This is an important year in the history of Ireland. In 2016, we celebrate the centenary of the Easter Rising, the event which declared the REPUBLIC of IRELAND and led to the establishment of an independent Irish nation some years later.
Indeed this decade has been described as Decade of Centenaries and in recent years, the Irish Post Office has issued stamps to mark events such as the Home Rule Bill, the formation of the Irish Volunteers, Irish Citizen Army and Cumann na mBan, the First World War…all of which played a part in leading to the Rising.
The Irish Republic was proclaimed at the entrance to the General Post Office in Dublin and the main rebel garrison was based at the GPO, which was severely damaged by British shelling. The Rising itself lasted less than a week, during which 1,150 very brave men and women held out against vastly superior British numbers. The seven signatories of the Proclamation and seven other leaders were executed by firing squad in the weeks after the Rising.
I live in “Northern Ireland” which sadly remains part of the “United Kingdom” and the Easter Rising and subsequent events has cast a long shadow. Almost four thousand people, including friends of mine died in the northern “Troubles” between 1966 and 1998.
The Centenary of the Easter Rising …and its commemoration on the postage stamps of Ireland…is a sensitive subject. The Philatelic counter inside the GPO is less than ten metres from the entrance where Padraig Pearse read the Proclamation.
On 21st January, stamps to commemorate the Rising were issued and I was among the first customers to buy the new stamps.
Strictly speaking, the sixteen stamps are “definitive”stamps and are on sale in all post offices…on rolls of 600 and printed by the clerk at the counter. This is known as SOAR (Stamps on a Roll). The #1 stamp will also be #17 and #33 and so on thru the roll. SOAR stamps can be issued in any value.
The stamps are also available in strips of four (all at €0.70…national rate) from the Philatelic Shop at the GPO. Each strip has a theme.
Strip #1 “Leaders and Icons” (stamps #1-4) features the seven signatories of the Proclamation and the battle-damaged flag “Irish Republic which flew over the GPO. The arrangement of the stamps appears to give precedence to James Connolly but the publicithy indicates that three organisations are being honoured….the Irish Republican Brotherhood, Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army.
Strip #2 “Participants” (stamps #5 -8) features pairs of combatants. One stamp features Constable James O’Brien of the Dublin police, who was the first fatality, shot dead by Captain Sean Connollyy of the Irish Citizen Army at Dublin Castle when he refused to hand over the keys of the gates. Captain Connolly was shot dead later and is paired with Constable O’Brien on a stamp. Brothers Lt Michael Malone, Irish Volunteers and Sgt William Malone of Royal Dublin Fusiliers share a stamp. Michael was killed at Mount Street Bridge and William was killed at the Battle of Ypres in 1915. Dr Kathleen Lynn, an Irish Citizen Army officer, who was with the detachment at Dublin Castle and Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell who tended the wounded and dying at the GPO and carried the news of the surrender to the British. Rank and file Volunteers Jack Doyle and Tom McGrath feature on the fourth stamp. The photograph is one of only two, known to be taken inside the GPO.
Strip #3 “Easter Week” (stamps #9-12) depicts the Proclamation and people caught up in the events. Baby Seán Foster was one of the you gest fatalities.Louisa Nolan was awarded an honour by English King “George V” for tending casualties at Mount Street Bridge. Francis Sheehy-Skeffington was a respected pacifist who was, with other civilians, summarily “executed” on the orders of British officer, Bowen-Colthurst, who was declared insane and escaped justice for the war crime. The British officer who reported the attrocities to his superiors, Sir Francis Fletcher-Vance is paired on a stamp with Sheehy-Skeffington.
Strip #4 “The Aftermath” (stamps 13-16) depicts the ruins of the GPO, children gathering firewood, rebel prisoners and Roger Casement who was subsequently hanged by the British for “treason”.
Two coil stamps featuring the Flag and the Proclamation were also issued. And two booklets (€7.00 with ten GPO stamps and €10.50 with ten Casement stamps) were also issued.
For me, the stamps pass the “sensitivity” test. It is particuarly noteworthy, that the first fatality, a Dublin policeman is honoured. And even more significant that a British officer exposing war crimes is honoured.
And I think the stamps commemorate AND celebrate the Easter Rising. One slight quibble. Fourteen leaders of the Rising were executed in the weeks after. The seven signatories of the Proclamation were honoured on stamps in 1966. The other seven….Willie Pearse, John MacBride, Michael Mallin, Edward Daly, Sean Heuston, Con Colbert and Michael O’Halloran have never appeared on an Irish stamp and are collectively known as the “Forgotten Seven”. It is I think a pity that their sacrifice for the Republic of Ireland has…again…been overlooked.