“Wish you were here” – celebrating the postcard, 1869-2019

The idea of a post card, one side of which could be used for the address and stamp and the other for a short message, originated 150 years ago with the first plain post cards going on sale in post offices throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire on 1st October 1869. The picture postcard was a natural development of the plain one and from the 1880s it became common in continental Europe. Holiday cards from the seaside remained popular in the 1920s and 30s and in John Hinde the Irish tourist industry found in the 1960s a man who had a genius for portraying a land where the sky was always blue, the people innocent and the scenery stunning. Today technology, for better or worse, has rendered largely obsolete a form of written communication that was once so dominant.

The hobby of postcard collecting, however, is still alive and people turn now to the cards of yesterday for understanding of a vanished world. Above all, we find in the postcard proof of the vital role played by the Post Office in bringing people together and evidence of our own unchanging need, as human beings, to communicate with each other. 

A few cards from the An Post Museum & Archive are currently on display beside the cafe in the Witness History visitor center in Dublin’s GPO, including this one from Patrick Pearse to his brother William. Written in Irish, the address caused some confusion amongst postal staff in 1915, hence the two postmarks.

Sent by Pearse from Maam Cross to Marlborough Road in Donnybrook but redirected via Phibsborough

St. Patrick’s Day cards

Feargal Quinn, Chairman of An Post, and Jim Mitchell, Minister for Communications, post their St. Patrick’s Day cards in the GPO in February 1984.

The idea of sending special cards to mark Ireland’s saint’s day goes back to the nineteenth century and by the early twentieth century there were many commercial firms involved in their production, both in Britain and Ireland and in the United States. Much of the now traditional imagery associated with Ireland and the Irish dates from that time.

Irish Coleen with Shamrock

Haud immemor – Irish Post Office staff in the Great War

 As we mark the end of the First World War, a century ago this Sunday, we remember especially those men and women of the Irish Post Office who joined the armed and auxiliary services during the war to end all wars. Throughout the war, the Post Office Circular listed every week those who had died or been wounded and dotted amongst the columns of names are men from every corner of Ireland. While there was an official Post Office battalion, the Post Office Rifles, with which the Department was associated, it was a London-based unit and the majority of Irish staff tended to join local Irish regiments like the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the Royal Irish Rifles. Staff from all sections of the Post Office volunteered for service – there was no conscription in Ireland unlike the rest of the United Kingdom – and men from the engineering department or those with telegraph experience were especially useful in certain parts of the army. Vacancies were sometimes filled by women whose participation in the postal workforce increased significantly during the war. When it ended, those men who survived took up their positions again and the women were let go.

Worth noting in the context of the war are two other events which involved Irish postal staff. During the 1916 rebellion in Dublin, a small number of GPO staff took the side of the insurgents and cut communication channels while a larger number played a prominent part in maintaining and restoring telephone and telegraph lines. Significant too is the fact that just a month before the end of the war, twenty one of the twenty two postal sorting staff on board the mail boat, RMS Leinster, lost their lives when it was torpedoed off the Kish bank in the Irish sea.

DPD War Memorial


The RMS Leinster – 100 years on

Today we recall the great tragedy that was the RMS Leinster sinking. The mail boat was torpedoed by a German submarine in the Irish Sea on its way from Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) to Holyhead. Well over 500 people, sailors, civilians, soldiers and Post Office staff lost their lives as, subsequently, did the German submarine crew. Despite being the worst maritime disaster in the Irish Sea, the event was soon forgotten by the general public as the war ended a month later and changed political circumstances in Ireland greatly reduced the importance of the long-established mail boat connection between Ireland and Britain.

Twenty one of the twenty two Post Office staff who manned the on-board sorting office lost their lives. Their particular role and the story of the Holyhead mail boat is told in a new book published by the Irish post office, An Post.

Leinster book cover

A Dutch Brievenbus

This attractive Dutch letter box is interesting for the vertical arrangement of the letter and printed matter apertures. No longer in use of course, it can be found in the old windmill park visitor area not far from Amsterdam.