This is the first in a series of short summaries discussing the History of Modern Ireland as seen on stamps. It is not a complete history nor should it be viewed as such. Rather the intent is to dangle bait before the reader so they may be tempted to further investigate the history of Ireland and better understand why and how a particular event is shown, and its impact on todays country.
Nationalism is the most potent force in the world. Ireland is a striking example of that. Revolutions, uprisings, and disturbances happened at least one or more times in a generation for over 600 years. A number are commemorated on stamps, some with pictures of the leaders. 1798 - Wolfe Tone (Figure 1), 1803 Robert Emmet (Figure 2) 1868 Fenian Flag (Figure 3). The list goes on. The specific details vary; the overall goal, that of Irish independence, did not.
The American Revolution attracted the attention of people in Europe. Although philosophers had discussed such actions, this was the first to be successful. In Ireland, with Penal Laws, harsh judges, the proximity of Great Britain and the influence of absentee landlords, the chances of success were minimal.
An alternative to revolution was evolution; change the system internally through the legal process. This worked to a certain extent. This approach was championed by Charles Vincent Parnell (Figure 4) who was elected to Parliament in 1875. His goal was local Home Rule. Michael Davitt, (Figure 5) in 1870, founded the Irish National Land League, (Figure 6) and convinced Parnell to become president with the backing of the entire spectrum of Irish nationalists. While the stated goal was reducing rents and evictions for the tenant farmers, it led ultimately to having them own the land they were working. This was opposed by landlords since owning land gave them the right to vote.
By 1885, the British government and many of the absentee landlords reached the conclusion that the landlord system was indefensible and sought change. Several acts were passed, however oppositions was raised in several sectors. Land was purchased by the government from the landlords by the Irish Land Commission and distributed. (Figure 7). Landlords were compensated by the British government for the sale which was exchanged at a fair price since the value had been declared in the taxation process.
However, the Home Rule bill failed, in part due to Parnell’s personal indiscretion. He resigned in disgrace in 1890, due to a revelation of adultery in a divorce case, and, for the time being, Home Rule was dead.
Dulin, Dr. C.I., Ireland - Transition, The Postal History of the Transitional Period 1922-1925, MacDonnell-Whyte Ltd, Dublin, 1992.
Moody, T.W. & Martin, F.X., The Course of Irish History, 4th ed., Roberts Rinehart, Lantham, Md., 2001.