Designing a cover for the Irish Catholic Catechism for Adults

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The Irish Catholic Catechism for Adults will be published on Thursday, 12 June. This is the first local catechism for Ireland. Designed to complement the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it is adapted for an Irish audience and written in accessible, easy-to-understand language. Each chapter begins with a story or lesson of faith, featuring many notable figures from Ireland, such as Edmund Rice, Catherine McAuley and Nano Nagle. Those chosen are people whose lives or actions illustrate a particular Church teaching.

An often overlooked aspect of publishing any book is the ‘behind the scenes’ work of designing the cover. Veritas Art Director, Lir Mac Cárthaigh, who created the cover for the Irish Catholic Catechism for Adults has written this short piece to take us through the process:

“The Irish Catholic Catechism for Adults is a hugely important publication for Veritas, and has been in development for almost two years. Getting the cover right was vital – it was necessary to differentiate the book from the full Catechism of the Catholic Church and to show that it was produced specifically for Irish readers. The initial brief was simple: the book needed to look Christian – ideally using an image of Jesus – and it needed to look Irish.

The first step on my journey was to find an image. Celtic Christian art appears so frequently on book covers that the real task was finding something less familiar but appropriate and arresting. The image I finally selected is known as the ‘Athlone plaque’, an early Christian artefact that was probably attached to the front of a book or a shrine. After giving some thought to the idea of producing a line drawing of the plaque, I settled on using a photograph – kindly supplied by the National Museum of Ireland.

I wanted the cover to be green but not ‘Kelly green’, which is more reminiscent of plastic shamrocks than anything authentically Irish. My inspiration was the pre-1916 Irish flag, showing a gold harp on a dark green background. I felt that dark green, with its connotations of forests and fields, was a more genuinely Irish shade.Image

The Athlone plaque had suffered a great deal of damage over the years. Parts of the bronze had Imageworn through, resulting in holes –including a large one in Jesus’ face. I applied the visual philosophy of John Hinde, who believed that his postcards should reflect the ideal of a holiday rather than its drab reality, and made some adjustments. I filled the holes and gaps, and brightened the brown bronze to a shinier, golden colour that would radiate from the green background.

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Turning to type, my first and only choice for this cover was the work of Eric Gill. Apart from being one of the greatest monumental letterers and type designers of the twentieth century, Gill was also a fervent Catholic who always retained a spiritual dimension in his work. The combination of the sacred and celebratory that marks the type he designed for the Golden Cockerel press (featured in books such as his illuminated Gospels) was an ideal fit for the title of the Irish Catechism.

ImageOne of the most direct inspirations for this cover as a whole was the work of Veritas’s former art director Bill Bolger, who sadly passed away last year. Bill had a gift for the happy juxtaposition of type, art and space; the example shown here (from 2000) displays this facet of his work at its playful best. While my cover for the Irish Catechism may lack Bill’s daring sense of balance, I hope that I have captured some of his monumentality.

The Irish Catholic Catechism for Adults is a document that will speak to Irish Catholics for many years to come; it is my hope that its cover will convey a sense both of its Irishness and its authority as a resource.”

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