Brereton Ballad Sheets, Dublin, 19th Century

Peter Brereton of Dublin, was a ballad-sheet printer who flourished in the second half of the 19th century. During this time he occupied various addresses in Dublin city, among them 1 Lower Exchange St and 55 & 56 Cooke St. Very little is known about Brereton or his printing business, but it can be said that he was one of the most prolific printers of ballad sheets in his time. Brereton ballad sheets have survived in great numbers and are well represented in the major libraries of Ireland, Britain and the United States.

Brereton ballad sheets are quite distinct in style. Poor paper, poor quality of print, misprints, misspellings and omissions are commonplace. A good example of his poor printing practice is demonstrated in one of the ballad sheets presented here, The Lovely Maid of Williamstown, in which ‘Williamstown’ is spelt in no less than six different ways throughout the ballad.

Brereton ballads were illustrated with the same few pictorial woodcuts. More often than not, the woodcut bears no relation to the subject matter of the song, and the same woodcut was often re-used many times on different sheets.

ITMA has an extensive collection of over 3,400 original and copied ballad sheets; of these 330 contain the Brereton imprint. The full collection of ballad sheets is available to visitors within the Archive.

With thanks to Leslie Shepard, Jill Shepard Glenstrup, Dan Milner, & Dr John Moulden, who has donated to ITMA a copy of his 2006 Ph.D. thesis The Printed Ballad in Ireland: A Guide to the Popular Printing of Songs in Ireland, 1760–1920. ITMA would welcome the donation of other materials of this kind which are not yet in its collections, or of their loan for copying.

MG, 1 October 2015