Irish Type Design


Irish Type Design. Dermont McGuinne. (Dublin: National Print Museum, 2010. Pp. 219.)

In his book Irish Type Design, Dermont McGuinne describes the history of Irish typography as it developed chronologically. During his survey of the history, he makes reference to the religious or political influences that pushed the development of Irish typography one way or the other. The focus of this book is survey the history of Irish Typography from the 16th century to modern day. This textbook of history is meticulously researched with not only textual notes but also photographic and typographical specimens that showcase the different typefaces as they advance through history. For students, educators, and those who are currently working in the graphic design field with a concentration on typography, this book provides a global perspective, expansive research, knowledge, and analysis of the growth of these typefaces and how it relates to Irish political history. The organization of the book spark interest to religious and political happenings that influenced the way each typeface was created and executed within documents. The book also pays homage to the historical references to the typography and type design and the religious and political needs for typefaces.

At a glance, the topic of the entire book describes different Irish typefaces as they evolved through history and were met by different political needs religious commissions. The statement that the author makes in his thesis is very clearly organized throughout the book. The author organizes this information into chapters that deal with a different era of typefaces pertaining to Irish history. In the opening of the book, McGuinne outlines where his research led him in order to write this book as well as creating interest in how little information is actually available on this subject. This information was difficult for him to obtain because a lot of the type specimens had been destroyed and the few that were saved were locked into libraries and archives that were not easily accessible to the general public. McGuinne had to prove his scholarly intent in order to have access to these archives. The information he obtained was placed into his book and divided into chapters based on typeface. Chapters are organized by the chronological eras of type and include: Queen Elizabeth type, the Louvain Irish type, the Roman Irish type, the Moxon Irish type, the Paris and Parker types, the Barlow and Christie types, the Watts, Fry and Figgens types, the Petrie type, the Newman Irish type, and the Colum Cille type. The concluding chapter of his book compares the Roman glyphs against the Irish glyphs. This concluding comparison is a summation of his research and allows the reader to visually see where Irish typography began and where it currently is. The modern roman characters are have a sturdy structure compared to its predecessors where a heavy manuscript influence was observed in earlier typefaces.

One of the most interesting facts that the author states early in the book is that the original Irish alphabet only had about 18 glyphs in its type library and the author shows, through different type specimens in the later chapters, how these 18 glyphs evolved into the modern alphabet that we know and use today in America. There are many layers of history that the author explores in his book and this detail of how new characters were added is a key detail to explore in this telling of history even if it is a very small fact. When reading more into the book the reader will find that there is an immense growth in the need for typefaces and how many people were involved in producing them. Each era adds on to a new typeface that was more developed than the last. The printers and foundries also became more numerous as history progressed. This book shows not only a history but a birth and growth of an aspect of design.

Another author theme that spans throughout the book is how each typeface was influences or commissioned by political or religious means. The Queen Elizabeth type was actually commissioned by the Queen herself and was used in most of her royal documents. As each typeface began as a unification of manuscript writing, the Irish continued creating manuscript typefaces for all of their typefaces discussed in this book, even the typefaces that have a more roman aesthetic, still have a manuscript influence to them. Queen Elizabeth enjoyed speaking to various foreign visitors to her court in their own language (pg 5). This desire she had is what really led to the development of the typeface that she commissioned. The inspiration for this typeface was actually found in numerous collections of manuscripts The original creator of Queen Elizabeth’s typeface was John Day who was the Queen’s designated printer. Political and diplomatic reasons fueled the Queen’s desire for the typeface but1 the design of the typefaces was taken from religious manuscripts. It is interesting to see two ideologies come together to create something for the furthering of humanity.

The work is a great contribution to history because it was one of the first deep explorations of its topic. There are many books out there that focus on the history and development of type but none of them provide an extensive historical account of Irish type design. This work is excellent for that very reason; it provides an in-depth analysis of a large variety of typefaces that originated in Ireland. An understand of Irish type design and history will provide any typographer or graphic designer with a greater understand of typefaces from all over the world by furthering their understanding of how different nations drew influences from each other and also how they each advanced individually.

Irish Type Design” displays information beautifully and in a way that the hierarchy of information is easy to understand. The amount of research that is evident in the book provides an excellent backbone for the book and makes each chapter full of information. This book not only connects type design to history, but also connects type design to its own development. For students, educators, and graphic designers who want to learn more about the origin and history of Irish type design, this book is one to soak into and examine all of the specimens and facts within its pages.


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