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  • Advocacy, the Enlightenment, and the Catholic Print Trade in Mathew Carey’s Dublin*
  • Nicholas M. Wolf (bio)

By the second half of the eighteenth century Dublin had emerged as a focal point of the transatlantic print trade in Catholic religious titles. This development was driven by a network of printers with rising professional fortunes and a number of notable figures among its ranks, including the young Mathew Carey. The close geographical proximity of the printers’ shops in the city helped to forge these connections. Thomas McDonnel’s print shop, for instance, where Carey served as an apprentice in the late 1770s, was variously situated at several locations within a cluster of lanes west of Christ Church Cathedral and along both sides of the Liffey that were populated by the city’s Catholic printers.1 When the shop was headquartered on Pill Lane, it was close to the business of Philip Bowes and, to the south, Bartholomew Corcoran’s sign at the Inns Quay. Starting in 1779, when McDonnel moved to Thomas Street on the south side of the river, Carey worked only a few blocks from the shops of Richard Cross on Bridge Street and John Boyce on Merchant’s Quay. Patrick Wogan, who later became the most prolific of Dublin’s Catholic printers, contracted work with McDonnel and was also based in Bridge Street; it was Wogan’s apprentice who had been beaten in a skirmish with one of Carey’s fellow apprentices and whose subsequent demand for satisfaction—at Wogan’s urging—prompted Carey to write his first essay on the subject of dueling. By the early 1780s [End Page 244] Carey had formed a friendship with Patrick Byrne, whose shop was right across from the Irish House of Commons and who would later relocate his bookselling business to Carey’s Philadelphia at the end of the century. Even after Carey had emigrated, he continued to correspond with his brother James back in Dublin, seeking, in one instance, a means to import religious titles produced by Wogan, Cross, and McDonnel to feed the American market.2 The fact that a number of expatriate Dublin printers, including Christopher Talbot and Bernard Dornin, chose the same overseas destination—Philadelphia—also says much about the strength of this network. These printers, engravers, binders, and booksellers constituted an intimate world defined in part by their shared dedication to producing a range of devotional materials, religious tracts, and political pamphlets, and in part by their ambiguous legal and social standing in relationship to the country’s Protestant-dominated society.

In the work of an earlier generation of scholars Carey’s status as a producer of Catholic religious material and as a creation of this broader world of Dublin printing was often superseded by an emphasis on his ties to secular radicalism. Jane Hindman, for example, paused briefly to consider Carey’s legal status as a Catholic printer before turning to what she saw as the true motivation for his radicalism—anti-imperial nationalism.3 Edward C. Carter carefully traced a variety of influences on Carey’s political views, including his time as an apprentice to McDonnel, but he gave much greater weight to the impact of the American Revolution, the rise of the Volunteer movement and push for parliamentary reform in Ireland, the inspiration provided by English radicals like John Cartwright and the members of the Society for Constitutional Information, [End Page 245] and lastly the time that Carey had spent in the print shops of Benjamin Franklin and Didot le jeune while he was in exile in Enlightenment France. The emphasis on secular radicalism was also evident in Carter’s description of McDonnel, whose work as a printer of the pro-American Hibernian Journal and of political tracts in favor of penal relief received more notice than his longtime status as a publisher of devotional material.4 Among the factors contributing to this tendency were Carter’s sources: his account of Irish radicalism in the 1770s and 1780s drew heavily on the work of the Irish historian R. B. McDowell, whose study of major Irish political debates of the period had focused on only a handful of pamphlets by Catholic authors...


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pp. 244-269
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