While our museum in the GPO must unfortunately close at the end of the month to make way for ongoing work on the new 1916 Witness History centre, the An Post Museum & Archive will, of course, continue its work to preserve items of postal historical interest and to promote a greater awareness of the important role played by the Post Office in the development of so many aspects of Irish life over the generations. I would certainly echo my colleague Saoirse’s sentiments in relation to our Letters, Lives & Liberty exhibition in the GPO museum. It has been fun to meet so many different types of visitors over the last few years – tourists and locals, school children and pensioners, architects, historians, philatelists, designers and fellow postal workers. In creating this museum, my aim was to open up the Irish postal world and use it to introduce some of the subjects – transport, printing, finance and design, as well as Irish administrative and political history – that have been connected with the Post Office over the centuries. It has been rewarding for us to hear from so many people who enter the museum expecting just to learn a bit about stamps and leave it amazed at the impact the Post Office has had on Irish life. That has been the measure of the museum’s success over the last five years.
The physical GPO museum will close on the 30th May 2015 but we shall continue to use our website and other channels to provide a virtual display of and information on some of the material that was there, adding new things from our archive collections from time to time. Keep your eyes open too for occasional talks or touring exhibitions or for items that we may display elsewhere – like this pillar box that we recently provided for the departures area of Dublin airport – an enduring and friendly symbol of Ireland for people leaving our shores.
Assistant Secretary & Museum Curator
Trollope, remembered chiefly as a Victorian novelist, was also a highly respected civil servant and Irish Post Office official. An unsettled early life with family and financial difficulties led to the young Trollope seeking a job in the GPO in London. Various warnings about his conduct and performance found his opting for a transfer to Ireland as a surveyor’s clerk rather than being dismissed. The move to Ireland in 1841 marked a turning point in his career. He arrived in Dublin to find his London boss had given him a very poor reference, saying “he was worthless, and must in all probability be dismissed” but that he would be “judged on his merits”.
Within a year he had redeemed his professional reputation, met the woman he would marry and found Ireland, which he came to know very well, much to his liking. He came to know Ireland very well indeed and would appear before a Parliamentary Committee as an expert on its postal affairs. The country and its Post Office, indeed, gave him a discipline and focus which certainly helped to keep him on the straight and narrow and he repaid this with a sympathy and understanding of Ireland and its people which was somewhat unusual amongst establishment figures of the time. So here’s a toast to our former colleague from his latter day colleagues in the GPO!
Easter was earlier this year than it was in 1916 and we have marked the occasion already but our picture shows the ruined GPO after the destruction caused by the Rising. The event brought out plenty of people to see what had happened at the Post Office that year and some of them will have wondered perhaps why the rebels chose the GPO as their headquarters. The building was in a central location of course and it commanded a strong position but it was the fact that it controlled communications, and particularly telegraph communications, that made it particularly attractive to the 1916 leaders. The story of how the building was occupied and the reaction and role of the postal staff who were on duty is not well known and it is a theme explored in the GPO Museum’s Letters Lives & Liberty exhibition which is due to close in the next few weeks. So drop into the GPO and get the background in time for next year’s centenary commemorations!
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
Irish theatre has long enjoyed a high reputation which was confirmed by something I saw a few weeks before Christmas. The Last Post is an innovative and engaging piece of drama which is centred on the people and activities of a fictional Returned Letters Branch of An Post. The directors, Liadain Kaminska and Darren Sinnott, and their team invite the audience into the lives of those who write and sort letters and in the process, make us think about the human need to communicate and connect with others as part of life. Using all the resources of the old fire brigade station in Rathmines as the stage , the audience is guided by the postal staff on an intimate and at times anarchic journey which culminates in a chance to sort letters in a way that would never be officially countenanced at An Post! It’s a creative and amusing piece of drama that deserves to be seen.
Stephen Ferguson – Curator, An Post Museum
This year we are not only celebrating Christmas but also two hundred years since the foundation stone of the GPO was laid in 1814. There will be free entry to the An Post Museum from the 8th December till Christmas Eve so do come and take a look at our exhibition, Letters, Lives & Liberty, and if you drop in at lunch-time, you’ll also be able to join in with the traditional carol singing in the Public Office.
Have a very Happy Christmas.
An Post Museum and the GPO are closed Sundays and Bank Holidays.
Keep an eye on this page and our social media channels to keep up to date with details for events at the An Post Museum – GPO Dublin.
While the Post Office has long carried letters, its role in parcels is not so old. During the nineteenth century, carriage of parcels was by road carters and subsequently by the railways but towards the end of the century the Post Office entered this market and following the adoption of the Post Office (Parcels) Act in 1882, letter carriers were renamed postmen and the parcel post became part of the Department’s wider services. it was a move that proved very popular with the public though it meant a big change for the Post Office and its staff. This Christmas card from the An Post archive, sent to staff in Tullamore in 1886, offers fraternal greetings from the Dublin parcels staff. Today, the rise in online shopping means that parcel traffic is again very important for the Post Office.
While technological changes have meant that the volume of Christmas cards has declined dramatically in recent years, the tradition of sending turkeys and geese through the post is a distant memory now and the days of having 1800 telephonists on duty over Christmas are long gone, it’s still a very busy time of the year for the Post Office. People still very much like our Christmas stamps and I have picked out here a selection of some of the attractive stamps we have issued over the years.
The Irish Post Office first issued a special Christmas stamp in 1971 and since then there has been a great variety of designs and styles – from the iconography of Trinity College’s famous Book of Kells and paintings by the great masters to the fresh artistic expressions of children. The GPO’s traditional nativity scene is on display in the Public Office and with the building marking its bicentenary this year, it’s a good time to visit the Museum, post your cards and maybe buy a few souvenir items in our Philatelic Shop, special stamps or prize bonds as Christmas presents.
Infectious disease is something very much in the news at present and serves as a reminder of another ailment that was very much feared in Ireland and continues to be so in many parts of the world. Consumption, an older word for tuberculosis, spread rapidly in areas of overcrowding and poverty and was the cause of death for many thousands of people here. The establishment of national sanatoria, a better understanding of the disease and a more caring attitude towards those who suffered from it, in addition of course to antibiotic drugs, brought great improvements but vigilance remains necessary. The Post Office, as a place where people met and transacted business, provided a space where the Postmaster General could bring the disease to the attention of people and point out one very common form of transmitting it.
Over the centuries a great many people have worked for the Post Office in Ireland and I regularly receive enquiries from people who are trying to piece together their family history. It’s well-known that a great deal of Irish historical material has been lost and the GPO’s role in the 1916 Rising means that Irish postal records suffered a like fate. Occasionally, however, it is possible to find out information that does help people in their research and the case of Thomas Hollinshead is one such.
The portrait, by Lawrence of Dublin, shows the distinguished figure of Thomas Hollinshead, an Englishman whose family was long settled in Staffordshire. He had joined the privately owned Electric Telegraph Company in 1854 and, when telegraph work was taken over by the Post Office, found himself a postal employee. He moved to Ireland and transferred to the survey branch of the Post Office, being appointed Assistant Surveyor of the Irish Midland District from 1884. He ended his days in Wales and died in 1910.
Thomas Hollinshead GPO surveyor (donated by family)
The photograph was kindly donated to the An Post Museum & Archive by his descendants when the Canadian and Irish branches of the family joined up and met me in the GPO recently. When, a couple of years ago, I received similar genealogical enquiries about Thomas Hollinshead from both Canada and Ireland, it was rewarding to be able to reunite family members who had lost touch over the intervening generations.