Since only the victors – usually men –
get to write history, so the renown
of the poet and of the painter, Willie
and Jack Yeats, has almost totally
obscured the sisters’, Lolly and Lily,
and their Cuala Press: from an era
when misogyny was even more
commonplace than now, and most members
of either gender accepted it.
They published new work only – all set
and printed by hand by a female workforce:
Willy’s poems, of course, and Jack’s graphics,
J.M. Synge, Oliver St John Gogarty.
They were one of the keys to the Celtic
Revival; recasting the South, the Free State,
Eire, the Republic of Ireland;
erasing the simian images
of the centuries’ of uprisings,
and the skeletal icons of the Famine.
The literary editor was their big brother.
The Press was frequently in the red
with cash flow problems, which the bank manager
seemed to believe resulted entirely
from a business run and owned by women.
William would grudgingly settle the debts
when he had cash to spare, like the Nobel Prize,
seeming to forget that the hard work
of his unmarried sisters had financed
the whole Yeats’ household – father, mother, siblings –
during crucial years of near penury.
Almost the last book they printed was
Patrick Kavanagh’s long and angry poem,
The Great Hunger, published during World War 2,
about Paddy Maguire, loveless, childless,
farming the unrelenting fields of Armagh.
The Yeats sisters, who had always wished
to live separately but were forced
to share the same dwellings throughout their lives,
share the same grave and simple headstone
in St Nahi’s Church of Ireland graveyard,
Dundrum, now a suburb of Dublin –
with the largest shopping centre in Ireland –
a village when the sisters lived there.
Lily and Lolly have been immortalised
in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Buck Mulligan,
holding court in the Martello Tower,
remarks: ‘Five lines of text and 10 pages
of notes about the folk and fishgods of Dundrum.
Printed by the weird sisters in the big wind’.
Was it tact, or misogynistic
disdain, kept them unnamed?
Cuala PressJack YeatsJames JoyceLily YeatsLolly Yeatsmisogynythe Great HungerW.B. Yeats