Printing Press Research

A large black Albion printing press in front of a framed copy of the Nationalist & Leinster times newspaper

An Albion Printing Press, 1856, currently on display in Carlow County Museum. It was used for decades by local newspapers The Nationalist and the Leinster Times.

How printing started

Printing was not invented by Johannes Gensfleisch Alias Gutenberg instead, it was actually in China that, about 600 years after Christ, the first one sided prints were made. By about 150 years after Christ, the Chinese had also invented paper, the most important medium for printing.

The power of knowledge was, as result of Johannes Gutenberg’s idea, no longer the privilege of only a few. From now on information was not passed as a result of human communication alone. It developed into an asset which was available when needed, could be carried around and was easy to come by. Gutenberg’s idea was to widen the horizons of printing, to become flexible, versatile, and independent. Gutenberg’s “system” was an ideal combination of multiple individual well-thought out inventions, completely equal with modern technical complexes. Letters which could be varied as required, a metal mould, a manual casting device, a special alloy, a press, printing ink with particular properties and a certain kind of paper- only with this combination was success possible.

Printing was called the “black art” in the beginning as people could not understand how someone could produce books so quickly or how they could all be exactly alike, people feared printing and thought it derived from Satan yet despite this the use of printing became very popular and quickly spread all throughout Europe.1

Different types of printing

  1. Letterpress printing- With Letterpress printing, the printing parts are raised. The flat type form is inked with small rollers, then the impression cylinder, which carries the sheet of paper, rolls over the printing surface.
  2. Rotary relief printing- This process is mainly used by daily newspapers. Here, too, the printing parts are raised but the type form is round. The impression cylinder presses the paper against it.
  3. Offset printing- Offset printing is based on the physical law that water and oil repel one another. The printing surface is treated photographically and chemically so that the printing parts absorb ink and all the other parts repel it. In offset printing a zinc aluminium plate bearing the type form is wrapped round a cylinder and first prints onto a rubber cylinder, which then prints onto paper. Because the type form does not come into contact with the paper (hence “off set”) it is possible to produce large numbers of copies.
  4. Rotogravure printing- This is used mainly for producing coloured magazines with a high circulation. The printing parts are carved into the surface of a copper cylinder. After the whole cylinder has been inked, a scraper, or doctor blade, moves across the surface, and only the ink on the engraved parts of the cylinder remains and is taken up by the paper.2

Printing in Ireland

Printing did not arrive in Ireland until 1551 when Humphrey Powell printed The Boke of Common Praier. This first book in Irish type was paid for by Elizabeth I and was probably manufactured in London.

In 1571 an unidentified printer printed Aibidil Gaoidheilge Agus Caiticiosma, the first book using the Irish character.3

In the 1800’s, the newspapers cost sixpence each- quite a lot of money in those days- one penny of which was a special “tax on knowledge” put there to inflate the price so that lower orders would not be able to purchase papers and be influenced by their ideas into anti-government activity. Published weekly, and very rarely bi-weekly, their circulation normally varied from 3,000 upwards.4

Local printing

It is not known exactly when the printing press was established in Carlow… it was early in 1770, when the “Carlow Journal” was founded by William Kinnier, Kinneir or Kinnear, as it was variously spelled.5

The founders of the Nationalist and Leinster Times, Patrick Conlan and his brother John extended the circulation of the newspaper through counties Carlow, Kildare and Laoighs. On the death of Patrick Conlan at an early age of 46 his brother John continued for some time to direct and edit the Nationalist.6


  1. ‘A History of Irish Printing’, National Print Museum,
  2. ‘How the job is done’, Hans-Werner Klien, The Nationalist and Leinster Times 1883-1983 p.13
  3. ‘A History of Irish Printing’, National Print Museum,
  4. ‘Carlow Newspapers 1828-1841’, Brother P.J. Kavanagh, M.A., Carloviana 1975 p.26-28.
  5. ‘Printing In Carlow’, Brian W. Keogh, Carloviana 1994/1995 p.12.
  6. ‘How, where and when they founded: The Nationalist’, William Ellis, The Nationalist and Leinster Times 1883-1983 p.2


This piece has been researched and written by Andrea Istrati, Transition Year Student, St. Leo’s College, Carlow as part of her work experience in Carlow County Museum. The Transition Year ‘Be Involved Volunteer Programme’ is organised by the Carlow Volunteer Centre.


