Famous Stamps at the GPO


What attracts tourists to a country? The tequila? Haggis? The sauerkraut? Guinness? The weather? Scenery? The archaeology? Many of the above, and more, I am sure.

In Dublin why do tourists pose for photographs outside the GPO? Is it famous for selling stamps? Why do they visit Kilmainham Jail? To admire the mullioned windows? Why do tourists get their pictures taken outside the Bastille or the Tower of London? Surely, it’s got something to do with history, the great events that took place, the great heads that rolled. Similarly, tourists visit the graves of famous poets and writers, such as Yeats at Drumcliff and Wilde’s in Paris.

Visiting the Republican Plot in Milltown Cemetery and seeing the wall murals is now accepted as a must on the itinerary for most foreigners who visit Belfast. In County Cork last year I made a point of driving out of my way to visit Beal na Blath and to pray at the monument erected by Fine Gael supporters in memory of Michael Collins, shot dead by the IRA in August 1922.

Earlier, I had visited the monument at Ballyseedy. Here, in 1923 Free State forces took nine IRA prisoners from Tralee, brought them to Ballyseedy Cross, tied them to a mined barricade and detonated it. Nine coffins were sent out from the jail, but only eight men had died. Had one not survived to tell the truth the false story would have been that they were all killed by their own bomb. When I arrived at Ballyseedy a bus-load of Americans from Killarney were just leaving. Clearly, tourists are interested in Irish history and in observing how we commemorate our patriot dead.

Which brings me to Kerry Fianna Fail Councillor John Brassil.

On this, the twentieth anniversary of the 1981 H-Block hunger strike, commemoration committees and Sinn Fein have organised public meetings and rallies, debates and discussions, and have put up black flags and posters across Ireland in memory of those ten brave men who died for their beliefs. The interest and the numbers in attendance at the various events have astonished even the organisers.

In Kerry, posters and all-weather billboards portraying the ten men have been put up, as everywhere else. Here, former hunger striker Sean McKenna stood for election in June 1981 and received almost 4,000 votes. However, according to Councillor Brassil the posters and billboards are "off-putting to tourists" and the erection of flags on lampposts is upsetting the locals. Fine Gael TD Jimmy Deenihan joined him and said that, "Sinn Fein, like everyone else, should abide by litter and planning laws".

Litter? Posters honouring young men who died for their country? The last time I heard such offensive language was back in 1992 when Kevin Myers referred to IRA Volunteers as "misbegotten, pagan litter".

Councillor Brassil, from ‘Fianna Fail, the republican party’, should hang his head in shame. Where is the spirit of generosity, the parity of esteem, the respect for other traditions, that presumably Brassil and Deenihan voted for in the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement?

When Bobby Sands MP died on May 5, 1981, the New Jersey State Legislature voted a resolution honouring his ‘courage and commitment’. In Rome the President of the Italian Senate expressed condolences to the Sands’ family. The town of Le Mans announced it was naming a street after him. Tehran announced it was sending an ambassador to represent the government at Bobby Sands’ funeral. In India and in Portugal Opposition MPs stood for a minute’s silence. In Poland Lech Walesa paid him a tribute.

And in Kerry, on the twentieth anniversary of the deaths of ten hunger strikers, Councillor Brassil and Jimmy Deenihan TD find the memory "off-putting". Not one offended tourist can be found. Not one complainant to the gardai. Councillor Martin Ferris said that no one had complained to him or Sinn Fein. He said the party would remove any posters that were placed on public property but that the billboards mounted on private property, all of which had the owners’ permission, would not be taken down until this year’s commemorations ended.

In two weeks time it is expected that Councillor Brassil will be seeking the Fianna Fail nomination for the general election. If the Councillor is truly consistent then he should object to the perpetual memorialising of certain reprobates after whom some of the nation’s capital’s most important thoroughfares have been named.

For example, O’Connell Street and O’Connell Bridge: named after a fellow Kerry man, a serial adulterer, who married his cousin and shot dead a Protestant representative, John D’Esterre, in a duel. Or Parnell Square: named after a politician who for ten years scandalously went out with a married woman (who, incidentally, only remained married in the hope of securing a legacy!).

Surely, Councillor Brassil can find some crabbed old tourists visiting Ireland who would agree that these in-your-face street signs and statues are off-putting, distressing and morally inappropriate. Well?

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© 2007 Irish Author and Journalist - Danny Morrison