Some of my earliest memories of books relate to publications from Ireland. There was an Irish-language book called Sean na nGeanna, a beautiful illustrated hardback sent to me in England by my Irish grandmother, with striking colour illustrations and, most memorably for me, a strong new-book smell – that combination of ink and coated paper that, whenever I encounter it, brings me right back to early childhood.
The other one was The Turf Cutter's Donkey, the classic by Patricia Lynch, with its evocative line drawings of wooden caravans, rolling hills and peat fires. Years later, I was delighted to publish the first biography of Lynch, by the novelist Phil Young, with a striking cover design featuring a Jack Yeats painting.
This is all a roundabout way of saying that books are important – indeed life-changing – and that producing and publishing them well is just as important as writing and reading them.
Liberties Press began as a kitchen-table operation in 2003 and has since grown to become Ireland's leading independent publisher, with close to 200 titles in print and an active international presence. We publish the best writing from Ireland, both non-fiction and fiction, by authors ranging from presidents and taoisigh to debut literary novelists and performance poets. We are delighted that, after a number of difficult and turbulent years, there is a growing confidence among publishers and booksellers, with a number of new companies being set up. This all augurs well for the future.
We believe that, important as it is for a publisher to produce an attractive book, to the highest editorial, print and design standards, it is equally necessary to make sure that that book reaches as many potential readers as possible, in whatever format they like to read, and wherever they are in the world.
Good publishing is a creative endeavour, and the work of many hands: editors, designers, publicists, sales people, distributors and booksellers. It is a complicated and sometimes difficult business, but an important one. This is what motivates us in Liberties to continue to strive for the highest professional standards in everything we do. We hope you find something to interest you on our new, redesigned website. By buying from the site, you are supporting Irish jobs and Irish authors – and playing an active part in the multifaceted world of books.
What’s in a name? “Liberties” was chosen for the place where we started: the west inner city of Dublin. But the name has at least three layers of meaning for us. First, it is the area where traders were granted liberty from certain taxes – and political interference – by the monarch of the time. It was a form of free-trade area, outside the western gates of the city, which helped ensure that Dublin became an important commercial hub.
Second, it is a nicely old-fashioned word for “freedoms”. Freedom of speech is one of the cornerstones of our democracy. A flourishing book industry is as important as the robust good health of any other media sector. We believe we have played our part in this respect, often at significant cost to ourselves, and will continue to do so for as long as we can. We are part of a long and noble tradition.
Third, the first five letters of “Liberties” are the Latin for “book”. Books have been a part of human intercourse since the very earliest times, and are unlikely to disappear anytime soon. I was in the National Library as part of Culture Night last night. They say that the smell of old paper is like that of wine: it is complex and variable. Again, our books stand in major libraries, both public and private, around the world; they add to the overall odour. As Con Houlihan memorably put it: “A man who will misuse an apostrophe is capable of anything.” So is a man, or woman, who doesn’t own a book. Then again, “Someone who owns a book is capable of anything.” Books have the power to change the world. Never doubt it.
Publisher, Liberties Press