Postcards

Love from CorkTHE COLLINS PRESS have published my book on the postcards of Cork (October 2013). Based on the private collections of Kinsale’s John James and Skibbereen’s Adrian Healy, Love from Cork offers a portrait of the city and county of Cork through a century of Irish and European picture postcards (1900–2000).

In addition to the postcards there are transcriptions of all the written details on the cards and, interspersed, are extracts from the rich literary heritage of this part of southwest Ireland: William Trevor, Frank O’Connor, Elizabeth Bowen, Sean O’Faolain, Peter Somerville-Large, Mary Leland, and many others.

Also included are writers such as James Joyce – who set a significant episode of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in Cork city – Benedict Kiely, and Robert Lloyd Praeger.

Although a number of publications have featured picture postcards of Cork, especially the city, there has never been a comprehensive production on the postcards of Cork, covering the city and county, from Allihies to Youghal and from Clonakilty to Charleville, deploying contemporary editorial treatment of the constituent elements.

What follows is a few excerpts from Love from Cork, some cards, a section from the book’s introduction, and a flavour of the literary extracts. For more on postcards and the Cork postcards project, go to the ‘Postcards of Cork‘ section of the listing of blog-post subject categories on the sidebar.

A postcard of the Metropole Hotel on MacCurtain Street in Cork (formerly King Street), a Metropole Hotel publication.

From the John James collection, a postcard of the Metropole Hotel on MacCurtain Street in Cork (formerly King Street), a Metropole Hotel publication.

“Twice a year perhaps, on Saturday afternoons, there was going to Cork to the pictures”, writes William Trevor in Excursions in the Real World, “Clarke Gable and Myrna Loy in Too Hot to HandleMr Deeds Goes to Town. No experience in my whole childhood, and no memory, has remained as deeply etched as these escapes to the paradise that was Cork. Nothing was more lovely or more wondrous than Cork itself, with its magnificent array of cinemas: the Pavilion, the Savoy, the Palace, the Ritz, the Lee, and Hadji Bey’s Turkish Delight factory. Tea in Thompson’s or the Savoy, the waitresses with silver-plated tea-pots and buttered bread and cakes, and other people eating fried eggs with rashers and chipped potatoes at half-past four in the afternoon. The sheer sophistication of Thompson’s or the Savoy could never be adequately conveyed to a friend in Skibbereen who had not had the good fortune to experience it. The Gentleman’s lavatory in the Victoria Hotel had to be seen to be believed, the Munster Arcade left you gasping. For ever and for ever you could sit in the middle stalls of the Pavilion watching Claudette Colbert, or Spencer Tracy as a priest, and the earthquake in San Francisco. And for ever afterwards you could sit while a green-clad waitress carried the silver-plated tea-pot to you, with cakes and buttered bread. All around you was the clatter of life and of the city, and men of the world conversing, and girls’ laughter tinkling. Happiness was everywhere.”

William Trevor’s Excursions in the Real World (Hutchinson, 1993)

Cork Postcards

The following is an extract from the introduction to Love from Cork:

‘DELTIOLOGY’ is the term that describes the study and collection of postcards—it is derived from a cluster of Greek words together meaning ‘little writing tablet’. If you have not encountered it before it would not be surprising as it was coined only in the 1940s, and did not appear in a dictionary until the 1960s. Even today the term would not be widely disseminated—much less so, for example, than ‘philately’, its stamp-collecting cousin.

Almost every deltiologist has a category of interest—transportation systems, communication systems, the work of a particular publisher or artist, animals in postcards, children or toys in postcards, religious or political subjects, and so on—infinite possibilities—ballet postcards, castle postcards, sports cards, the shop-fronts of Ulster . . . you name it and someone somewhere is probably specializing in it.

The most common collecting category, of course, is geographically framed, the town or city or territory in which one lives, or in which one happens to be especially interested. Locations are sometimes then combined with time-periods—New York city postcards from the 1940s and 50s, for example, or postcards posted in Dublin on Bloomsday (the original Bloomsday, 16 June  1904)—and, in turn, place and time may be triangulated with a third dimension: London postcards from the inter-war years featuring motor cars, or women’s hats, or whatever.

Collectors can have a number of areas of interest in harness, which may or may not be inter-connected and/or overlap—John James, for example, one of the two principal collectors featured in this volume, in addition to his collection of Cork postcards, collects cards relating to the Cunard ocean liner Lusitania—briefly the world’s biggest passenger vessel—torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat in May 1915 (the Lusitania went down 11 miles south of the Old Head of Kinsale with the loss of nearly 1,200 lives).

John James started off collecting postcards of his hometown, Kinsale. As a schoolboy, John had had the collecting bug for a little while—collecting railway-related items, including postcards—however, he did not start collecting in a serious way until he retired (most of John James’ working life was spent with the British Bank of the Middle East—now part of HSBC group—he retired from the bank in 1986).

“I was very fortunate early on in my collecting career”, he says “in meeting at a postcard fair in London an experienced dealer, whose advice was to select a very limited number of subjects to collect, and for whatever reason do not deviate one jot from one’s target subjects.”