‘Granny’s Christmas Pudding’ by Katherine Anne Monica McGill.

In our first blog of 2015 Katherine Anne Monica McGill outlines her project ‘Granny’s Christmas Pudding’, an installation that took place in Carlow County Museum from February to July 2014. It was previously part of a series of installations by Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT) students in Visual Carlow in December 2013.


Granny’s Christmas Pudding’ installation of White table with several items on it including two glass boxes containing leaves and an open notebooks and pen between them

View of the ‘Granny’s Christmas Pudding’ installation on the Museum’s ground floor.


‘Granny’s Christmas Pudding’ was an installation acknowledging obsolete and disappearing information and skills.  Our modern world has superseded a lot of the old ways; others are lost to us now because people – like my Granny – have gone to their eternal reward.  Such people took with them the expertise they carried so easily at their finger-tips.  With the flippancy of youth, I omitted to garner such skills before it was too late, and now I do my best to recall them from hazy childhood memory.  I imagine this is a common experience, as applicable to other people as it is to me.


Ground floor of Carlow County Museum with two glass display cases or Vitrines

View of the installation on the Museum’s ground floor gallery.


The installation itself comprised fallen leaves I collected in Autumn 2013 from beneath the trees at Carlow College (St Patrick’s College) in Carlow town, and a notebook in which I wrote the information in “joined up” handwriting.  I used an old fountain pen and ink.  It remains with Carlow County Museum for future reference. Visitors were encouraged to collaborate in the display by including in the note book any disappearing skills they recalled.  Using Gregg shorthand (itself also a disappearing skill), I wrote various data on the leaves.  Older people might remember learning this by rote in their primary school days. Younger people might be intrigued to re-discover it. Included, for example, are old conversion tables of weights and measures.  These now seem so quaint: quarts, minims, bushels, perches, roods and leagues; old legal tender (pounds, shillings and pence), Morse code (long and short sound signals representing letters and numbers), some poetry, and commonplace prayers in Latin.  This project augmented my own knowledge: how to bone shoes was definitely new to me!

Most important of all, I discovered that Carlow people of a certain age remember with affection drinking Corcoran’s Mineral Waters, so I particularly appealed for anyone who might know the recipes or their whereabouts to include this in the notebook.


A close up photo of brown leaves with writing on them, Granny Christmas pudding

Close up of the writing on the leaves.


Why write on leaves?  Because they naturally become brittle and disintegrate, so the skills and information the leaves carried are once again apparently lost.  The project also echoed papyrus (another plant leaf) used by ancient peoples to record their important information.  Even though the information has been decoded, some of it is still obtuse to us today.

On the last day of July 2014, when the New Year’s leaves were fluttering on the trees at Carlow College, members of Carlow County Museum kindly agreed to crumble the leaves of the installation at Carlow College grounds.  The process was recorded by Museum staff.  It was a fitting end to a display inaugurated in February.


Dermot Mulligan and John McDarby standing under a tree in Carlow College with their hands in the air throwing leaves on the ground

Carlow County Museum staff Dermot Mulligan & John McDarby crumbling the leaves in the grounds of Carlow College.


