With a tempestuous past, a wide-reaching diaspora, and a literary history reaching well beyond its diminutive size there isn’t a corner of the world untouched by Irish culture.
As an annexe of Great Britain, when the world’s first postage stamps were issued in 1840, British monarchs adorned Irish letters and parcels until the Irish Government of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Éireann) was established in 1922, thanks to the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921, which ended the three-year Irish War of Independence between the forces of the self-proclaimed Irish Republic, the Irish Republican Army, and British Crown forces.
For a short period, overprinted British stamps filled the gap before the formation of the Irish Post Office (Oifig an Phoist) and the first stamp designs included symbols of the newfound state such as a map of Ireland, a Celtic cross, and St. Patrick replete in the iconic soothing emerald green. Commemorative stamps first appeared in 1929, celebrating notable events and anniversaries. For the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising an eighth series of definitive stamps – featuring Leaders and Icons, Participants, Easter Week and The Aftermath – were issued on 21 January 2016.
The philatelic history of Ireland has not escaped the tumult of the country’s past. Forerunner stamps of Ireland – typically the term to describe a postage stamp used during the time period before a region or territory issues stamps of its own – take on a different meaning. Here, the term forerunners refers to politically driven ‘labels’ i.e. makeshift stamps with zero legal standing. Prime examples include: propaganda labels symbolising Irish nationhood produced between 1907 and 1916 by nationalist political party Sinn Féin; 1912 labels originating from Manchester, England, inscribed with ‘Imperial Union’; and following the Easter Rising of 1916, a set of eight labels printed by American sympathisers with portraits of seven prominent leaders and a harp and shamrock insignia. Such labels casting independence or unionist sentiments were forbidden by Post Office regulations.
Despite this, the first Irish definitive, issued on 6 December 1922, depicted a map of Ireland including Northern Ireland, which remained a part of the United Kingdom.