AS CÚIRT celebrates its 25th birthday, the festival programme is also hosting a 40th birthday celebration for Gallery Press, Ireland’s pre-eminent poetry publishing house.
Gallery authors Marina Carr, Nuala N Dhomhnaill, Tom Kilroy, Tom French, and Peter Sirr will join poet-publisher Peter Fallon in a reading at the Town Hall on April 24 to mark Gallery’s huge contribution to Irish literature over the past four decades.
In February 1970 the teenage Peter Fallon published Gallery’s first title, a dual-publication by Justin McCarthy and Des O’Mahony.
In the ensuing years, Gallery’s roster would go on to feature most of the A-list of Irish writers, including Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon, John Montague, Brian Friel, and Paul Muldoon.
Reflecting back on those early days, Fallon readily admits he had no grand strategy when he first began publishing and he never imagined Gallery would be so successful.
“At the time I was involved in doing readings, and there was a small magazine Capella and I became aware that there were people writing but not many openings,” he says. “So one day I just went to a local printer and asked him would he do a book for me and I would pay him once the copies sold, and he agreed.
“It all started from there. I certainly wasn’t thinking of myself as a publisher at the time or envisaging it would turn out the way it has. In a way, starting things is easy, it’s keeping them going is the real challenge.”
When would Fallon say the fledgling Gallery started to take wing? “While I was at Trinity, in the 1970s, Brendan Kennelly brought his work to us and around the same time we got collections from Eilean Ní Chuilleanain and Pearse Hutchinson. That was the time I was very aware that things were going up a gear, that the stakes were changing.”
Gallery also branched out into the areas of theatre and fiction.
“The first script we published was Tom Murphy’s On The Outside,” recalls Fallon. “The play was running in the Project Arts Centre and I realised that at the end of its run that would be the end of it.
“I felt it should be preserved, to have a life after the production so that’s what prompted us to publish it, and after that we brought out scripts by Tom Kilroy, Eugene McCabe, Marina Carr, Brian Friel, and many others.
“We also went on to publish stories by the likes of Brian Friel and Tom McIntyre. In all our publishing, our core purpose is to serve the writing, sometimes a book might sell slowly but I believe books aren’t just about ‘now’.”
The clean, elegant, design of Gallery’s books is undoubtedly an important factor in its success. “That just came from our core value of wanting to praise the text, as it were,” explains Fallon. “I knew it would enhance the pleasure of reading to make the text clean and attractively presented.”
After 40 years in the business what are Fallon’s thoughts on the appetite of today’s readers for poetry?
“That’s a pivotal question,” he says. “You wonder sometimes if you can continue to attract and keep a young audience, especially at a time when there are so many changes in people’s expectations – with the internet, people can have access to writing for free for instance. That said, we have certainly built up a devoted readership over the years and hopefully that will continue to be the case in the decades to come.”
This year sees several celebratory readings marking Gallery’s 40th birthday, in both Ireland and the US, but the event at Cúirt is unique in that it features playwrights as well as poets among the participants.
The Gallery reading at Cúirt is at 2.30pm on Saturday April 24 at the Town Hall Theatre. Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777.