ACIS Logo Irish Ambassadors of National Taste: Free State Visual Representations of Irishness on Postage Stamps and Coinage

In 1922 the newly established Irish Free State attempted to represent Ireland via image, releasing a series of stamps. Praised by many Irish citizens, the Department of Posts and Telegraphs began using the object as a way to visually separate the government of the Free State from its association with the British government. While the stamp proved an uncontroversial moment, the new Irish coinage that was designed to do the same thing only six years later set off a firestorm of protest. These protests took aim at the images which W.B. Yeats had chosen to depict what it meant to be Irish.

Using the visual culture of quotidian objects as a lens to analyze visual representation in this transitional period of Irish history, this presentation delves into a much larger debate over how the new Irish Free state should be visually represented. The “standard” representations of Irishness printed on the stamps were accepted by the public as they were considered by many to define a national Irish style established during the Gaelic Revival. The introduction of the coinage designs sparked such controversy as it challenged the previously assumed version of Irishness. The introduction of this “new” version of Irishness began a debate on how the Irish Free State should be defined (religious or secular, rural or modern, anti-colonial or post-colonial) as well the role and functionality of artistic representation and the question of who would hold the power to make these decisions (the general public or the artistic elites).