Here is a look at some of the most important and interesting fonts used in Irish language publishing since the 16th century.

Elizabeth Font

The above excerpt was taken from the title page of the first book in the Irish language ever published – Aibidil Gaoidheilge & Caiticiosma by Seán Ó Cearnaigh. Here is what is written in the passage above:

For bu ai tions being printed this gh ao idheilge, to Dublin, on chosdas months ai ghisdir Sheón u ser aldarman, since Chio n the bridges. the 20. day of June. 1571.

Nodes or link letters used for the underlined letters in the rewritten version.

See another example in PDF format here .

Louvain Font

This font is designed for the use of the printing press at St. Anthony’s College, Louvain. It could be said that this Irish Franciscan college was the headquarters of the Catholic counter-reformation and the headquarters of Irish studies in the 17th century; the typeface was used in religious and theological books which could not be published in Ireland due to the anti-Catholic laws in force at the time. Here is what is written in the passage above:

Of the nama of the craft not learned on ; tsácraim not you take the uinn the si a tion time in mbliadh u in their own and not to when those two EA n n episode

Nodes or link letters used for the underlined letters in the rewritten version.

See the example in PDF format here .

Paris Font

This typeface was first used for the English-Irish dictionary written by Father Conchubhar Ó Beaglaoich and published in Paris in 1732. At the beginning of the book was a poem dedicated to Aodh Buí Mac Cruitín from which the verse above. Here’s what it says:

Compassion with a hint of an elk. For the distribution of a clean Irish language,
Daithbheodhadh on tongues at one time. Without edit nn anbhádh.

This typeface is more like calligraphy than any other Irish typeface to date.

See the example in PDF format here .

Parker Font

This typeface is of particular importance as it is the first Irish typeface designed in Ireland. It was created by a font projector named Stephen Parker and appears to have exemplified the Paris font (see above). It was first used in a scholarly journal published by the Royal Irish Academy in 1788, but is the most important work printed with the anthology Reliques of Irish Poetry edited by Charlotte Brooke and published in 1789.

See the example in PDF format here .

Watts font

Watts’ typeface was designed on the recommendation of the Hibernian Bible Society for an edition of the New Testament published in 1818 and the excerpt above is taken from the same edition. Watts’ typeface is one of the finest Gaelic fonts ever designed, but the letters were too large for the needs of the Biblicalists who wanted to distribute free editions of the scriptures to the public. Another font design soon became more practical – see Fry font below.

See the example in PDF format here .

Fry Font

The style of the letters in Fry type and Watts type is very similar but the lower case letters are much smaller in Fry type, which reduced the cost of printing. However, the capitals of the new typeface would be more suitable for the black typeface than the Irish typeface, which many readers did not like, and a mixed font was often used in which the initials were taken from Watts typeface and the lowercase letters from Fry type – a combination of featured in the excerpt above from an edition of Laoidh Oisín ar Tír na nÓg which was published in Dublin towards the end of the century (it does not state the date of its publication).

See the example in PDF format here .

Font Figgins

This is perhaps the most unique Irish font ever designed. Not only were the softened consonants not found, but the initials ‘R’ and ‘S’ were in line with the lower case design letters (see the word ‘Rome’ in the second line above). To make matters worse, the shape of the initials ‘M’ and ‘N’ confused the person who printed the most important work in which it was used, the Irish Minstrelsy by James Hardiman (1831) – see ‘Rónhámach’ in instead of ‘Roman’ in the title of the poem in the PDF file below. Not surprisingly, little use was made of the print afterwards. It must be said, however, that in this age of computing it has certain strengths and its shortcomings could be easily remedied.

See the example in PDF format here .

Font Petrie

This typeface was frequently used for many editions of academic works in the second half of the 19th century and into the last century. Perhaps the most important of them all is the 1856 edition of the Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland , but the passage above is taken from David Browder ‘s Anthology (1917).

See the example in PDF format here .

Newman Font

This font was designed for the Catholic University of Ireland because the university was refused permission to use the Petrie Font – which is owned by the Trinity College printing press. Most of the Gaelic fonts designed since then have been based on Newman’s Font, not surprisingly as it is more readable and regular than any previous font. It must be said, however, that for a long time this typeface had too large a market share: all the printing projection companies were willing to imitate each other instead of putting out newly designed fonts. Although much more material was published in Irish in the first half of the 20th century than in any previous period, little development of the Irish typeface took place in the same years. The view of the Irish speakers of the time, it seems, was that one good font is enough for them and that the second would be redundant – and that it can confuse language learners. This narrow view made Irish language publications look stagnant in the Renaissance, paving the way for the victory of Roman type in the later ‘war of the fonts’.

See the example in PDF format here .

Cló Uí Shearcaigh

This typeface was only used once for the Irish language – for a book entitled Foghraidheacht Gaedhilge an Tuaiscirt by Séamus Ó Searcaigh published by the publishing company Browne & Nolan in 1925. This work was printed in Germany and it is thought that The font was designed in Irish only for Old English. Note that there were only two capital letters in the Gaelic style (‘G’ and ‘H’) – Roman letters useful for all other capital letters.

See the example in PDF format here .

Cló Cholm Cille

This is a typeface designed by Colm Ó Lochlainn and used in his own typeface, ‘Under the Sign of the Three Candles’, but which has never received the recognition or support it deserves. There is no doubt that Colmcille ‘s typeface is the best designed Irish language in the metal typeface, a period which lasted from the 16th to the 20th century in the case of the Irish language but which is as dead as the manuscript period. The excerpt above is from the book Ór na h-Aitin by Tomás Bairéad, published in 1949.

See the example in PDF format here .

The Modern Roman Font

This is a print designed by Liam Miller and used for only one book – the edition of An Béal Bocht from which the above example was taken. As the name implies, this is not a Gaelic font but a Roman font that has been modified to include the softened dot. It was a good idea, but an idea that didn’t work out … yet anyway.