The Politics of Irish Stamps

The Decade of Centenaries.

The odd thing about Stamp Collecting (besides the eccentricity of people who collect stamps) is that it can be extremely “political”. In the case of Ireland this is hardly surprising.

An Irish Stamp Album is in fact, “Ireland’s Greatest Hits” Album. The History, Culture, Spirituality, Music, Fauna, Flora, Sport etc are all there. And yes…Politics. By any standards, the decision not to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Death of Michael Collins was an act of Fianna Fáil spite.

But the Politics is largely outside the Stamp Album.

The postal authority “An Post” has a committee which decides the new stamp issues. Most recently, people have been invited to submit ideas for 2016 and in a few months, we will be asked to submit ideas for 2017. And so on.

But the Politics of Stamp Collecting is not just about the historic events depicted. It is also about the manner in which these events are depicted. It is a form of “revisionism”.

Two examples. The 150th Anniversary of the 1798 Rebellion was marked by the issue of two, rather drab stamps, featuring Wolfe Tone. But in 1998, the Bicentenary issue of five different stamps featured French involvement, Henry Joy McCracken and curiously but properly generic “Women of 1798″. And the 1803 Rebellion aniversary in 1953 was marked by a two stamp issue fea)turing Robert Emmet. But in 2003, the three stamp issue featured Emmett, Thomas Russell and (again properly) Anne Devlin.

The 1916 Rising is regularly represented on Irish stamps. In 1941 (25 years) there were shortages of paper and ink (World War Two was ongoing) which produced a two-stamp issue of a very temporary nature, followed later in the year by a single stamp.

In 1966 (50 years) a set of eight stamps was issued. There was a generic stamp and a stamp for each of the seven signatories of the Proclamation. Of course, I was 13 years old and I remember 1966, all too well. The extent to which the 1966 Events contributed to the Norn Iron “Troubles” which started in 1969 is a matter of debate but what is certain is that three Catholic deaths at the hands of a revived Ulster Volunteer Force can be partly attributed to Easter Commemoration and of course unionist sectarian hatred.

But we can also say that the outbreak of the Troubles created something of a dilemna in Dublin. Successive Irish governments from 1969 faced the problem of denouncing northern nationalist “terrorism” and facing the reality that the Irish State was established by a previous generation of “terrorists”. Thus in 1991 (75 years) and 2006 (90 years), the single stamps issued were muted and almost apologetic.

Which brings us to the “Decade of Centenaries” . The period 1912-1922 was a traumatic period in Irish History…Home Rule Act, the formation of unionist and nationalist militias, the Ulster Covenant, The General Lock Out, World War One, The Easter Rising, The Somme, The War of Independence, anti-Catholic pograms in the North, The Treaty, The Civil War.

I have not been a fan of Conflict Resolution. But the Decade of Centenaries while very real, also has a degree of “manufacture” and “manipulation”. There is of course a need for historians to look at the History of the 1912-1922 period and certainly a need to de-construct myths. But the creation of new myths such as “shared history” with a view to creating a Post-Conflict world is not something historians should do.

Oddly…the treatment of History motivates me more than Politics. Why is that? Well, on retirement, I went back to Queens University to study a History degree. I graduated at 57 years of age and I tend to believe the words I heard in the Whitla Hall on Graduation Day. I have the skills to understand History. I dont like to see it as a tool of Politcians, especially LetsGetAlongerists.

So….Stamp Collecting and the Decade of Centenaries.

An Post has already issued stamps to commemorate the founding of the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army (and copies of the withdrawn stamp now fetch prices in excess of €500) and Cumann na mBan. The General Lock Out has been recognised and Edward Carson and John Redmond appear on the Home Rule Act Centenary stamp. And two stamps, featuring “recruiting posters” have commemorated the outbreak of the First World War.

But 2015 is only a few weeks away and I have been sent details of the Stamp Programme for 2015. There will be three issues than cover the Decade of Centenaries theme…..the funeral of O’Donovan Rossa (Pearse’s oration), the Galipoli Landings and the sinking of the Lusitania. Has there ever been a greater example of…..”balance”?

The O’Rossa Funeral is for the Republicans. The Galipoli Landings is for the old “Ireland was/is British too” devotees and the sinking of the Lusitania off the southern coast of Ireland is one for civilians and pacifists.

But is there a LetsGetAlongerist dimension? Curiously yes. Incredibly…in my view….the 50th Anniversary of the Meeting of Seán Lemass and Terence O’Neill will be recognised in January. You couldnt make it up. I still have one of the snowballs that Rev Ian Paisley threw that day.


About John

Dia Duit! Hello. My name is John. I am retired. I live in Ireland. I am on a five year mission to visit every city, town, village and place of historic and scenic interest in Ireland.
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