Saturday, January 06, 2007

Brought to Book

News here on the imminent RTÉ documentary on the Nazi past of educational publisher Albert Folens, whose books all Irish children of my age - and many other ages - will remember from their schooldays. Folens, who fled his native Belgium after the war fought with the Waffen SS (like the much younger Günther Grass) and later worked for the Gestapo as a translator. Folens never hid his past but he may have minimised the extent of his activities, and possibly, crimes.

Folens' schoolbooks, I seem to remember, were stuffier and more old-fashioned than those of C.J. Fallon's, their main competitor (I always found it strange how the names of the two companies were so similar), though I did like Folens' logo, a fly enclosed in a hexagon, which had a vaguely sinister air to it, now rendered all the more sinister by the news of his past. While home over the Christmas I found an old copy of the Folens history book From Grattan to Lemass, which was the book we used in fourth class (for non-Irish readers, that would be aged 10). The book dates from the 1970s, long before there were graphic designers lurking in the corner of every bar in Dublin, and in terms of layout and design it is a mess, all cheap reproductions of old woodcuts with gaudy plates of magenta or yellow bizarrely superimposed on them, the only gesture to colour photographs made. The content of the book however, even at this remove, is mild enough, considering the usual whines of revisionist historians about how a complaisant educational system fostered indulgence of IRA violence. Compared to the nonsense that French governments have tried to force down the throats of the nation's children, Folens' books - his Republican sympathies notwithstanding - were responsible enough.


Póló said...

Folens's publishing career started when he published Roneod cog notes for exams, not just in French but in English and Irish and whatever you're having yourself.

He also wrote a French course through Irish, Nuachúrsa Fraincise, though Donnchadh Ó Chéileachair did the Irish bit as Froggy had no Irish to speak of.

Over time he filled more gaps in educational publishing and the style and presentation of his material improved.

On balance I think he served the Irish educational sector very well and I would not join the knee-jerk moralisers who see him, and his heirs, as a subversive force in Irish society.