The Political Postcard

Almost from its inception postcard publication was caught up in the politically reality of British rule in Ireland. As a result of an international agreement concerning the delivery of mail between countries, the Post Office printed its first foreign destination postcard on 1 April 1879. This was a buff coloured, embossed postcard, longer than the official inland card, with the Words - 'Union Postale Universale' printed top centre. Below this was printed 'Great Britain', then 'Grande Bretagne', and below this the words 'Post Card'. Irate Irish Unionists immediately informed the Postmaster General that there was no such political entity as 'Great Britain'; forcing him to reprint the cards with the legend - 'Great Britain and Ireland'.

This long forgotten political spat inaugurated one hundred and twenty five years during which the postcard has been used as a tool in Irish political propaganda. Royal visits to Ireland - the ultimate symbol of English rule in Ireland - were routinely the subject for the postcard publisher. From the beginning of the twentieth century, however, this political dispensation was increasingly being challenged by Irish nationalists. In 1906 and 1907 a group of Northern adherents of the newly formed Sinn Fein movement published a weekly separatist newspaper called The Republic. This paper extolled the stand alone principles of Sinn Fein, and regularly attacked the practice of British Army recruitment in Ireland, nationalist representation at Westminster, and cooperation with British economic policies in Ireland. Each issue carried a full page political cartoon which was then published as a political postcard. In pre-partition Ireland it was probably deemed safer to publish such postcards in a provincial rather than the national capital. The Republican postcards were drawn by Norman Morrow, George Morrow and John Campbell, and are now very rare.

Five years later, the Anti-Home campaign orchestrated by Sir Edward Carson and Sir James Craig, produced a plethora of political postcards. These ranged from photographic representations of Carson and Craig, and the vast Ulster Volunteer Force rallies that culminated in the signing of the Ulster Covenant at the City Hall in Belfast in September 1912, through cartoon cards suggesting the economic decline of Ireland under Home Rule to the double entendre postcards of Donald Magill, showing 'Pat' kissing his colleen with the caption - 'Home Rule - An Act of Union which satisfies both parties.'

Home Rule for Ireland was shelved at the outbreak of the First World War; but the leaders of the Irish Republican Army and the Irish Citizen Army led an armed insurrection in Dublin at Easter 1916, in an attempt to end English rule in Ireland. Scenes of fighting on the streets of Dublin, the ruins of landmark buildings in central Dublin and portraits of the leaders of the insurrection were used as themes by postcard publishers. These cards were bought as souvenirs and added to collector's albums. Today they are quite rare and very collectable.

Between the end of the First World War and the outbreak of the current 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland few political postcards, other than election postcards, were published; possibly because the major issue of how Ireland was to be governed had been resolved, however unhappily. With the outbreak of the 'Troubles' the postcard publishers returned to the political postcard. Street scenes of British troops on the streets of Belfast, political graffiti on gable ends, Hunger Strike postcards and anti-Internment postcards tell some of the story of the recent past in Ireland.

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