Happy St. Patrick’s Day from Cumann na mBan! This lovely colour postcard depicts the Cumann na mBan emblem of the organisation’s initials entwined with a rifle, held by ribbons in the green white and gold of the Irish flag with a spray of shamrock above. It also includes the brass button of the Irish Volunteers – the Irish harp separating the ‘I’ and the ‘V’. This card, unused, was published by Fergus O’Connor in Dublin and probably dates from around 1917 or 1918. It came to the museum via Sean Prendergast, an Officer of the Irish Volunteers in Dublin between 1914 and 1916, and Captain in the IRA in 1921.
This card was probably commissioned by Cumann na mBan as part of their fundraising activities. After the 1916 Rising and the near destruction of the Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army through the execution of their leaders and internment of so many members, they became highly involved in a number of activities; organizing commemorations, producing propaganda, opposing conscription and campaigning for the 1918 General Election.
Kathleen Clarke, a founder of Cumann na mBan and widow of Tom Clarke, along with Sorcha McMahon and Áine Ceannt, established the Irish Republican Prisoners’ Dependents’ Fund, which aimed to provide for the wives and children of those who died or were imprisoned after the rising. The proceeds from the sale of cards such as these not only helped the families, but also raised funds which enabled the Republican movement to continue.
The card is full of symbols of the Irish nation; the tricolour dates back to the Young Ireland Rebellion of 1848 (based on the French idea) and had resurged in the 1916 Rising, and the shamrock and Irish harp have been used as far back as the late 18th century. St. Patrick himself as a symbol has long been the embodiment of ‘Irishness’. He is now more associated with ‘Catholic Ireland’ and the Republic, but as far back as the Reformation he was considered by many as a Protestant saint, with claims that the church he founded had no Roman elements and was closer to that of the established Anglican Church of Ireland. One example of Patrick as a Protestant is The Benevolent Society of St. Patrick, founded in the late 18th century by a group of Irish Protestant M.P.s in British Parliament. The society was a charitable organisation whose mission was to raise funds to support the destitute Irish and their children living in London by providing schooling and training to enable them to provide for themselves. However, in the 19th century, with the increasing strength of the Liberal Protestants in English parliament and the advent of Catholic Emancipation, St. Patrick and Patrick’s Day became something that both of the dominant religions in Ireland could embrace as a symbol of nation which crossed the Catholic / Protestant divide, a shared culture, when other days of celebration such as the Williamite commemorations were increasingly seen as divisive and destructive. The work of the Gaelic League led to the establishing of St. Patrick’s Day as a national holiday in 1903. Today it is a bank holiday in both the North and South of Ireland, though the extent to which it is celebrated in the North still depends on which side of the political divide you happen to be.