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Duffy, James

Duffy, James

An enterprising publisher of patriotic and religious works for a mass market, James Duffy (c. 1809–1871) was a native of County Monaghan, but the exact date of his birth and the circumstances of his background are unknown. He is believed to have received a hedge-school education before going to Dublin to start in business as a bookseller. Reputedly, he made an early fortune by buying cheap Bibles bestowed on unappreciative Catholics by Protestant missionaries and reselling them in Liverpool, where they commanded a considerable profit. As a beginner in publishing, Duffy issued editions of established lowbrow favorites such as The Life of Freney the Robber, but it was as the publisher of respectable literature in inexpensive but tasteful formats that he made his mark. By the 1840s the growth of literacy and the flourishing of Irish Catholicism created a thriving market for works of piety and devotion. Duffy tapped that market and extended it to the Catholic Church throughout the British empire, winning business around the globe. Eager to find a medium for the propagation of an elevated nationalism, Thomas Davis and Charles Gavan Duffy of the Nation turned to Duffy to publish their multivolume series of low-priced works of literature, history, and reference, the Library of Ireland. Twenty-two volumes appeared between 1845 and 1847. Several of them, such as Gavan Duffy's anthology The Ballad Poetry of Ireland and Davis's Literary and Historical Essays, were enormously successful. Diversifying his trade, Duffy ventured in 1847 into the thriving but volatile periodical sector with Duffy's Irish Catholic Magazine (although there was no commitment on the publisher's part to the more comprehensive ideals of the Young Irelanders). He experimented with successive titles, ending with Duffy's Hibernian Sixpenny Magazine in 1864. By then Duffy had assembled a book list that encapsulated a large segment of the emerging canon of popular patriotic literature. His entrepreneurial ethic allegedly denied holidays both to himself and to his employees, and there is little hint of warmth in the tributes paid to him after his death on 4 July 1871. There is no known cache of personal or business papers, and this major Irish pioneer of print capitalism has not yet attracted a full-length study.

SEE ALSO Balladry in English; Chapbooks and Popular Literature; Education: Secondary Education, Female; Education: Secondary Education, Male; Literacy and Popular Culture


Hayley, Barbara, and Enda McKay, eds. Three Hundred Years of Irish Periodicals. 1987.

MacManus, M. J., ed. Thomas Davis and Young Ireland. 1945.

R. V. Comerford

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