Children’s book publisher opens a new chapter and goes international

Date Published: {J}

Climbing the timber stairs to the top floor of a converted garage, along a narrow road just outside Spiddal, it doesn’t look like you are entering a publishing empire. And indeed maybe ‘empire’ is an exaggeration. But the small Irish language company Futa Fata, which publishes beautiful picture books for children, is beginning to make its mark internationally.

Two Futa Fata authors Bridget Bhreathnach and Ailbhe Nic Giolla Bhrighde have just had their stories – Lúlú agus and an Oíche Ghlórach, and Cáca don Rí translated into Chinese and Korean respectively. Both of these stories are beautifully illustrated by Steve Simpson.

Ailbhe is also reading at this year’s Baboró Arts Festival for Children, as is Patricia Forde, another of Futa Fata’s authors, whose latest book, Binjí– Madra ar Strae has just been published.

Just two weeks ago Futa Fata launched its latest home produced book, An Coileach Codlatach. It was a poignant occasion, as the book’s author Nuala Nic Con Iomaire died last year, but it was also a happy one, explains the founder of Futa Fata, Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin.

“It was a lovely night. Her daughter Iseult Harvey and her cousins read from the book,” he says.

Tadhg’s journey from his birthplace in Mayo to publishing in Connemara was an eventful one, taking in primary teaching, television and music along the way. During the 1990s, he presented RTÉ’s Irish language Cúrsaí Éalaíona. Throughout, he retained a keen interest in his own musical pursuits, releasing two CDs.

When he moved to Connemara over 10 years ago, Tadhg continued his involvement with TV, working on the TG4 series Ros na Rún. More recently he was co-creator of the TV series Aifric, writing several episodes..

But, he was drawn back to music and in 2005 he released Gugalaí Gug, a CD of traditional children’s rhymes in Irish, which also included a book.

“I had done CDs and decided it couldn’t be that difficult to do books,” he recalls.

Gugalaí Gug had an initial print run of 2,000 copies and to his amazement all of these were sold within six weeks.

“We got a gold disc for it in March, to mark sales of 7,500 in Ireland.”

After Gugalaí Gug Tadhg broadened his remit and started producing picture books in Irish. Futa Fata – which is the Irish equivalent of Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum – was born.

Tadhg began by translating books from other languages into Irish. At the Bologna Book Fair in Italy a picture book and CD that had been originally published in English by a small publishing company in California, caught his eye. That became Frog sa Spéir, with children from Connemara providing the voices for the CD in the Irish version.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.