Posts Tagged ‘Irish Postcards’


This photographic postcard displays a playful interaction between image and text. It was sent from Gilnahirk, County Down, to a young boy in Malton, Yorkshire, England in late 1904. The oval portrait, with bare trees silhouetted in the background, shows a man with his arms folded. He is wearing a stiff white collar and his well oiled hair is parted in the centre, a style that was very typical of the era.

I really like the sender’s typically Northern Irish use of the word ‘wee’ and the self-deprecating way in which he draws attention to his grumpy demeanour: “Dear George, Do you remember ever seeing this wee chap? Hope you are keeping well. Wishing you a Happy XMas and a bright and prosperous New Year. With love to all, Joe. I’m not always quite so solemn looking.”


The boy in question was Master George Pexton who lived at the Railway Hotel, Norton, Malton, Yorkshire, a photograph of the establishment can be seen here.

The postal mark places the sender in Belfast city on the evening of the 23rd of December and one can imagine the card being received just in time for Christmas. Overall, the document is a delightful snippet of early 20th century life.

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William McKelvey lived on the beautifully named My Lady’s Road, Belfast with his parents, William and Annie, two sisters and a brother. He was 8 years’ of age in 1911 which means that he would have been around 15 when he sent this postcard from Larne in 1919. Perhaps he was at boarding school or had left home to take up employment? Either way Larne was not to his liking as the following message makes very clear:

“Dear Mother (N.G. Down here), Arrived safe but fed up. It is so awful down here. Hope you are all well. Nobody would get to like this place. I wish I was back for good. Will write again about Thursday. Rem[ember] me to the rest, Your loving son, Billy. – I am in bed just now, 9.30 p.m. This is near the Black Arch.”

One wonders how his mother might have replied to such a morose missive!

The postcard which was produced by Signal has seen better days. It looks like it might have been stuck in an album and you can see where the glue has yellowed, however, this doesn’t detract from this snippet of life from 1919.

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This postcard was sent on the 11th July 1951 and the brief message tells of simple seaside pleasures. The vibrant colours are a tad unrealistic for an Irish summer. The holiday crowd in the foreground wear typical 1950s fashions with most of the men in suits. The reds, pinks and greens of the clothing are particularly enhanced and exaggerated. It was produced by one of the largest postcard manufacturers in the world Valentine and Sons. I have featured other Irish images from their earlier ranges elsewhere in the blog and I wrote the entry on them in John Hannavy’s Encyclopedia of Nineteenth Century Photography.

Bray, County Wicklow has a long tradition as a holiday destination and a guidebook dating from 1867 pretty much describes this postcard view: “The remarkable promontory of Bray head rises boldly from the sea to a height of 807 feet and forms the most conspicuous object in the surrounding landscape from its summit, which is of easy access, an extensive view is commanded of the coast and adjacent country, of the town in its bearings, and the mountains by which it is surrounded,” from Sunny memories of Ireland’s scenic beauties: Wicklow.’ It was published in Dublin in 1867 by Browne and Nolan and included photographs by Frederick H. Mares of Grafton Street.

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I wrote about the daytime version of this Dublin scene in an earlier post on the pre-1907 phenomenon of writing messages on the front of postcards. The same photograph was altered by the publishers for use in the ‘Valentine Moonlight Series.’ The addition of a full moon; a reduction in the traffic and the depopulated street transform the original scene into a quieter nocturnal world.

Valentine and Sons were one of the main producers of postcards at the turn of the nineteenth century and I wrote an entry on their extensive business for John Hannavy’s Encyclopedia of Nineteenth Century Photography.

The message on the 1904 postcard is a fascinating snippet of life. Apparently the person sending the postcard has been inconvenienced by the death of an uncle and may not now be able to go on a proposed outing with Miss Brenton!

‘Dear A, Uncle died on Tuesday afternoon. I am not quite sure if the folks here will think I ought to got to the fair, but will come if I can.’

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Before 1907, if you were sending a postcard to the United States you couldn’t write anything other than the address on the back of the card. As a result of this people wrote their messages around the image and this led to an interesting and quirky intersection of words and pictures. The pattern created by the text against the image is often fascinating. The sender of the first postcard from Howth/Beann Eadair has managed to write a considerable amount of text over the sea and sky! It was sent to California in April 1905. The second card was sent to Boston in 1905 and mentions a trip to the Dublin Horse Show and Donaghadee, near Belfast. 

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I bought this little photo for a few euros and was surprised at how well it scanned as the original is only 68 x 74 mm. Several years later I came across the postcard which shows the same view of William Street, Galway – even the shadows are identical! 

Dillon’s Jewellers can be seen in both images. This company is credited with the revival of the Claddagh ring and in 1904, its founder wrote an article on the origins of the ring for the Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society. A very similar view of William Street can be found on the Old Galway Archive hosted by Kennys Bookshop. 

The postcard was sent by someone called William on the 20th June 1920 from the Railway Hotel, Galway to a Miss Turtle in Baltinglass. The Turtles were a Quaker family who owned an iron-mongers and grocers in the Wicklow village – it reads as follows: “Hello Nellie! You would like this place! The sea is just full of fishing boats. Just in front of this hotel there is a small public park and the boys and girls have swings on the trees. This is market day here, plenty of produce in the street, fish, turf & cattle, oats etc.”

James Valentine & Sons printed the postcard. They were major producers of postcards between 1900 and 1930. I wrote an article on the firm for Routledge’s Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography which traces the company’s development from a producer of topographical prints. A recent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art examined the collection of postcards of American streets owned by the photographer, Walker Evans (1903-1975) and explores how these vernacular images directly influenced Evans’s artistic development.

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