My heartfelt thanks are given to Dermot Mulligan, Museum Curator and the staff of Carlow County Museum for their enthusiasm for my installation; to Cora Cummins, Print Tutor at IADT Dun Laoghaire and Emma Lucy O’Brien of Visual Carlow for their initial invitation to consider a Carlow project.  Visual Carlow is thanked for lending some equipment.  The visitors to Carlow County Museum are especially thanked for their many contributions to the notebook.  Thirty pages of responses exceeded my most optimistic expectations.  I hope they enjoyed their visits to this wonderful Museum and their collaboration.

And what of Corcoran’s Mineral Waters?  All is not lost, apparently.  Unlike my Granny’s Christmas pudding, it seems there is yet someone in Carlow who may hold the precious knowledge.  Perhaps some day soon people will be able to say with relish again “Ah, Corcoran’s!”

Katherine Anne Monica McGill under took this installation as a 3rd year student on the Visual Arts Practice course in Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT). The aim of this four-year course is to educate and inspire student artists through an integrated and multidisciplinary experience, helping them to create a comprehensive portfolio of work, tested against ‘real world’ situations. Carlow County Museum was delighted to host Katherine’s work.


Five Carlow County Museum staffs and Volunteers standing in front of a big glass display case holding leaves in their hands

Museum Staff and volunteers with Katherine at the instillation of the exhibition. (L to R) Brid Brett, Liam O’Rourke, Katherine Anne Monica McGill, Deirdre Hennessy and William Fallon.


In our very first Blog Dermot Mulligan, Museum Curator gives an insight into how the new Carlow County Museum was developed.

In April 2012 the new Carlow County Museum on College Street in Carlow Town was opened. The Museum has been developed by Carlow Town Council in partnership with the Carlow Historical & Archaeological Society (CHAS). The Carlow Historical & Archaeological Society (CHAS) founded and opened the Museum in 1973. In 2002 Carlow Town Council took over the operations of the Museum and has worked in partnership with CHAS to undertake the redevelopment. To further this partnership a Board of Carlow County Museum was established in 2005.


Construction work on the extension to the museum with Carlow Cathedral in the background.

The Presentation Convent

The building in which the Museum is now housed is a landmark building within the centre of Carlow town. Until 1989 it was home to the Presentation Sisters. The new Museum occupies the College Street end of the former Convent. The front of the building, facing Tullow Street, houses the Carlow Library. The Museum is accessed through the Fáilte Ireland Tourist Office. The Museum occupies the rest of the building which has four exhibition rooms; the two largest houses the Museum’s permanent collection while the two smaller rooms are used for temporary exhibitions.

The Museum’s ground floor was used as the Convent’s primary school until 1960. Originally there were three classrooms separated by a partition. To provide the Museum with a flexible display gallery it was decided to open up the ground floor as one large display space. An original fireplace backing onto the Tourist Office has been retained in its original position.


Construction work on the ground floor – the original fireplace can be seen in the background.

Restoration and Renovation

The large north window above the stairs had all its broken panes of glass replaced. Through this leaded window, a framed view of the Cathedral steeple can be enjoyed.

The Former Chapel

At the top of the stairs, one enters into what was the Convent’s former Chapel. This is now arguably the most impressive room within all of Carlow Local Authorities public buildings. Considering the many architectural features in this room particular care and attention was given to the care and restoration of this room. Apart from the exhibitions that have been installed here, the former Chapel is an exhibit in its own right.

The reardos (back of the altar) contains Victorian glass and many of its edges contained gilding. This was extensively cleaned and re-gilded.


Ongoing repair and restoration of the chapel ceiling, including re-gilding the 50 panels.

The Chapel Ceiling

The main part of the Chapel ceiling has fifty panels and each panel was gilded during the nineteenth century. Unfortunately, sometime during the 1960s, the ceiling was painted over. When the main construction works were completed and prior to the installation of the exhibitions all fifty panels were skillfully re-gilded.

The Pulpit

The Chapel houses the Museum’s largest object – the magnificent hand carved 19th-century pulpit from the next door Cathedral of the Assumption. The pulpit, made in Bruges in Belgium, was controversially removed as part of the mid-1990s reordering of the Cathedral. When the pulpit was removed from the Cathedral it was brought into the former Chapel area and re-erected.

