Truth or Fiction?
We were recently asked to create a tour for a group of history buffs who were interested in Irish American history in general, but in particular the stories and origins of Irish American presidents.
Gray’s Printing Press in Strabane seemed like an obvious stop to include on this tour, because of its associations with two well known emigrants from the area. Almost every guidebook will tell you that John Dunlap, who printed the first copies of the Declaration of Independence, served his apprenticeship in Gray’s, and many mention that is probable that Woodrow Wilson’s paternal grandfather learned his trade there too.
Alas when we did a little more research, in an effort to separate truth from, well, let’s call it exaggeration, neither claim checked out.
There is no evidence that Woodrow Wilson’s grandfather was apprenticed there, though he was a printer and since the shop was well established before he left for America in 1807 he must at least have been aware of its existence. John Dunlap certainly never laid eyes on it, since he emigrated as a 10 year old in 1757, some 40 years before it opened.
Nevertheless it is remarkable that this shop still exists at all and from the outside has little changed in centuries. It continued in business for over 150 years, until the early 1960’s. Its future is now assured as it is in the hands of the National Trust and is a museum of print.
Gray’s is certainly well worth a visit to see the original 18th century printing press at work, several 19th-century hand-printing machines and a treasure trove of ink, galleys, plates and other exhibits, just don’t believe everything you read about it!
This tour turned out to be such an enjoyable and interesting one that we are making it available to everyone – have a look.