case and the tragic death of schoolgirl Anne Lovett. The page displayed shows a vulnerable young girl, failed by her family and community, contemplating travelling to England for an abortion.
The exhibition is curated by staff and students from the masters programme in Children’s Literature at TCD: Dr Jane Suzanne Carroll, Dr Pádraic Whyte, Ming Ming Cheung, Shane Christie, Tony Flynn, Elizabeth Goldrick, Jenna Hodgins, Kate Marshall, Sarah May, Aoife O’Ceallachain, and Luise Rössel; with assistance from Valerie Coghlan, Brian McManus, and Dr Róisín Adams.
The curators would like to acknowledge the support given by staff of the Library of Trinity College Dublin, especially Dr Lydia Ferguson and the team at Early Printed Books, and to thank them for all their hard work.
Story Spinners: Irish Women and Children's Books was generously supported by the School of English, Trinity College Dublin, and by the Trinity Equality Fund.
This exhibition is linked to Children’s Books Ireland’s BOLD GIRLS project - an initiative that celebrates strong, confident, intelligent, brave women and girls in children’s books, giving them much-needed visibility alongside their male counterparts. You can find out more at the BOLD GIRLS website.
Technical support for this online exhibition provided by Greg Sheaf, the Library of Trinity College Dublin.