Nevertheless, it was not long before John’s geographical area of interest extended to the county boundary—Kinsale simply being too confined an area to make the activity rewarding—“it requires both fortitude and stamina to wade through boxes and boxes of common cards”. However, he developed his discipline in other ways, specializing in cards from the Golden Age of the Picture Postcard, that is, cards produced between 1890s and the 1920s—strictly speaking, the so-called ‘Golden Age’ is 1898 to 1919 but such periods have coattails because, for example, a card may be produced in, say, 1918 but not purchased and posted until sometime later.

“Financial constraints also impose certain limitations”, John adds. Postcards are vastly more expensive than they were 25 years ago when he started collecting. In the 1980s, £5 would have been an enormous sum to pay for a postcard. However, in the late 1990s, for instance, John was at an auction in Dublin at which a postcard of Lord Carbery landing an aeroplane at the Cork Show Grounds sold for £117 (Irish punts)—this, in fairness, was exceptional. John had been bidding for the Lord Carbery card but dropped out of the competition once it started to become, in his view, silly money.

The postcard collectors: John James (left) and Adrian Healy, the collectors upon whose collections ‘Love from Cork’ is based.

The postcard collectors: John James (left) and Adrian Healy, the collectors upon whose collections ‘Love from Cork’ is based.

To date, John has nearly 2,000 cards in his collection altogether, with Kinsale, Cork city, and Queenstown-Cobh making up the three largest sub-sets—Kinsale (158), Cork city (299), and Queenstown-Cobh (105).

“My Holy Grail is to obtain a card of Kinsale Railway Station”, he says. “I know a card of it exists—with a detachment of soldiers marching away from it—but I have never seen it.”

Mischievously, in summing up he says, “I would say that collecting picture postcards is not so much a hobby as a disease!”

“Postcarditis” has long been recognised as a feverish and pitiable condition—the following is from the American Magazine from as long ago as 1906:

“Postal carditis and allied collecting manias are working havoc among the inhabitants of the United States. The germs of these maladies, brought to this country in the baggage of tourists and immigrants, escaped quarantine regulations, and have propagated with amazing rapidity. . . .

“By far the worst development of the prevailing pests is postal carditis, which affects the heart, paralyzes the reasoning faculties, and abnormally increases the nerve. It had its origin in Germany twenty years ago, but did not assume dangerous proportions there until 1897. Sporadic cases of it were observed in the United States and the year 1900 saw the malady rapidly spread from one center of infection to another. It seems only yesterday that postal cards were on view almost entirely at hotels which were patronized exclusively by foreigners or in little dingy shops on Third Avenue, or on the remote East side.

“It often happens that collectors . . . have not enough friends to increase their hoards in a normal manner. Hundreds of them haunt establishments where the causes of their besetting sin are exposed for sale, select such as strike their fancy, stamp them and mail them to their own addresses. . . .

“These monstrosities [albums of postcards] are often bestowed on the center table in the parlor, and about the only thing that can be said for them is that they crowd off the plush thesaurus of family celebrities.”

From the Adrian Healy postcard collection a "National Series" postcard from the Millar & Lang company of London and Glasgow featuring a Bandon (Royal Irish Constabulary) policeman

From the Adrian Healy postcard collection a “National Series” postcard from the Millar & Lang company of London and Glasgow featuring a Bandon (Royal Irish Constabulary) policeman

Meanwhile, in the west of the county, on weekends and during school holidays, Adrian Healy worked in a little seaside village shop. The shop ceased trading in the early 1980s and, as they were clearing the place, Adrian asked if he could take some of the postcards from the display rack that once hung outside the shop doorway.

At that time—the 1970s and 80s—Adrian was not a postcard-hunter, he was however an avid stamp-collector. Indeed, Adrian would still consider his philatelic activities his central focus, with postcards just a sideline or spin-off. Back then, he was acquiring postcards only in pursuit of stamps so that, for the most part, he only acquired postcards by default, as it were—nevertheless, he acquired lots of them.

The postcards from the village shop sat in a box forgotten in a corner of his study and, along with it, several other boxes of postcards that had accumulated as philatelic collateral detritus. Then, in the 1990s, married and moving into a new house—newas a dwelling house, that is, because it was his old village schoolhouse renovated and repurposed—Adrian’s wife asked him to “do something” with his boxes upon boxes of “stuff”.

So it was, for the first time, that Adrian got a few albums and laid out in an orderly fashion the postcards he wanted to keep. And it was from this his Cork postcard collection evolved.

IN THE SPRING or early summer of 2010 I’m walking down Main Street in Skibbereen one day and I meet Adrian Healy coming out of the post office, which is his place of work.

At that time I was doing a lot of writing for the Southern Star newspaper, feature-articles and the like. That particular day I was working on something forStarLife, a Southern Star magazine supplement—indeed, in my hand I had the final page-proof for what I was working on—a Michael Minihane photograph from 1967 of cockle-pickers on the strand at Crookhaven. StarLife had a regular feature on the last page called ‘Final Frame’ which took a photograph and with it put a little block of text telling the story behind the making of the picture.

