Living History & Letters: Our Visit to the GPO.
In July of 2021 Flea Market Love Letters took a field trip to the General Post Office, or "GPO", in Dublin City Centre. This historic site holds a special significance and is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. Read on for a bit of history about this hallmark and its place in Irish history. Thanks to Aline, General Manager of the General Post Office (GPO) "Witness History" Experience, for inviting Flea Market Love Letters to visit!
Located on O'Connell Street in Dublin City Centre the GPO is the headquarters for An Post, the Irish postal service. The imposing structure was built in early part of the 19th Century and features a Greek style "portico" extending out onto the street. Atop the GPO are three figures: Mercury on the left, Fidelity on the Right, and Hibernia in the center.
During the Easter Rising of 1916 the GPO served as the headquarters for the leaders of the movement. The armed insurrection by the Irish people against the English forces lasted for five days and lead to unbelievable and previously unprecedented damage. Here you can see a photo from 1916 where the GPO, which was bombed heavily and suffered a great fire, is a gutted shell on what was then called "Sackville Street".
It would take until 1929 for the building to be repaired and brought back to purpose as the headquarters for the national postal service. In 2016 the "Witness History" exhibit which we visited opened and continues to this day to educate visitors and elaborate in context the five days of April 1916.
Learning from Letters:
There are so many wonderful parts to the exhibit that it's hard to pick a favorite. It's probably no surprise to readers of the blog that I gravitated to the letters on display around the museum. These letters can tell us so much about the history and lives of those near to the GPO preceding, during, and after the events of Easter 1916.
Letters played a role in the Easter Rising that is for more scintillating and complex than we'll broach here. If you're interested in learning more about how communication shaped the future of Ireland I would recommend a visit to the museum and the museum gift shop, which offers a number of books and resources for educating oneself on the intricacies of the event summarized above.
But back to our visit! In these two letters below we can learn about the live of telegraph operators just up the road at Dublin Castle when the firing started in April 1916. JJ Fogarty and LW Galbally stayed on shift during the fighting, risking their lives to send out communications. These two letters are to a Sir Matthew Nathan -- the Under Secretary for Ireland -- in gratitude for a gift he gave Fogarty and Galbally in recognition of their service.
The GPO Witness History Exhibit features letters from both the English and Irish perspective of the period which makes for a dual vision of the events.
These letters below are written with the blunt fisted innocence of children. These two letters were found on the body of a British General after his death in the fighting. They thank their father for recent gifts.
Interactive & Informative:
The museum is great for all ages with exhibits designed to encourage hands-on learning. This "mini" letter sorting room is a great feature for the curious. You can get a real feeling for the day-to-day of the folks who worked in the GPO sorting the letters and wiring the telegrams that connected Ireland to the rest of the world.
One of our favorite parts of the visit was the letter sorting game! You are assigned a random bundle of envelopes for six destinations and must drag and drop the digital envelope in the correct sorting box to score the point. Here's Sam -- rocking his Write More Letters tee shirt -- playing to beat his top score.
If you're based in Dublin like me, or you're planning a trip in the future I really recommend checking out the Witness History Exhibit at the GPO. It's a great way to learn more about the history of the City and the country with the best thing ever included: Mail!
Get in Touch.
Something here strike your interest? Have a letter story you'd like to share? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org today!