My 5 favourite Holly Bough covers: View 85 of them online now

To mark the Holly Bough's 125th anniversary, editor JOHN DOLAN has compiled all the surviving covers on the EchoLive.ie/hollybough website - and here he chooses his favourites from down the decades
My 5 favourite Holly Bough covers: View 85 of them online now

CLASSIC CORK: The 1956 Holly Bough cover, designed by artist Marshall C. Hutson

WHEN something has been around for 125 years, it’s fair to stay it has stood the test of time and has entered the hearts and minds of the people.

So it is with the Holly Bough.

For a century and a quarter, the publication has been a staple of the Cork Christmas, and as the editor, I really wanted to mark this year’s anniversary by paying tribute to its amazing longevity.

So, as well as writing a history of the magazine for this year's edition, I made it my mission to hunt down as many Holly Bough covers as I could - and now they can all be viewed online at EchoLive.ie/hollybough

I couldn’t quite manage to track down 125 covers - there were a handful of years in the early 20th century where the Holly Bough didn’t appear because of wars, economic turmoil, and a shortage of essentials such as paper and ink.

Also, many copies from the first few decades of the publication have been sadly lost to the mists of time - so, if you have any old Holly Boughs languishing in an attic or drawer that do not appear on our website, do let me know as it would be great to fill in some of the blanks.

However, what we are left with is a remarkable archive of Cork ‘s heritage - 85 covers dating from the very first one, in 1897, all the way up to the present edition.

STUNNING: The beautiful 2019 Holly Bough cover by Don Carey
STUNNING: The beautiful 2019 Holly Bough cover by Don Carey

When viewed chronologically, it gives you an insight into how times have changed in Cork in the past 125 years - and how elements of the festive season such as family, childlike innocence, religion, and togetherness have stayed the same.

The first thing to notice from that 1897 Holly Bough is the distinctive red cover, which has remained pretty much the same ever since (give or take a few years when the red ink wasn’t available).

The next cover on archive, from 1924, just contained ads and nothing else - a situation our advertising department would probably dearly love to restore!

From then on, we get a wonderful glimpse into how our forefathers and mothers viewed the festive season down the decades, through the art on the cover of the publication.

There are sweet family scenes, images of children skating on The Lough, and churches - gosh, so many churches!

From the 1930s to the 1960s, many Holly Bough covers had religious - specifically Roman Catholic - iconography, as befitted a country where, according to the 1936 Census, 93.5% of the population identified as that religion, and the vast majority of those would have attended Mass every Sunday.

Remarkably, the sole advertiser on the covers of the Holly Bough from at least 1933 until 1959 - and sporadically into the 1960s - was Howard Bros flour mills of Bellmount Mills, Crookstown, Co Cork - makers of “the famous Oneway wholemeal flour”.

When we arrive at the 1970 Holly Bough covers, we see another big change, brought about by new technology - full colour photos and images adorning the cover.

SIMPLE YET EFFECTIVE: The 1997 Holly Bough cover
SIMPLE YET EFFECTIVE: The 1997 Holly Bough cover

In this year’s Holly Bough - and on the website - I mention a few of the artists whose work appeared on the cover down the decades.

J.B Killen produced the 1940 art, depicting the Mardyke Walk, the 1941 one depicting UCC, and one for 1949 showing City Hall and the North Gate Bridge.

Around the same time, Lyman Kinmonth was also a cover artist, showing beloved Cork scenes such as Blackrock Castle and the Mardyke Walk.

In the 1950s, cover artists included Frank Sanquest, for years a set designer at Cork Opera House, Marshall C. Hutson, whose sculpture of Cork’s Coat of Arms can still be seen above the entrance to the Cork Harbour Commissioners building, and Tadg Lehane.

Soirle MacCana was a Holly Bough cover artist in the 1960s, while others have included Cloda Hassett and Lillian O’Sullivan, whose grand-uncle was the aforementioned Lyman Kinmonth!

I became editor in 2002 and we initially ran covers depicting old Cork festive scenes with a touch of colour added. We often traced the people in those old photos and told their stories the next year.

SEA OF FACES: The 2013 Holly Bough cover of a photo from a festive party at Collins Barracks in 1955
SEA OF FACES: The 2013 Holly Bough cover of a photo from a festive party at Collins Barracks in 1955

However, as the amount of suitable Cork festive photos of the past dried up, I decided to return to the concept of asking an artist to produce the cover design within the distinctive red cover - starting with Marvel artist Will Sliney in 2016.

To herald the Holly Bough covers appearing online, I said I would pick out here my five favourites from the past 125 years. Big mistake! After five minutes, I was left wondering if I should have said top 20.

I decided I could only choose one cover since we returned to the Cork artists in 2016, when I wanted to choose them all! After much deliberation, I selected the 2019 design by Don Carey, from Kinsale, which superbly knitted together the three elements of Cork, Christmas, and nostalgia.

FUN: The 1959 Holly Bough cover by Tadg Lehane, who injected some festive  frivolity into the covers
FUN: The 1959 Holly Bough cover by Tadg Lehane, who injected some festive  frivolity into the covers

I also chose the 1956 cover by Marshall C. Hutson, a gorgeous illustration depicting Cork’s northside; the brilliant 1959 one by Tadg Lehane showing various festive scenes with Barney Castle in the middle; the 1997 cover for its simplicity, depicting a child by a tree at Christmas; and one from 2013, showing a sea of gleeful faces at a Christmas party in Collins Barracks, Cork, in 1955.

But which is your favourite? See them at https://www.echolive.ie/hollybough-covers/

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