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Aisling Publications: Why Do We Do What We Do?

Independent press Aisling Publications share their publishing journey from magazine to books on the Aran Islands.


By Tess Harper-Molloy

This is an age-old question—why do we do what we do? Many don’t ask it and just mosey along living a life. That is, until something pulls them up short… like an accident, ill-health, mid-life, or a pandemic that sets the world’s teeth on edge and keeps us all two metres apart.

It is a question we, Tess and Dara (a married couple) at Aisling Publications, have always been aware of. We are continually responding to it, to keep our bearings centred within.

Why did we start publishing a magazine in 1991? Because we had moved to live on the fringes of society, to an island, to a simple, spiritually oriented lifestyle. By some strange magic, that small cottage became a hub of ideas and experience. Unpublished articles, stories, poetry, artwork, gathered on our kitchen table and in piles on the floor. People we knew and admired were sending us material: Ivan Illich, John Seymour, Mary O’Malley, Dan Berrigan, Mary Grant, Gillies Macbain, Mary Robinson, Richard Douthwaite, Kate Fitzpatrick, Alastair McIntosh, Kate Thompson, Kathleen Lynch, Michael D. Higgins. The AISLING Magazine began—‘Rooted in the Celtic; Living in Right Relationship; Working for Transformation’. 

We bought one of the original Mac computers, the Apple Macintosh Classic, put it on the kitchen table and started figuring out how it worked. It was a time of discovering that Quark Express was not the non-stop bus to Cork city, but rather a layout programme! We ended up using Pagemaker. We got an ABDick 360 offset printer, a photographic platemaker and a monstrous electric paper-cutter, and set the printing operation up in a neighbour’s leaky stone shed. The shed had to be wired for electricity before we could begin!

After choosing the articles, putting in the artwork, typing and laying out the magazine, it took us a number of days to physically make the plates and print each issue. The magazine was 80 pages. We printed 1,500 copies, with the cover in colour. Dara and I, plus a few volunteers, worked in the freezing damp shed, sometimes until the early morning hours. Then back to the kitchen table where we walked the many miles round and round it, to collate, staple, address and stamp each one and post them out to the world. Máirtín in the post office loved to see us coming!

Over the years so many friends helped. Some, when we were starting off, shared their knowledge of software, others helped with the printing side of things. Many people rowed in with the grunt work and collated, addressed and stamped the issues.

32 issues, fourteen years, plus many visitors, trainees, volunteers, two self-built houses, goats, sheep, ducks, chickens, dogs, and four beautiful children later, it became clear, with the advent of the internet, Mr Google and instant information, that the magazine was no longer needed and could gracefully retire. 

Then came the books. In 1998, Dara wrote Legends in the Landscape, a guidebook to Inis Mór. While we did all the layout, artwork, cover design and editing ourselves, we were very clear that we would not be printing it. We had sold off the ABDick printer. The finished book was delivered to a local printer on a floppy disk (remember those?).

We revised and enlarged this book in 2002, and then translated and published it in French, German, Italian and Spanish. It sells well to the tourists on Inis Mór.

After that came The Globalisation of God: Celtic Christianity’s Nemesis in 2009. Once again, it made more sense, in a life that had focused on independence and self-sufficiency, to do it ourselves. 

This year 2020, we published a book that I had been working on for years: Jung at Heart: Tools for Psychological Hygiene. The ins and outs of Pagemaker software have given way to the sophistication of Adobe InDesign. The ebook is now an option as well as the printed copy. Demand for audio versions is also growing. While the learning curve continues to be steep, the satisfaction has been enormous. All three books, we feel, are a success. Each says and does and looks exactly as we want it to.

What happens next remains to be seen. The Covid pandemic has given us plenty of free time. My book is out and selling; Dara has a new book written, almost ready to go; I am now starting to work on a book of poetry.  Our compass points still lie within; our skills are varied; our outlooks are contrasting. The work is gloriously satisfying.     

Books published:

  • Legends In The Landscape: Pocket Guide to Árainn by Dara Ó Maoildhia.
  • The Globalisation of God: Celtic Christianity’s Nemesis by Dara Molloy.
  • Jung at Heart: Tools for Psychological Hygiene by Tess Harper-Molloy.

All books are available at www.aislingpublications.com and back issues of AISLING magazine are available www.aislingmagazine.com

You can sign up to The AISLING Newsletter here.

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