Finland marks this year the centenary of its independence, an event that has a strong resonance with Ireland’s 1916 commemoration last year. Finlandia, 2017, an international philatelic exhibition, has just taken place in the city of Tampere and this very well-organized occasion naturally focused on Finland’s history and philatelic treasures but there was a great deal of interest too to be found in the many high-class exhibits from around the world that examined so many different areas of philately and postal history. Congratulations to those whose exhibits were marked with particular success, not least the Irish contingent who did so well!
The Finnish postal museum, one of several very interesting museums housed in an old industrial building, had on show treasures from its own collection, including the 1856 5 and 10 kopek stamps, and also material on loan from Queen Elizabeth’s collection, including the Kirkcudbright Penny Black multiple cover. The opportunity to see some of the world’s greatest stamp rarities was relished by the many visitors who came to Tampere. The ride from the exhibition centre to the postal museum in an old Finnish postal bus was a nice treat for everyone too!
Straying a little from Irish postal matters, today we acknowledge the contribution of Emil Haversack whose ingenious method for easing the burden of carrying things by strapping them to your back led to the hi-tech haversacks of today’s trekkers.
The Strasbourg-born postman spent his life in the French and later German postal service and the picture shows what might be construed as an early version of the haversack in use!
For anyone near the Turlough Park Country Life division of the National Museum tomorrow, you might be interested in an illustrated talk on the history of the Post Office in Ireland, Serving Society, at 2pm in the museum.
The Post Office’s letter sorting office was once in the GPO but when the building was destroyed in the 1916 rebellion and later reconstructed, the sorting office was not reinstated. Instead sorting was done in a building in Pearse Street. When that building was deemed unsuitable, a new office was built in Sheriff Street and many Dublin postal staff will remember working in that building. Students too, who maybe got a job at Christmas, will remember its cavernous interiors, the mail sorting divisions, the machinery that sometimes worked and the loading platforms where the vans and lorries drew up.
Sheriff Street is greatly changed now and the IFSC has taken over from the Post office as the dominant employer in the locality but memories of the sorting office remain in the minds of the many staff – postmen, drivers, sorters, clerks etc. – who worked there from the late 1960s till it closed in the 1990s.
In 1947 the Irish old age pension was just ten shillings in old money: that’s about 60 cents in today’s euros although we would have to adjust for inflation and purchasing power of course. It was payable, as it still is, through the Post Office and this order bears the postmark of the Grand Parade post office in Cork city although it is the Irish language version that is used on the date-stamp, Sráid a’ Chapaill Bhuidhe, the Street of the Yellow Horse. There’s a puzzle for denizens of the real capital now – what’s the origin of that?
This seventy year old pension order has more of social history lore to offer. It bears an addition little stamp signifying that an extra five shillings should be added to the order. This was thanks to the liberality of the reforming first Inter-Party Government which replaced de Valera in 1948 and in particular to William Norton, Tánaiste and Labour Party leader, who introduced the measure… and Norton, of course, had started life as a Post Office employee and became secretary of the Post Office Workers’ Union!
So much to be learned from one little item in our Museum & Archive collection.
The “social” used to be a great thing for many firms and organisations. It might take the form of a sports day, an excursion or a dinner dance. Like many other big businesses, the Post Office catered for a wide range of staff interests and football, drama and golf societies were run by active members of staff who devoted a lot of time and commitment to them.
The dinner dance was a particularly popular occasion, a chance to get to know colleagues outside the day job and enjoy a meal and entertainment together. This photograph shows a Post Office dinner dance from 1963 and is from the collection of the photographer John Walsh who catalogued much of the daily life of the Liberties half a century ago. His grand-daughter has been sharing many lovely photographs on facebook. That’s where I saw this one and it’s certainly worth taking a look at her page. Copyright remains with the family.
This letter was penned in 1712, over three hundred years ago, and still looks very fresh! There were no stamps in those days of course but there is a wax seal, used to hold the paper in place where it was folded over (envelopes were a nineteenth century innovation) and a postmark (known as a Bishop mark), the oval shaped black mark with a dividing line across it. This letter was to be carried free of postage charges and, what I like best about it, just “left at the post house in Dublin”: no need for post codes of any kind!
An Post’s recent price increases for its mail services were designed to allow it a little time to draw up plans to cope with rapidly declining letter volumes. When the Company was established as a semi-state venture in 1984, the Board at the time drew attention to the declining letter traffic of previous years and sharp price increases in 1982 which enabled it to return – briefly – to profit.
The message at the time was summed up in the words “We must get new business – and we must handle it well without increasing our costs”. The photograph shows the Chairman of the time, Fergal Quinn, of the supermarket chain leading by example and getting ready to deliver some letters.
This year marks the ninetieth anniversary since a radio station started broadcasting in Cork. Broadcasting had begun from a small studio in Dublin’s Little Denmark Street in 1926 and would subsequently move into the GPO when the building re-opened after its destruction in 1916. On the 26th April 1927, the Minister for Posts & Telegraphs, J J Walsh, a Cork man, extended the service to Cork when he inaugurated the station, 6CK, with his opening words. The station was located in the city’s former female gaol, a rather gloomy environment perhaps but one favoured by the Post Office engineers for its position on high ground. Conditions were rather primitive and called for plenty of innovation and ingenuity by the station’s staff.
Though it cost very little to run, money was tight and the staff in Dublin considered some of the programming over ambitious so it was closed in September 1930. Cork had to wait until 1958 before new studios were opened at Union Quay.