The Yeats Sisters

The Yeats Sisters A Cuala print, Connemara, by Beatrice Elvery, 1920
The Yeats Sisters and Irish Design: Making, Identities & Legacies

An exhibition in the Long Room of the Old Library, Trinity College, Dublin


Currently mounted in the Long Room of the Library at Trinity College is an exhibition on the life and work of the Yeats Sisters, which draws on the immense collection of  Yeats material preserved in the library, which is little seen. 

W. B. Yeats the poet and his brother Jack Yeats the painter are well known, indeed internationally famous personalities. Less known,  indeed overshadowed by the men in the family, were Elizabeth and Susan (Lily) Yeats. They were the creators of the Dun Emer Industries (1902-1908) and then the Cuala Industries which lasted  till 1940.

There was a time when the images produced under their auspices were to be found in middle class home, certainly down to the 1950s. In my bedroom when I was  small child hung one such print, “The Post Car” by Jack Yeats, showing  a mail carrier driving his cart up a western street  pulled by a powerful horse. Both man and beast were filled with the pride of accomplishment and an energy I loved.  

In other houses you would see landscapes, framed prayers and holy pictures. This was only right for what the Yeats sisters produced was intended to be hung in Irish homes and was not intended for art galleries.  It was arts and crafts for the people rather than intellectuals.

It is only now that the full richness of what they achieved is coming to be seen in a wider aspect. This informative exhibition has been curated  by Dr Angela Griffith and Dr Angela Byrne. 

The items on display are fascinating, but the essential aim of the sisters was to train and provide work for young Irish women in the tradition of the arts and crafts movements elsewhere,  in Scotland and Scandinavia. Women craft  workers of today, of which there are now thankfully so many, owe a great deal to the two indomitable Yeats sisters.

(The exhibition in the Long Room runs until 6 September. It can be seen as part of  The Books Kells Experience, but intending visitors  must be careful about what level of visit they choose, as a family ticket for the longest option lasting up to 90 minutes runs to €65.00 . The details of this and other options can be found on the TCD visitor site. Pre-booking online is essential.)