I was always on the lookout for unusual images for this series. I knew Adrian was a great collector of stuff so I flagged up my interest in such items with him. In response, he told me about a picture he had of Raheen Castle in Myross—a 1930s postcard—with a 1930s motorcar parked in front of it. As a composition, he said, there was something intriguing about it. It sounded like just the kind of thing I was after—local but out of the ordinary.

Postcard from the Adrian Healy collection featuring Raheen Castle in Myross, near Skibbereen, with (in the foreground) a 1936 Ford 10.

Postcard from the Adrian Healy collection featuring Raheen Castle in Myross, near Skibbereen, with (in the foreground) a 1936 Ford 10.

In this way, shortly thereafter, I came to write up an account of Adrian Healy and his Cork postcard collection, a picture-rich version of which appeared in the pages of the Southern Star (newspaper). Another version of it appeared in the Irish Examiner in August or September of that year.

Therefore, it must have been in the autumn of 2010 when Kinsale’s John James got in contact with me—to let me know that he too was a collector of Cork postcards. John James—who was someone I knew not at all—invited me, when next I was in Kinsale, to come up to his house and view the collection for myself, if interested.

Before going over to Kinsale I had presumed that the two collections would overlap considerably, but this was not so at all. Actually, the two collections complimented one another wonderfully: John James’ collection is very strong on the east side of the county and weaker in parts of the far west, while Adrian’s collection has exactly the opposite strengths and weaknesses. Both collections are sparse enough in areas of the northwest—however, places such as Newmarket and Knocknagree and Ballydesmond are not on established tourist trails—that is, cards for these places simply do not exist to the same extent as they do for, say, Rosscarbery or Ballycotton.

It was quite some time after that, however, before it occurred to me to do a bookon the subject. I cannot remember exactly when the idea occurred to me—it must have been some time in 2011 (I was out hill-walking at the time)—but I remember the moment of inspiration. It was so obvious (as good ideas often are)! Had anyone done a book on the postcards of Cork before? I was not aware of such a book—but that did not mean too much because, having lived nearly half my adult life in Britain, there are lots of things of which I am not aware. However, the two collectors did not know of such a book either, which did mean something because these men had been collecting postcards for decades andwould know if such a publication existed.

Web-searches confirmed the fact—a book on the postcards of Cork had never been done! Postcards of Galway, yes, Postcards of Limerick, yes, Postcards of Dublin, yes, even the Postcards of Cavan, but not Cork! And there was I with ready access to several thousand Cork postcards, all neatly laid out in albums, and—having spent the most of a decade working on volumes of the Correspondence of Charles Darwin at Cambridge University Library—just the right kind of editorial expertise to do the job, and do it well!

From the introduction to Love from Cork, my book on the postcards of Cork (The Collins Press, 2013)

171__JJ

“JACKDAWS nest in the limes of Friary hill, tear twigs, lay eggs, raise young, drop eggshells and whiten with their squirted lime-shit the newly washed limousines lined up for Mass, strut about on the road. A robin calls “Swing low, sweet chariot!” over by the French Prison and from near the slaughterhouse on Chairman’s Lane a blackbird answers “Aujourd’hui! Aujourd’hui!” as the legless man is pushed in his wheelchair into a waiting car, and the Buck goes bounding down the narrow stairs and out into the freshness of Cork Street, jacket hooked over one finger, humming “The Mountains of Mourne”, released from arranging that evergreen lament for his male voice choir.

“Daybreak comes early in June to the port, with a bantam cock crowing lustily twenty-nine times, mongrels in the morning, the canoodling of pigeons, the tide coming into the town of ghosts (population 2,000); 1601 was but yesterday, and spooks abound. Joy-bells ring for living and drowned (the Irish life underneath the waves); when the tide goes out and the wind drops there’ll be a couple of jumps.

“A bitch in heat is being chased through the flat of town by six mongrels anxious to cover her, despite newly enacted by-laws for the control of wandering pets; but ours was ever a country notoriously difficult to control. Windblown pines, surging ambient darkness.”

From ‘Sodden Fields’, published in Flotsam & Jetsam (Minerva, 1997; Dalkey Archive Press, 2002), a collection of shorter fiction by Aidan Higgins, together with an Insight Ireland postcard showing part of a run of houses on Summercove in Kinsale, Co. Cork.

Generic 4[Note: For more on postcards and the Cork postcards project, go to the ‘Postcards of Cork‘ section of the listing of blog-post subject categories on the sidebar above.]
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8 thoughts on “Postcards”

  1. Great blog which I stumbled onto tonight.

    I’ll be picking up a copy of “Love from Cork” ASAP!

    • Hi, do do so; it’s a really good book, even if I say so myself (by which I mean I’m very happy with it, both in terms of content and as a physical product). Best wishes, & thanks for nice words on blog

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