Postcards

Published in Issue 2 (March/April 2015), Letters, Volume 23

Sir,—Congratulations to Ann Wilson on her excellent article, ‘A young woman’s life in Edwardian Dublin’ (HI 22.6, Nov./Dec. 2014). As she points out, collections of such postcards offer us an opportunity to tune in to the voices of ordinary people in that period, and afford glimpses of mundane and everyday matters not usually covered in more formal historical sources.
I myself inherited a similar collection of postcards some years ago, which I have recently published under the title Dear Miss B: a collection of Edwardian postcards. The cards were among the effects of Brigid Byrne (the ‘Miss B’ of the title), who died in Johnstown, Co. Kildare, in the 1960s, and seem to refer to a period in her life when she lived mainly in London and worked for a Colonel Norman in Kensington. Taken together, the cards offer a glimpse into a vanished world of good manners, big houses, the trials and tribulations of servants, and the occasional trip to the Continent (both France and Switzerland in this case).

Like the collection dealt with by Ms Wilson, the ‘Miss B’ cards (in addition to the everyday) also occasionally include mention of major events of the time such as the various international exhibitions, which were probably a major highlight in otherwise mundane lives. These included the 1907 Irish Exhibition, which was held in Dublin, and the 1908 Franco-British Exhibition in London, which featured an ‘Irish Village’, complete with replicas of the Blarney Stone, St Lawrence’s Gate in Drogheda, a round tower, a Celtic cross and numerous ‘model’ Irish cottages.

Hints of the changes in the cultural and political atmosphere of the period can also be picked up from some of the cards, particularly those that she received around St Patrick’s Day 1908. One, unusually, has greetings in both English and Irish on the front and bears the motto ‘Cairdeas is Cuimhne’; the reverse shows that it was printed in Cork. A second also has a phrase written in ‘old’ Gaelic script and goes on to state that the card contains ‘real shamrock seeds’. A third proclaims that it is from ‘Dear Old Erin’ but the effect is rather spoiled when one discovers, on the back, that it was ‘Printed in Britain’! The booklet, with an analysis of the cards, can be obtained from Ivy Cottage, Johnstown, Naas, Co. Kildare.—Yours etc.,

BRIAN McCABE

Sir,—Ann Wilson’s article on postcards will surely have prompted many readers to get up into their attics to find those old cards lost or forgotten over the years. Most will be mundane but some will now be of interest for a variety of reasons. There may be a reminder of how everyday speech has undergone subtle change, for example the use of ‘household’ where we now use ‘family’. And who now would apologise by saying ‘Now dear heart, don’t be vexed’? Or two ladies who have not been in touch for a while meet in O’Connell Street and one suggests that they meet soon for a ‘burst’ (translation please!). There may be a casual remark to confirm a half-remembered family anecdote or help to sort obscure and distant relations according to whether they mention ‘mother’ or ‘grandmother’. Another reminds me that in those days it took three and a half hours to travel by train from Dublin to Belfast. Then there is irony: my father writing from France on 9 July 1918 remarks, ‘There is not much news here at present’. Six days later the Germans launched their last desperate offensive of that war. So we should retrieve those old cards, put them back into albums and enjoy listening to those voices from the past.—Yours etc.,

SEAMUS KELLY
Lisburn

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