Ireland has produced many notable literary men and women over the centuries but fewer scientists. In recent years, there has however been an increasing awareness that there have been remarkable talents too in science, engineering and mathematics and one of the greatest was undoubtedly Hamilton whose work in mechanics and optics continues to have relevance today.
The excellent, A word a day, website recently featured the German Carl Friedrich Gauss and showed a stamp that had been issued for him by the German Post Office. That prompted me to find some Irish stamps featuring scientific men and since Hamilton has actually been commemorated twice by the Irish Post Office, once in 1943 and again – as shown here – in 2005 I thought he should take pride of place.
Issued by La Poste and kindly sent to me by a Breton friend, this stamp marks the 500th anniversary of the death of Anne of Brittany (Anna Vreizh), a wealthy and much pursued heiress who was twice queen consort of France. As the summer starts, many Irish people will take the boat to Cherbourg or Roscoff to enjoy their holidays in Brittany and sample the particular delights, history and traditions of that lovely part of France.
The annual Festival Interceltique, which takes place in Lorient in August, draws together some 700,000 people who wish to share the music, languages and customs of a heritage that unites the celtic peoples of western Europe. They might spare a thought for Anne of Brittany who, in choosing amongst her various political suitors, sought to preserve the independence of her native Brittany.
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!
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.
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.
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.
It’s St. Patrick’s Day again and time to be thinking of the little three-leaved plant. Sending shamrock by way of the Post Office was once a big thing and extra staff had to be put on to cope with what was called “Shamrock pressure”.
Here, however, is an internal Post Office notice from a century ago which suggests that business will be down in 1917. The reason, of course, was the ongoing First World War when thoughts, unfortunately, were turned to recycling razor blades for weapons rather than sending shamrock as a sign of peace and rejoicing.
The 1916 GPO flag-pole
This small section of the GPO flag staff, on which the Union Jack had traditionally been flown, is a recent donation to the An Post Museum. It is part of a somewhat longer section found amongst the rubble of the burnt-out building by one of the men contracted to clear up the debris and formed part of a private collection of 1916 and related memorabilia. The piece shows signs of cracking and is split in one place, evidence of the great heat generated by the fires that consumed the building and much of O’Connell Street during the rebellion.
A small section of the 1916 flag-pole recently donated to the An Post Museum & Archive
This is a big year for stamp collectors as they mark 175 years since the world’s first adhesive postage stamp was introduced back in 1840. The little square of black paper with a finely engraved profile of the young Queen Victoria has become an item that many collectors want to have. It’s not that expensive a stamp – it’s significance lies more in being the “first” and in what it meant for people who wrote letters. At just a penny, it really opened up correspondence, news and education for people who were formerly excluded by the high cost of postage.
The stamps were used in Ireland, of course, since the Royal Mail covered both Britain and Ireland at that time and the interesting story of how one very early Penny Black came to be used on a letter from Dublin to London in May 1840 is told in a little booklet, which contains an exact replica of the letter and stamps, available from our philatelic department.
The Fitzpatrick – Thomas Letter of 1840