This week marks the 101st anniversary of the Easter rebellion in Dublin. The 1916 rebels had a strong appreciation of the importance of communications in warfare and this is one reason why the GPO became their headquarters, not because it was the country’s principal letter sorting office but because it housed the Central Telegraph Office. Control of the telegraph system would, they reasoned, be vital in their plans to disrupt Government communications and would increase the chances of the Rising’s being successful.
When they attacked the GPO on Easter Monday 1916, the telegraph room on the second floor was barricaded by staff and bravely defended by the unarmed military guard. One soldier was shot in the attack and when the room was occupied by the rebels and the Post Office staff instructed to leave, one woman, Miss Gordon who was the female supervisor, refused to leave until the wounded soldier had been attended to. This presented a delicate situation for the officer in charge of the rebel attack but he and Miss Gordon came to an agreement that the soldier might be brought to Jervis Street hospital provided he returned to become a prisoner. Unlikely though it seems, this is precisely what happened. The redoubtable Miss Gordon brought the man to hospital and a few hours later brought him back to the GPO to become a prisoner of the new republic!
This weekend is the actual anniversary of the Dublin rebellion which has had such an impact on the course of Irish history. Easter Monday was the 24th April in 1916 and that was the day a small group of rebels, determined to seek Irish independence through violent means, entered the General Post Office and made it their headquarters. The rebellion was deeply unpopular with most Irish people and it saw the deaths of close to 500 people and the destruction of the city centre. It has come to be seen, however, in a very different light and a good way of trying to understand something of what motivated the men and women who were involved in the Rising is to read the document they produced to explain and justify their actions.
A full-size facsimile of the actual copy on display in the GPO is available from the philatelic shop in the Post Office or online via
We often use the word “milestone” in our everyday conversations to mean a significant occasion or important event of some sort and forget that the word has its origins in the markers that were once placed at the side of roads to show how far a traveller was from the nearest town.
In Ireland some milestones were erected by the Post Office since it was involved in the making or improvement of post roads in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Mail coaches needed good roads and, while some attractive milestones from this period survive, many have been lost or removed in the course of more recent road widening.
This stone, a reminder of the time when Irish mail was sent to Britain from Howth, has been set into the wall and should be safe for many years yet.
After all the excitement of the centenary commemoration of the 1916 Rising last year, this year should be a little quieter. Tipperary County Council’s exhibition on 1916 covered the events clearly and incorporated people with local connections but for me one of its attractions was the clever GPO backdrop, complete with Ionic columns and statues on the roof!
This year marks the 350th anniversary of the birth of Jonathan Swift and various events have been planned both at home and abroad to commemorate the life and achievements of one of Ireland’s greatest writers. As an illustration, I’ve selected from our archive one of the stamps issued by the Post Office in 1967 on the 300th anniversary of his birth.
Born in Dublin, he was educated at Kilkenny College and Trinity College and was ordained a clergyman. He found his life in rural parishes in Ireland dull and hoped for more advantageous appointments in England where his abilities were put to use by both the Whig and Tory politicians of the time. His appointment as Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin was not what he had in mind but when he began to advance the cause of Ireland through his writings, he established himself as a popular local patriot. His work on debasement of Irish money (Drapier’s Letters) and the grievances of the exploited poor (A Modest Proposal) earned him a reputation as a daring and effective critic of Government policy.
Gulliver’s Travels (1726) is the book everyone knows about, largely because it has long been sold, in a shortened and censored form, as a children’s book. The story of Gulliver in the lands of giants and little people has obvious appeal to children but the book is really an adult one, a witty if rather bleak commentary on human nature. Swift’s own nature was a complex one and mystery still surrounds his own personal relationships, especially his love life. Did he ever marry and what was the nature of his association with “Vanessa”, that is Esther Vanhomrigh, and “Stella”, Esther Johnson, the woman he first met when she was just eight years old and beside whom he was buried in St. Patrick’s? Whose was the lock of hair found carefully wrapped in his desk and bearing the words “Only a woman’s hair”?
Swift’s later years were sad. He is believed to have suffered from Ménière’s disease, which caused dizziness and nausea, and added to this were loss of memory, a stroke and senility which led to his being seen as mad. His friends, for his own protection, had him declared “of unsound mind and memory”. He had long had a horror of losing his wits and an appreciation of the terrible indignities suffered by those who endured mental illness. In his will, he left the bulk of his money for the establishment of a mental hospital, St. Patrick’s, which continues to help people to this day.
Priest, politician and patriot, a man whose character blended personal ambition and practical humanity, Jonathan Swift’s insight and style make him one of the greatest of all satiric writers.
It’s strange the things which evoke a special response: take this green letter box, for instance, on loan to Dublin airport from the An Post Museum & Archive. Is it the green colour, the sight of a familiar object on an urban streetscape, its function as a means of communication or just plain old nostalgia? Whatever the reason, lots of people like to linger beside it as they make their way through the airport.