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A History of Irish Magic - update.


Holythorn Press is delighted to have Cormac Figgis on board as our cover designer for A History of Irish Magic. Cormac is probably better known for his very lively and immediate photography of punk bands and other performers, as seen in his recent book “Shot From All Sides” – you can read a great review of it here: https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/art/2022/12/28/split-seconds-the-craft-and-chaos-of-rock-photography/. He is also a very experienced graphic designer who has worked on a huge variety of projects and with diverse clients. You can get some idea of the breadth and versatility of his work on his own website.


But there is another side to Cormac’s work which grabbed our attention when we first visited the wonderful Yeats exhibition at the National Gallery of Ireland. His diorama illustration of Yeats’s poem “The Stolen Child” was one of the most arresting images there. Conceived in a style which references the golden age of Edwardian book illustration, including the works of Beardsley and Clarke, and the more austere but iconic work of T. Sturge Moore for Yeats’s own published works; The Stolen Child stayed in my mind for a long time afterwards.



And in the way of things, and this has happened a lot on this strange journey, some of the fairy dust was sprinkled on our own project. While researching Irish magicians in the Yeats circle and beyond, we came across the enigmatic figure of Art O’Murnaghan, known to Dion Fortune’s Society of the Inner Light as “The Hibernian Adept”. His wonderfully fresh and inventive re-working of old Irish manuscript ornamentation, along with his reputation as a wise and magical soul, prompted us to look for materials, and possibly family members, who might help us say a bit more about him. I mentioned to my sister Mary, way back in 2016, that we were investigating AOM (as we call him) and were going to the National Museum at Collins Barracks to see his illustrations for the Book of the Rising.

“What did you say his name was?” asked my sister

“Art O’Murnaghan” I said…

“Oh hang on a minute” she said, “if it’s the same person I’m thinking of, I know some of his family”


And so we got an introduction to Beverly, the widow of Art’s grandson Walter, who gave us exclusive access to a treasure trove of private letters, manuscripts, and family anecdotes and without whom we simply could not have written the chapter on AOM. Her support and interest in the project over the years has been gratifying.


But what we didn’t know when we saw the Stolen Child illustration in the Yeats exhibition is that Walter and Beverly’s son is …Cormac Figgis.

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