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John Betjeman and the 'old Protestant Printer' of Lismore

While staying at Lismore Castle in 1958 Betjeman wrote two poems dedicated to the Cavendish family.  He decided to have them printed in a limited edition by J Browne, Printer & Advertising Agent in Lismore. Because of their rarity two copies sold some years ago at Sotheby’s for over one thousand pounds each. 

Ireland's Own or the Burial of Thomas Moore (image courtesy of Sothebys)

Ireland’s Own – or The Burial of Thomas Moore

Dedicated by permission of/Her Grace the Duchess of Devonshire/ To/The Marquis of Hartington/And/The Ladies Emma & Sophia Cavendish/By their humble servant/ Ian MacBetjeman (Writer to the Cygnet)

Betjeman wrote to Browne about the printing on 21 April 1958:

I am enchanted by the ballad and its paper but there is one slight error. We must say St. Carthage Cathedral’s in order to make the line scan and that is how it should be printed.  I wonder if a slightly larger type and more elaborate might be used for the words ‘Ireland’s Own?  But I leave that to you.  It is most beautifully done and I now suggest that you make ten copies on the green paper you sent me and ten copies on the pink paper…

Browne replied to Betjeman:

I am sorry I have not got any blocks to suit the job – was glad to hear that you were pleased with lay-out of same.

Betjeman wrote to Debo Devonshire on 15 April 1958:

I have not yet had a proof from the old Protestant printer.  I expect Irish Customs will hold it up as dirty readin’ matter.   Betjeman paid Browne for the printing on 6 May 1958: I am most grateful to you for the excellent job you have made of my verses, they are greatly enhanced by your printing.  

Soon after Betjeman offered the poem to the New Yorker but they did not print it. It was included in High and Low published 1966.

A Lament for Moira McCavendish (image courtesy of Sothebys)

The other poem that he commissioned Browne to print was titled:

A lament for Moira McCavendish

By Coras Iompair Eireann

Dedicated by permission to Their Graces/ The Duke & Duchess of Devonshire/The Marquis of Hartington and the ladies/Emma & Sophia Cavendish.

This poem was also published in High & Low.  This poem features one of Betjeman’s other passions (besides women) - trains.  In July 1948 Betjeman became a member of the Irish Railway Record Society.  The poem features the Mallow-Waterford line.

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