Thursday, January 22, 2009

Make Mine Irish - Four Courts Press

In a publishing environment where big names and large firms seem to dominate most US shops and a good many Brit establishments, it is a joy to come across a smaller publisher with a solid line of titles and high standards as well. Such firms are few and far between, and if you find one that fits your interests, then you are a lucky reader indeed.

Four Courts Press is one of those publishers for, and I envy Ireland all the more because of it.

Four Courts Press, from its own about page, was launched in 1970 by Michael Adams (still the publisher) and began to expand in 1992. From Theological works the firm has moved into Irish History from Celtic forward, Art, Literature and more. They have over 500 titles in print, and I copies of a small number of those.

I was first introduced to Four Courts when I was visiting the Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The Congress bring together scholars from around the globe as well as a good number of publishers and a few used & rare sellers as well. When I am there I usually seek out books on Medieval Spanish History or Book & Library history. Both of these subjects can be even pricier used if you miss them when they come out, so it is good to keep aware of what currently in publication. In any case, in a side room, I came across gentleman whose name escapes me now, who was just done packing up the booth, and all that was left were a few catalogues. I picked up a catalogue, thumbed through it as he was finishing up, and a title caught my eye: KING'S INNS AND THE BATTLE OF THE BOOKS, 1972 by Colum Kenny. I asked if he had any copies, and he said no, the one he brought sold but he would take my order if I wished. I did so wish, and the deal was struck.

2 weeks later or so I received the book from their US distributors. And a couple weeks later I received a copy directly from Dublin as well. As the book was not cheap I contacted them and told them I was happy to buy the second copy. They were kind enough (and right prompt in replying too - always a good sign) to give me a good price as I was a bookseller.

These events hooked me on Four Courts. The book itself is a very interesting read, and I encourage you to investigate it, though sadly it is out of print. Other factors struck me even than the content of the book. The quality of manufacture was high and, on taking more time with the catalog, the other works in the catalog were both unique and interesting. Many publishers seem to repetitively cover the same ground - just do a browse on how many biographies of JFK or Elizabeth I have been published by major US publishers in the last 25 years. Four Courts to be consistently good at taking a different angle on a subject, and in some detail.

To give you an idea of some of the variety:

Virtues of a Wicked Earl
The life and legend of William Sydney Clements, 3rd earl of Leitrim, 1806–78 A.P.W. Malcomson

Irish Governments and the Guardianship of Historical Records, 1922-72
Gerard O'Brien

The University of Ulster
Genesis and growth
Gerard O'Brien & Peter Roebuck, editors

2RN and the Origins of Irish Radio
Richard Pine

Building Irish Identity in America, 1870-1915
The Gaelic Revival
Úna Ní Bhroiméil

And so on. I am not a collector or even a heavy reader in Irish history, but so many of these titles seem so interesting to me. Granted, I live in the United States so books on Irish History pretty much are limited to Vikings, potato famines, travel, and drinking. But the variety of titles from one publisher still impresses me a great deal.

If you are interested in Irish history and/or culture, look at Four Courts Press . They are not the cheapest books, but they are some of the best. That is a good and needed thing.

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