Music on Irish Stamps. [192]



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.  

Music has been a part of Irish life since ancient times.  It wasn’t recorded or annotated in writing, but rather was passed on by memory alone.  Some of the earliest choral music came from the early Irish monasteries.  Since the monasteries were in contact with similar institutions on the continent, the style spread, and was modified.   It became what we know today as Gregorian chant.  Music was also heard outside the church confines.  It is recorded in 700 AD that “… there was music for laughing, music for crying, and music for sleeping”.  

Early instruments were the flute or whistle, uilleann pipes, stringed instruments, and the Irish harp (A smaller version of today’s orchestral harp.). (Figure 1).   The latter was of particular significance being connected with royalty.  One of the oldest instruments is the Harp of Brian Buru, the last High King of Ireland which is in the National Museum.(Figure 2) seen here on a postal card  The harp is the national symbol of the Republic of Ireland, here seen on an official mail envelope .  (Figure 3).

With the establishment of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy, European classical became popular in Dublin.  Major composers such as Dominico Scarlatti, (Figure 4) and Georg Fredrich Handel came to Ireland.  The premier performance of Handel’s Messiah occurred in Dublin in 1742..  In the 19th century, public concerts were quite common in Belfast, Dublin and Cork and classical music was available to all classes of people. Classical music never really caught on widely with the general populace since it was seen as the music of the conquerors.

Vocal presentation of operatic music was popular in the Victorian era. John McCormack became famous internationally for his renditions of both operatic and traditional folk music, and is commemorated on both Irish and American stamps. (Figure 5). Margaret Burke Sheridan was a famous opera singer who performed at La Scala and Covent Garden opera houses.  Her greatest role was as Madame Butterfly. (Figure 6).

Irish traditional music became popular again starting in the 1950’s.  Groups such as the Clancy Brothers, the Dubliners, and the Chieftains reached national and international popularity.  (Figure 7) As an adjunct, traditional instruments such as the fiddle, (Figure 8) the Bodran Drum, and the Tin Whistle (Figure 9) are seen on stamps.    And what goes well with toe-tapping music, but traditional step dancing. (Figure 10).

The 1980’s and 90’s saw traditional Irish music segue into contemporary rock.  Groups like U2 (Figure 11) and Van Morrison (Figure 12) reached international fame in their genres.

This is only a sampling of music and musicians seen on Irish stamps.  To hear what is playing on Irish radio stations, try and sample some stations.

Ardagh, J., Ireland and the Irish, Hamish Hamilton, Ltd, 1994
Moody, T.W. & Martin, F.X., The Course of Irish History, 4th ed., Roberts Rinehart, 2001.
Wikipedia, reviewed July 2019.


1.  ABC192-1
2.  ABC192-2   Postal card
3.  ABC 04/drunkenharps1.jpg
4.  ABC192-4 Handel Scarletti
5.  ABC192-5          McCormack
6.  ABC192-6          Sheridan
7.  ABC192-7
8.  ABC192-8
9.  ABC192-9
10. ABC192-10
11. 02/ScanU2  ABC192-11
12. ABC192-12