Putting its own stamp on history

It’s Easter Week and many visitors to Dublin are undoubtedly strolling along O’Connell Street for a look at the building that made the headlines this week ninety nine years ago. The General Post Office’s Portland stone portico and Ionic columns is now synonymous with Ireland’s Easter Rising, yet it has also been Ireland’s general post office for 197 years. Within its four walls a pleasant, small museum tells the history of the building and Ireland’s postal services.

The museum is divided into exhibitions on three themes: letters, lives and liberty. The first section covers the art of the stamp and includes collections from different countries, pointing out that stamps reflect the political changes of a state. Among the exhibits is the new Irish State’s 1 penny stamp of the map of Ireland, from 1923, as well as designs produced by RJ King a year earlier. King produced a collection that included a stamp of St Patrick, the Four Courts, the Custom House, the Bank of Ireland and the GPO. The design of the national saint stamp endured 15 years of waiting before it finally went to print.

This section also provides an interactive screen that allows visitors design their own stamp. What is the theme of a stamp? Is it about nature, a people’s tradition or an anniversary? Questions about the theme, lines, shape, colour and proportion of a stamp’s  design are explored. Every year, An Post produces about forty new stamps, covering up to twenty different topics.

Ireland’s postal system’s evolution is documented in ‘Lives’. It explains the links between social and technological developments and advances in communications, for example, the impact of arrival of primary school education in the 19th century. As communications developed so did the postal service. In 1916, it had 488,270 active savings accounts and 26,288 phone accounts; facilitated 5,397,000 telegrams and millions of old age pension payments. Exhibits such as the telephone exchange illustrate how much things have changed.

‘Liberty’ covers the events of 1916 and provides a perspective that one wouldn’t normally consider: the staff working in the GPO who were confronted by the rebels. The building was open on that bank holiday Easter Monday, with reduced staff on duty to keep essential services open for the public. Just after midday, the men who’d gathered earlier at Liberty Hall entered and ordered staff and customers to leave.

If you’ve an hour free and are near O’Connell Street, this inexpensive museum tour is worthwhile. Ireland has had a basic postal service since 1651, and here you will get a taste of everything that’s been in the mail bag.

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