Subjects seen on Irish stamps are broad and varied. In this short series, the background of some subjects will be addressed. Some are quite obvious, but on others, the who, why, and where is often not general knowledge to collectors. This is not a complete background, nor is it all-inclusive, but rather a starting point for the collector to further research should the topic or subject be of interest to the reader.
Ireland has been the home to many writers, both in the English and the Irish languages. Examples of poetry are known from the 6th Century in Irish. It is said Irish is the oldest known poetry in Europe. In a society where all was recorded in memory, even genealogical records were preserved in the verse format. Despite the spread of English from the seventeenth century onward, Irish poetry remained popular through the 19th century. James Magan was one of the “greats” in Irish poetry. (Figure 1).
In English, Dean Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) became famous for Gulliver’s Travels (Figure 2) and A Modest Proposal as the top satirical writer of his era. Other famous writers of Irish origin were Oliver Goldsmith (Figure 3) and Richard Sheridan.
The early part of the 19th century saw a rapid replacement of the Irish language by English, although in the late 19th century Gaelic was revived by cultural nationalists. People flocked to the Gaeltacht (the areas of western Ireland where Irish is commonly spoken), and European scholars went to such places as the Aran and Blasket Islands to learn the language. The German, Johann Zeuss (Figure 4), demonstrated that Gaelic belonged to the Indo-European language family.
The playwright, Oscar Wilde became known for his plays and scandalous living. A souvenir sheet featuring him was issued at the London 2000 show (Figure 5). Bram Stoker wrote Dracula while in Dublin. (Figure 6).
Four Irish writers dominated the 20th century; each winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, Samuel Beckett, and Seamus Heaney; all shown here on the 1994 An Post booklet (Figure 7). Another writer of the same caliber was James Joyce (Figure 8). His 1922 novel Ulysses is considered one of the most important works. The celebration, Bloomsday, is held every year in June celebrates his novel. (Figure 9). Even more recent, author, playwright, IRA bomber, juvenile delinquent, and well-known imbiber, Brendan Behan was known for his plays and short stories. His biography, Borstal Boy, is one of the most popular. (Figure 10)
The Abbey Theater, site of many plays by some of the above mentioned authors was also commemorated on a stamps (Figure 11). John Synge (Figure 12) was famous for his controversial plays, such as “The Playboy of the Western World”.
Unfortunately, many writers have had to move to other environs in order to obtain financial support. The Republic offers tax incentives to those attempting to make their living by the pen.