The Changing Face of Irish Stamps

In my previous post on the Irish College of Leuven Fr Séan Coyle pointed out that the inscription on the College’s entrance, “Dochum Glóire Dé agus Ónóra na hÉireann” (“For the Glory of God and the Honour of Ireland”), was the motto of the old Irish Press newspaper (founded by Eamon de Valera in 1931; ceased print in 1995). I recently came across a postal stamp with the same motto on it from 1944. It is part of a series that was issued by the Irish state postal service, An Post, to commemorate the distinguished Franciscan lay-brother from Donegal, Michael O’Clery, under whose direction the Annals of the Four Masters was compiled. The stamp was designed by the Irish artist, Richard King, and shows the friar at work on the Annals. The series of stamps was in use up until the late ’60s.

Personally I find the design to be aesthetically unpleasing, but most of the old stamps issued by An Post are actually very beautiful and frequently display Catholic icons and images. I’ve included only a very small selection in this post. Here is the stamp issued to commemorate World Refugee Year in 1959 (see also the Irish hierarchy’s statement on same):

and the Marian Year of 1954:

A stamp issued in 1957 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Irish Franciscan theologian and historian Luke Wadding (see also Pius XII’s letter on same):

The Irish writer Tomás Ó Criomhthain:

A stamp to mark the 1952 Tostal and, below, that of ’53 (how sad that these splendid festivals died out):

A poster, not a stamp, of same:

Our patron saint:

A stamp commemorating the Easter Rising of 1916 (the text featured is from the 1916 Proclamation: “…In the name of God and in the name of the generations who came before us…”):

These designs below are part of a series showing the Flight of the Angel Victor, Messenger of St. Patrick, carrying the Voice of Ireland over the world, flying over four Irish historical landmarks, one from each of the four provinces of Ireland: Lough Derg, Rock of Cashel, Glendalough and Croagh Patrick. The ones featuring Glendalough (top) and the Rock of Cashel (bottom) are shown below:

Here are a whole bunch from the 1920s. The one in the top left corner is the Claidheamh Soluis (Sword of Light), the rest are comprised of a map of Ireland, the Arms of the Four Provinces and the Celtic Cross.

These days, An Post’s regular series of stamps seem to be almost exclusively comprised of birds, flowers and wild plants.

How exactly do these represent Ireland’s culture and heritage? Stamps surely have a representative significance: they highlight and market the country to foreign recipients. But more than that, they also tell us a bit about how the nation sees itself.

And it really does say a little something (none of it good) about how drastically Ireland has changed in the last half-century.

Posted on January 10, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I know that Prof Stan Brunn at University of Kentucky Lexington has done some comparative work on stamps and secularisation.

  2. Thanks for this interesting post, Shane. I agree that some of the modern stamps aren’t as evocative or classically beautiful as many of the earlier ones, but I think it is possible to overstate the secularisation argument. After all, An Post issued some very nice Christmas stamps this year (as usual):

    I myself have a first day cover of the stamps it issued in 2003 to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of the papacy of John Paul II.

    The early stamps, I think, bear testimony to the strong sense of its Catholic and Gaelic identity that our nation felt in the decades following Independence. I too regret that both of these appear to have been diminished in recent years.

    • I seem to recall that in the 80s (and it may have been pre-84 when it was still P&T) they issued a series on Irish architecture, one of which featured Killarney cathedral. Very fine issue.

  3. A belated comment. I loved the stamps designed by Richard King, especially the Vox Hiberniae series. He did many illustrations for the Capuchin Annual, a very fine publication.

  4. Oh yes, the Capuchin Annual was a fine publication. And very tastefully designed.

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