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.

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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!

Tea and stamps anyone?

Twinings 1959 series Inverted Swan

In 1959, the famous tea merchant, Twining’s of London, printed a series of 30 small cards measuring 1½ inches by 2¾ inches featuring illustrations of some of the world’s rarest stamps. Cigarette cards, showing actresses, sportsmen and other well-known figures, first appeared here in the late nineteenth century, issued by firms like Wills and John Player & Sons. They were used both as a form of advertising and as a means of strengthening the cigarette packet. The idea proved popular and all kinds of subjects featured on the cards over the following decades.

After the Second World War and the rationing of tea that was continued in its aftermath, the big British tea companies introduced tea cards as a way of marketing and re-introducing tea to the public in the early 1950s. Their market, of course, extended to Ireland where drinking tea was, until very recent years, much more popular than coffee. Considerable care was taken in the design and printing of the cards which were produced to a very high standard. The combination of colour and interesting snippets of information was a winning formula and the public collected cards to such an extent that the tea companies had to take on extra staff to deal with queries from those who wanted to buy missing cards to complete their collections!

Twining’s was set up in the early eighteenth century and its premises on London’s Strand is not far from the headquarters of the famous stamp dealer, Stanley Gibbons, which is also located on the Strand. Perhaps there was some co-operation between the two businesses for these tea cards encouraged stamp collecting. Instructions on the back of the cards read:

“Collect all 30 cards of the set. Cut off the bottom portions and return to above address with stamped addressed envelope for a free packet of selected foreign stamps.”

The series was devised by leading English stamp experts of the time, the Williams brothers, Norman and Maurice, whose knowledge of philately, especially its quirkier aspects, was immense. This particular series highlights some of the bizarre stories behind early stamp issues. Take a look at card No. 7, for instance. It shows Charles Connell, postmaster of New Brunswick in Canada, who decided to put his own portrait instead of Queen Victoria’s, on a 5 cent stamp in 1860. Such was the outrage generated that he had to resign and almost all of the stamps were destroyed.  The “Double Geneva” of 1843 is an interesting stamp because it was printed in two parts, half could be used for local Geneva post at 5 centimes or the whole, at 10 centimes, could be used for letters between Swiss cantons.

Finally, there is card No. 8 which has an Irish connection even though it is an 1854 stamp of Western Australia. The stamp shows a swan within a frame. During printing the frame was inverted and a few stamps were issued before the mistake was discovered. Known as the “inverted swan”, one of the very few known is in the National Museum’s collection in Dublin. It was discovered by a school boy in The High School Dublin and ended up being bought by the Duke of Leinster who left his wonderful stamp collection to the museum.

Curator