What are the characteristics of a good postcard?
- Scenic vistas? Check.
- Shots of delicious local delicacies? Check.
- A snap or two of awe-inspiring local architecture? Check.
All beautifully self-satisfied in their aesthetic perfection. Kindling envy and ire among recipients. ‘Wish you were here, don’t you?’, they gush.
But what if the shots were less appealing?
- Mud-soaked trenches
- Landscapes decimated by shelling
- Confiscated tanks
- Weary soldiers
- A child tending a soldier’s grave in a provincial town
Not quite the postcards from paradise we first envisioned.
No one would envy you these vistas, but these scenes do indeed make up an unusual collection of postcards held by the National Folklore Collection, and now hosted online by UCD Digital Library for all to view.
In keeping with the blog’s recent Armistice commemoration, we wanted to highlight this rare collection in our last post of the year, given its poignant relevance and colourful archival history.
Donated by Rory O’Shea to the National Folklore Collection in 2016, we have reason to believe that these 19 blank postcards were once in the custody of Dr. Douglas Hyde, and that they were created as a propaganda tool of the Great War period. Of particular interest in this regard is the fact that they are bilingual, presented in French and Irish, a rather curious combination.
A piece of correspondence located in Clare Library, from Yann Morvran Goblet (1881-1955) of the Office of Irish Studies in France to Dr. Douglas Hyde, makes reference to the creation of a series of postcards . Written in French from Maison De La Presse, 3, Rue Francois, and dated 10 July 1917, the letter speaks of Goblet’s request that Hyde provide translated captions for his new series of postcards. He writes that this particular collection will be ‘for propaganda, especially among the Irish in America.’ From the broader context of the letter it appears that Goblet had initiated a number of such postcard projects.
Could our collection be one of these to which he refers? Each postcard does indeed bear the mark of French manufacture, and contains a bilingual translation.
In the absence of further information, how does an archivist proceed? What is content without context? How can we begin to make sense of these materials for our users, whilst respecting the archival lynchpins of provenance and original order? How can we verify the creator and date of creation? How do we identify the photographer? How can we trace the line of custodianship from original creator to our final depositor? These are pertinent archival questions that archives ask of all collections.
We will continue to investigate these queries, to see if we can directly link Goblet and Hyde to this particular collection. In the meantime, we hope that you can take the time this month to explore the collection further, and remember all that it represents.
Centenaries and other anniversaries provide an occasion for remembrance, but for those touched by the Great War, and all subsequent wars, the memory of those lost or injured is a daily concern. We shall remember them, particularly as the Christmas holiday season approaches.
Don’t forget to visit the UCD Library Cultural Heritage Units’ online commemorative exhibition documenting the Great War ‘… and now the shells fall thick and fast’. And for those interested in related materials from the National Folklore Collection, last month’s Blúiríní Béaloidis podcast offers samples from the collection’s audio archives – moving recollections from men and women who experienced the war at home and abroad.
Our accession record notes that our depositor’s grandfather, an official of the Civil Service Staff Officers Association saved these postcards from destruction when the Association took over new rooms at North Great George’s Street, Dublin in 1965. It is believed they once formed part of Douglas Hyde’s personal papers, some of which had found their way to that address following his death.
National Folklore Collection would like to offer a particular note of thanks to Professor Liam Mac Mathúna for bringing Y.M. Goblet’s letter to our attention, and to Dr. Paolo Acquaviva for giving so generously of his time to translate the original letter for us.