Mercier Press at 80

As Ireland’s oldest independent publishing house, Mercier Press has boldly shaped the face of Irish literature over the past 80 years. 

Founded in 1944 by husband-and-wife team Captain Seán and Mary Feehan, Mercier Press, named in honour of Cardinal Mercier of Belgium, the renowned theologian and WW1 resistance figure, fearlessly set out as it meant to continue. To challenge convention, to give a voice to the voiceless, to publish with integrity, and to never shy away from controversy.

Mercier’s very first title in 1944, The Music of Life, by Fr. James O’Mahony, set a high bar. The book encouraged readers to question and crucially think differently to the established and often suffocating catholic dogma of the time. Revolutionary for its day, the book’s societal and cultural impact cannot be understated. 

Through the decades, Mercier’s trailblazing, open spirit has championed many Irish writers and allowed them the space to tell their stories. Stories, that connect with readers and stories which would often have otherwise been silenced. Books such as 1974’s Irish Marriage How Are You by Nuala Fennell, explored the taboo subject of domestic violence. Indeed in 1966, Mercier published Marriage Partnership, which due to stifling censorship in Ireland, had to be sold under the counter. 

Challenging norms has always been part of Mercier’s DNA and over the years we have consistently opened the door to discuss the “undiscussable.” The 1980s brought with it political censorship, but against this backdrop, Mercier became a creative sanctuary for voices to flourish. Books such as; The Secret War, Who’s Bugging You? The Shooting of Robert Nairac, Shoot to Kill, One Day in My Life , The SAS in Ireland, Man of No Property pulled back the curtain of the times. 

Mercier’s unbreakable spirit continues right up to the present, with our ongoing commitment to stand up and defy convention. Recent books such as Philippa Ryder’s moving trans memoir My Name is Philippa and the remarkable Ionbhá which brought an eclectic group of voices together from all walks of life on the topic of empathy, underpin our courageous 1944 roots. 

In 2023, Mercier became the first Irish publisher to be shortlisted for the International Publishers Association Prix Voltaire Awards. The accolade honours those who have made a significant contribution to the defence and promotion of freedom to publish in the world. We were both humbled and honoured to be recognised alongside some truly inspirational people.  

Much like our trailblazing, open attitude, Mercier’s impressive catalogue of books does not conform to one single offering. Instead, we have a multidimensional outlook and actively publish a rich and varied wealth of titles, from important and illuminating chapters of Irish history and politics, to wellness books, non-fiction, memoirs, cheeky comedy, children’s books, and even page-turning fiction.

Preserving and promoting the Irish language and culture has also been hugely important to us. This year Mercier reprinted Judith Kerr’s classic book An Tíogar a Tháinig Chun Tae (The Tiger Who Came to Tea) which was last published in 1969, as well as the dual language books, Short Stories of Pádraic Pearse and Bibeanna by Brenda Ní Shúilleabháin. Our long association with legendary Irish writer and playwright John B. Keane is something we are also deeply proud of. Keane’s ‘Celebrated Letters’ series, novels, and plays, including the tragic Sive and The Field, continue to be read and enjoyed around the world. 

While Mercier is a proud Cork-based publisher and continues to champion niche Cork publications such as Denis Horgan’s This is Cork and Chris Larkins West Cork Railways, we have always been a publishing house with an eye on the international. Mercier Press was the first Irish publisher to exhibit at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1955 and we continue to do so. We also recognise the importance of translating works into English. In 1978, Mercier translated, A.-D. Sertillanges’ This Intellectual Life from its original French and in 2025 we will publish the award-winning Judith Hermann’s ‘We’d Have Told Each Other Everything’ translated by Katy Derbyshire.

We have also embraced the digital side of publishing as well as audiobooks, to ensure we allow our important stories to be heard on every platform. 

As we celebrate our incredible milestone of 80 years in publishing, we look to the evolving future of the industry with hope and enthusiasm, while never forgetting the founding principles that make Mercier truly remarkable.