A family affair

Susan Yeats (1866-1949) and Elizabeth Corbett Yeats (1868-1940) (known by the family and others as ‘Lily’ and ‘Lolly’) are the unsung, or lesser sung heroes of the Yeats family. At Yeats and the West and its associated events, including a theatrical presentation on the afternoon Friday 11th September, they are most certainly sung.

As the Yeats sisters discovered, working with William Morris and his daughter May at Kelmscott House Hammersmith just down the road from the family home in London’s Bedford Park, was an oppressive but rewarding experience. The sisters gained training in languages and in arts and crafts. Lily became an expert embroiderer; the talented artist Lolly learnt enough at Morris’s Kelmscott Press to take charge of what would become the Cuala Press.

23 Saint Patrick

Design by AE, embroidery by Dun Emer Guild. Image courtesy of St Brendan’s Cathedral Loughrea

In 1902 the sisters were founder members of the Dun Emer Guild  with Evelyn Gleeson. The organization took inspiration from medieval crafts, handwork, design and guild structures, but also from an emerging national and feminist spirit. This meant that western designs were paramount with trees and mythological creatures prominent, all the workers were women, and in this atmosphere Celtic ornament was very starkly made new. In 1907 the company dissolved on Gleeson’s departure and Cuala Industries was born.

cuala press letter

Works from Dun Emer and Cuala Industries with the sisters’  input on show at the exhibition include embroidered saints banners mostly designed in 1903  by Jack B. Yeats and his wife Cottie for the new St Brendan’s Cathedral at Loughrea, and executed at Dun Emer, a selection of which are on view at a small but excellent exhibition at St Brendan’s.

10 Saint Columcille

Also featured in rotation are full print runs of glorious handcoloured Broadsides of poems and ballads in three series (1908-1915, 1935, and 1937), printed at Cuala and largely designed by Jack B. Yeats, but with other artists like Harry Kernoff, Victor Brown and Seamus O’Sullivan joining in later series.

New Poems-2

Perhaps pride of place is an exquisite selection of Cuala Press volumes. With their spare design aesthetic and W.B. Yeats as literary editor these books, proudly printed in Ireland with Irish materials and craft, set the tone for Irish Revival printing and Irish Literary Modernism. From 1903 all of Yeats’s poems were printed first in Cuala press volumes; other significant contributors include Frank O’Connor, Lady Gregory, A.E., Lord Dunsany, Ezra Pound, and Louis MacNeice.


And, for one day only, on Friday 11th September NUI Galway hosts a one of performance about the Yeats sisters, featuring music and art from their lives.

Lily and Lolly: Yeats and his Sisters 

Written and performed by Sinead Murphy and Darina Gallagher

 Reception and Performance: Friday 11 September 2015 – 3.30-5.00pm – All Welcome!!

Venue: Room G006, Institute for Lifecourse and Society, NUI Galway

 Lily and Lolly is a new work of theatre that looks at the life of poet W.B. Yeats through the eyes of his sisters Lily and Lolly Yeats. Set in their Dublin printing company Cuala Press, it explores the poetry and plays they publish for their brother Willie. Through storytelling, poetry and song, Lily and Lolly opens up the relationships within the Yeats family, with their brother the artist Jack B.Yeats and their father, the portrait artist John B. Yeats. Lilly and Lolly and their all-female printing company, find themselves at the forefront of the Irish Literary Revival surrounded by the characters so important in the life of W.B.Yeats including Maud Gonne, Lady Gregory, James Joyce, AE, Sean O’Casey and John Millington Synge.

Yeats West Panel 4 Family

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