The Post Office & Rural Life

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Delighted to be co-operating with the wonderful North Mayo Heritage Centre on this exhibition which was opened on Saturday last. A great collection of fascinating artifacts on display, wonderful stories to explore and a lovely café for coffee and a bite to eat!

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Commodious, well arranged…and highly ornamental to the city – The GPO – 200 years this year

 

GPO - entry of George IV to Dublin

 (George IV passing the GPO)

 

For 200 years now Dublin’s General Post Office has been at the heart of events in the city. For many the building is famous simply as the headquarters of the men and women of 1916 but its role as the communications centre of Ireland – for letters, telegraphs and telephones – as well as its place in banking, welfare and pensions gives it a claim to be seen as one of the most quietly influential buildings in the whole of Ireland.

Constructed between 1814 and 1818 under the supervision of the distinguished Armagh-born architect, Francis Johnston, the GPO is one of the oldest working chief post offices in the world. Severely classical in style, its fine façade and portico are all that remain of the original building which was much smaller than the GPO which re-emerged after the destruction of 1916. Indeed, the building underwent several modifications before then as it coped with the development of new business during the 19th century and the accommodation provided for certain staff gave way to working space.

2.2 Francis Johnston RHA portrait

(Francis Johnston)

The main public entrance was originally via a door where Cuchulain now stands and people entered a room which had sorting offices to left and right and which led to the mail coach yard at the rear of the building. Before the coming of the railways, the daily departure of the mail coaches was a splendid event which drew visitors to the GPO. There were kitchens in the basement, an armoury at the back, a nursery upstairs and generous accommodation for the boss of the time, Sir Edward Lees, and his family. Railings remained at the front of the building until the close of the nineteenth century and you can still see the base of the cast-iron lamp stands outside today.

By the start of the twentieth century, the GPO had become extremely cramped and the purchase of Ball’s Bank in Henry Street in 1903 was the start of a long expansion and renovation programme carried out by Robert Cochrane and Howard Pentland of the Board of Works. This was completed just a few weeks before rebels entered the building on Easter Monday 1916. GPO staff and unarmed soldiers on duty in the telegraph office resisted the attack and refused to leave until shots were fired into their office. The fires that consumed the building at the end of Easter Week destroyed much invaluable historical information as well as current operational records but these were reconstructed and, just three days after the end of hostilities, GPO staff were back on delivery working from temporary premises behind the Rotunda hospital.

GPO 55

 

Writing in the New Statesman on 6th May 1916 Bernard Shaw did not shed many tears for the GPO, seeing it as rather dull architecture: “Its destruction” he said, “does not matter” nor did he grieve much for the city centre. His main regret was that Dublin’s infamous slums had not been cleared: “How I wish”, he remarked, “I had been in command of the British artillery on that fatal field!  How I should have improved my native city”! Post Office management and city planners paid no heed to Shaw and plans for the rebuilding of the GPO were soon drawn up. The ongoing political unrest and further violence in Ireland, however, added to financial constraints meant that GPO staff did not move in again until 1928. The building was formally reopened in 1929 but only completed in 1933. T J Byrne of the OPW was responsible for the creation of a greatly enlarged building which included radio broadcasting studios but no longer mail sorting. His design of the GPO’s Public Office retained elements of Francis Johnston’s original work but was strikingly modern in its incorporation of art deco features. We might almost imagine Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers tap-dancing their way to the counter to post a letter!

A building of great historical significance and architectural distinction, the GPO is above all a monument to the millions of ordinary Irish men and women who have entered its halls and entrusted their daily business, their aspirations and regrets, their dreams and their sadness to the grand old lady of O’Connell Street – Dublin’s GPO.

 

 

Stephen Ferguson

Assistant Secretary, GPO

National Lottery

Lottery ticket Royal Exchange 1777Until quite recently An Post managed the Irish National Lottery for which it received payment from the Government. The Company was also part owner. Its extensive network of post offices allowed it to sell lottery tickets economically and conveniently throughout the country. The Lottery is now run by another business.

Post Office involvement in gambling was somewhat at odds with its traditional role as a prudent home for your money and the advocate of a savings habit to be inculcated from an early age with six penny savings stamps! Lotteries were not new of course when An Post became involved in the mid-1980s as this 1777 ticket, from the Museum & Archive, demonstrates. The object here was the building of the new Royal Exchange, now the City Hall.

 

 

Finnish independence – 2017

We attended the very well organised Finlandia stamp exhibition in Tampere earlier in the year which focused particularly on the centenary of Finnish independence. Sinn Fein’s propaganda labels, used here in the years before the 1916 rebellion, probably drew inspiration from a similar scheme drawn up by the Finns to highlight the desire for independence from Russia.

Sinn Fein celtic cross label

The Celtic Cross motif used here later, of course, became better known as part of Ireland’s first definitive issue.

 

 

James Joyce and Bloomsday

We couldn’t le the 16th June go by without a nod to James Joyce. Here he is on a 2004 Irish post office stamp. Did you know that a first edition of Ulysses, sent from Davy Byrne’s pub in Dublin, was impounded by the British Post Office under censorship laws? Curiously, the book wasn’t banned at that stage in Ireland!

James Joyce stamp

A 1947 old age pension order

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?

Old age pension 31st october 1947 Grand Parade Cork

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 postal business – always a struggle!

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.

Fergal Quinn prepares to go out on delivery

The GPO’s telegraph in Dublin 1916

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!