The stained glass window in the chapel – then vs now. The black x’s mark places where panels are broken or missing.

Temporary Exhibitions

Directly behind the Chapel and at first and second-floor levels directly above the Tourist Office are the Museum’s two temporary exhibition galleries. This area was previously the Sacristy and the Sister’s cells (bedrooms). Alterations were made to this area including installing a new staircase along with the addition of a lift, thus making the entire Museum building fully accessible to those with physical disabilities. At the end of the tour, visitors egress the Museum and returns to the ground floor via the beautiful original main Convent staircase.

Extensions to the Building

It was decided early on in the design process that the existing convent building would be maximised as the Museum’s new exhibition galleries. Therefore to accommodate the ancillary facilities an extension would be required. The extension is clad in cut Carlow limestone to complement the existing convent building which was built of mainly limestone rubble.

The exhibition design and installation was led in house by the Museum staff. It was decided to lay out the exhibitions thematically and not chronologically. Major themes of Carlow’s history were identified and this was compared to the Museum’s collection.

large room shot from below, showing a converted chapel housing museum objects

First Floor Gallery as it looks today

Among the new displays are exhibitions dealing with:

  • John Tyndall, Carlow’s prolific 19th-century scientist whose discoveries still have an impact to this day, he is arguably the Father of Fibre Optics, discovered the greenhouse effect and was a renowned mountaineer.
  • Captain Myles Keogh was in the 7th US Calvary and killed in the Battle of Little Big Horn along with General Custer.
  • Kevin Barry, a medical student from Co. Carlow was executed in 1920 in Mountjoy Gaol at the age of 18 for his role in the War of Independence.
  • For centuries during the Bronze Age Dinn Ríg was the seat of the Kings of the Province of Leinster and from where the name Leinster came from.
  • Carlow Sugar Factory, Ireland’s first and largest sugar factory, was in 1925 the first public-private partnership in the history of the State and an innovative agricultural business.
  • The former convent Chapel exhibition gallery houses the Museum’s largest object – the magnificent hand carved 19th-century pulpit from the Cathedral of the Assumption. It is considered one of the finest pulpits in Ireland.
  • The Museum collection contains rare archaeological specimens of axes, swords, Bronze Age food vessel and an exquisite eleventh-century piece of Irish silver which is part of the Jackson collection.
  • The ground floor contains a display of trades and commercial life such as the forge, shop, bar, Boot Factory, plumber, carpenter, barber and a kitchen.
  • The law and order section displays the original trap door from the gallows of Carlow Gaol, possibly the only one on display in a Museum in Ireland.
  • All of the exhibitions will be added to and enhanced over the coming years.

The majority of the project costs were met from within Carlow Town Council’s own resources but have received grant assistance from the Heritage Council, the Department of Tourism, Culture & Sport, Carlow County Development Partnership and Fáilte Ireland.

Carlow’s Cultural Quarter

The renovation, extension and conversion of the building into a museum must also be viewed in the overall context of its setting in Carlow’s Cultural Quarter. The cultural quarter runs from Tullow Street along College Street to the Old Dublin Road encompassing the County Library, Archive, Tourist Office, the Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow College, the Visual Centre for Contemporary Art & The George Bernard Shaw Theatre to the magnificent early nineteenth century Carlow Courthouse.

Carlow is now the second County/City Museum in Leinster, the other being in Co. Louth. All the County/City Museums work closely with the National Museum of Ireland, particularly in the area of Archaeological Finds.

The new Museum’s two temporary exhibition galleries will accommodate both travelling exhibitions and those created in house. Through the temporary exhibition galleries a topic can be expanded and explained in more depth than may be possible in the permanent galleries due to constraints of space.

Carlow County Museum is opened all year round and admission to the Museum is free.