Explore Your Archive: Document of the Day

Military Postcards in the Maynooth University Library Collection

by Alexandra Caccamo, Assistant Librarian with Responsibility for Special Collections and Archives, MU Library

For Explore Your Archives week, I am going to focus on a small collection of military themed postcards. The images on the postcards are of a long-gone era and range from military regiments and army barracks to World War I postcards. Of the thirty-two postcards in the collection only a handful have written messages, the rest may have been collected as keepsakes.

With the outbreak of World War I, commercial companies quickly began to print wartime themed postcards. One such company was Bamforth & Company Limited based in Yorkshire, who are probably better known for their bawdy seaside postcards. However, during the War they produced a more restrained product, the postcard set. These sets or series of postcards depicted popular songs or hymns. Almost all of them are quite poignant and show soldiers deployed overseas or their concerned loved ones, like the examples pictured here.

There is also a series of postcards showing the British army in ceremonial dress. Some of these were painted by the military artist and illustrator, Ernest Ibbetson (1877-1959). The postcards in our collection are of Irish regiments in the British army, such as 5th Royal Irish Lancers. They are numbered on the back and were probably part of series. There are also two postcards printed by Raphael Tuck & Sons. These so-called “oilettes” were printed to resemble miniature oil paintings.

As mentioned, the collection of postcards at Maynooth are mostly blank, but there are four which include messages. One with an image of the Curragh Camp, was sent from someone who seems to be missing their loved one. It says:

‘Dear A, Arrived safely on Sat. about noon of course it was raining over here. Am not in the best of spirits. Hoping you are all quite well. Best Love, A.’

Another postcard contains a very prosaic message, telling the recipient what to order from the butcher! This reflects the use of postcards as a quick and cheap means of communication.

‘Please tell Stratton that we shall not have anyone to the house next week. So I only want her to order 4lbs topside of Beef….from the butchers. Best love xxx from Mummy.’

The Country House and the Great War

Professor Terence Dooley, Director, Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates, History Department, Maynooth University, and Nicola Kelly, Archivist, OPW-Maynooth University Archive and Research Centre, Castletown House.

Recruitment Fervour

In the summer of 1914 many Big House families in Ireland had been preparing, through the Unionist movement, to fight the implementation of Home Rule, in Ulster by force if necessary. However, just as Ireland seemed on the brink of civil war, attentions were turned to a European conflict of unimaginable magnitude. Elizabeth Bowen recalled a garden party at Mitchelstown Castle on 5 August 1914:

‘This was a time to gather…for miles round, each isolated big house had disgorged its talker, this first day of the war. The tension of months, of years – outlying tension of Europe, inner tensions of Ireland – broke in a spate of words.’

But those who had gathered scarcely realised the social, physical and emotional impact that total warfare would have on their families in the years ahead. Scores of relatives would go to war and many would never return; more would enthusiastically sacrifice their time, finances and energies to the war effort at home; and virtually all would be disgusted by the events of Easter Week 1916.


Great War exhibit 1
    The Country House and the Great War Exhibition displayed in the                     Russell Library

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‘On Active Service’: Maynooth College, chaplains & the anti-conscription crisis

By Professor Marian Lyons (Department of History, Maynooth University) and Barbara McCormack (Special Collections Librarian, Maynooth University Library)

While Europe was in the throes of the Great War and Ireland made a bold strike for independence, the national seminary at Maynooth experienced a profound transformative period. On Easter Monday 1916, although the college president, J.F. Hogan, blessed seventeen Volunteers from the town of Maynooth as they set out to join the insurrection in Dublin, he stated categorically that he opposed their action. During Easter week there was an air of excitement in the college. When President Hogan rounded a corner to find students drilling in front of Rhetoric House, he allegedly said: ‘You’ll be well advised to disband, gentlemen’. From early on in the Great War, Maynooth priests volunteered for army chaplaincy duties. In 1917 the college authorities publicly supported the recruitment of Irish Catholic priests as army chaplains by conducting early ordinations to meet the demand for priests. But as Sinn Féin began to contest elections, and the days of the Irish Parliamentary Party grew numbered, the mood in Maynooth, as in the country, was changing.

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Maynooth College 1914-1918

By Barbara McCormack, Special Collections & Archives

We are currently hosting a very interesting exhibition in the Russell Library to mark the anniversary of World War I. ‘Maynooth College 1914-1918’ was developed to commemorate the role of Irish Catholic army chaplains in the First World War while also documenting the history of Maynooth College during this period.

Memorbilia on display
Memorbilia on display

The exhibition is a collaborative endeavour between St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth and Maynooth University, with a grant from Kildare County Council towards costs.

Exhibition Goals

  • To commemorate the centenary of the First World War.
  • To focus on local history during the period 1914-1918.
  • To assess the impact of the War on the day-to-day running of the College.
  • To commemorate the work of Irish Catholic army chaplains during the conflict.
  • To explore the relationship between the Irish and English Catholic administration at this time.
  • To explore the impact of the War on teaching staff.
  • To explore attitudes towards the threat of conscription in 1918.
  • To create opportunities for community engagement, specifically with regards to adult learners.
  • To encourage learning, reflection and dialogue in relation to Ireland and the First World War.
  • To encourage further research in the area of conflict resolution and military history.

Students, 1916
Students, 1916


The exhibition and accompanying events focused on local history during World War I through an analysis of the following themes:

  1. Daily life in Maynooth College during the First World War.
  2. Meeting the need for Irish Catholic army chaplains at the front.
  3. The threat of conscription in Ireland.
  4. Irish nationalism during World War I.
  5. A German professor at Maynooth College.

WWI exhibition