Thursday, 23 February 2017

11 Morrison's Quay

I walked along Morrison's Quay in Cork today as I made my way from one of my favourite cafes in the city - The Bookshelf on South Mall - to another of my favourites, Cafe Velo on George's Quay. The weather was lovely - the early spring sun twinkled on the dark surface of the Lee and cumulus clouds scuttled across a blue sky:

The Lee looking north-east from Trinity Footbridge, with Morrison's Quay on the left and Union Quay on the right.

As I crossed the Quay I noticed this beautiful wall-mounted 'GR' postbox:

And a little closer:

I was struck by this box for a number of reasons. First, it is in a relatively quiet spot - a stretch of the quays rather out of the way of the businesses and shops of the city centre, right on the edge of the quieter part of the island that forms the heart of the city. Second, it is painted in that dull, dark-greyish green that contrasts with the brighter, yellower green of more recent boxes (and some older but recently repainted boxes). Third, it is especially beautiful, perhaps due to the elegance and simplicity of the 'GR' cipher and the uncluttered setting. And finally, it struck me that 'GR' boxes seem to be the rarest of pre-independence Irish postboxes. This makes sense: Victoria was Queen from 1837-1901, Edward VII from 1901-1910, and George V from 1910-1936. But the Irish Free State was established in 1922, only 12 years into George V's reign - making his 'Irish postboxes' reign only three years longer than Edward VII's - and it is very likely that fewer postboxes were installed in Ireland between 1910 and 1922, as the Great War raged and Irish independence drew closer. There is something very special about Irish 'GR' boxes.

The box is set into the wall of 11 Morrison's Quay, a terraced four-bay three-storey building built in c.1845. The building has retained its original use: it is the meeting hall of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish Catholic fraternity established in New York in 1836. Given the nature of this organisation, it is probably not the case that they are keen to have a British Royal Cipher attached to the front of their building. But clearly they allowed the box to be installed - or perhaps they had no choice!. Here is a wider shot of the box in the building:

This is a beautiful little box in a quiet spot in Cork. If you happen to be in the city, write a letter to a friend, take a stroll along Morrison's Quay, and take the opportunity to use it to post a letter. It might be that it has been staring at the Lee for nearly 100 years, through two world wars, a war of independence and a civil war. But don't take it for granted.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017


On this blog we tend to focus on pre-Independence postboxes: that is, postboxes installed in Ireland prior to the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922 (from 1800 Ireland was a constituent part of the United Kingdom of Britain and Ireland). The Irish Free State was a self-governing British Dominion which persisted until 1932, when the independent state of Ireland or Eire was established by the passing by referendum of the Irish Constitution (historical note: strictly speaking, Ireland did not become a *republic* until 1949, at which time King George VI ceased to be de jure head of state - this despite the fact that Ireland had a President from 1936). 

At the foundation of the Irish Free State the responsibilities of the Postmaster General of the United Kingdom in Ireland were transferred to the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, and Irish postboxes from this point ceased to display the Royal Cipher. Instead, they display the 'PℸT' logo, featuring the unusual 'Tironian et' symbol:

Walking around Cork today I spotted two nice examples of 'PℸT' postboxes, on Connaught Ave (connecting College Rd and O'Donovan's Rd near UCC) and on Model Farm Rd. Here is the Connaught Ave box:

This box is usefully embedded in the wall of 'Pizza Amore', which I am certain is a purveyor of very fine Italian food:

Here is the Model Farm Rd box, also still in use:

I must admit that I am not as excited by a 'PℸT' as I am by a good 'VR', 'EVIIR' or 'GR'. But they are a significant part of the world of Irish Postboxes, and they reflect an important period of Irish history, when the young country was moving towards full independence.  I'm sure we'll see many of them on this blog.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Mountjoy Square

Dublin's most outstanding architectural feature is undoubtedly its five Georgian garden squares: St Stephen's Green, Merrion Sq and Fitzwilliam Sq on the south side of the city, and Mountjoy Sq and Parnell Sq on the north. Living in the south Dublin suburbs, I know St Stephen's Green and Merrion Sq fairly well, and have cycled past the smaller Fitzwilliam Sq a few times; but I'd never been to any of the north side squares, so on a break during a day's work in the city centre I decided to pay a visit to Mountjoy Sq.

Mountjoy Sq lies just north of O'Connell St. O'Connell St (Sackville St until 1924) was once Dublin's grandest thoroughfare, and indeed was considered one of the most impressive streets in Europe on its completion in the late 1780s. Here is Sackville St is in the 1840s, in a view looking north past the General Post Office (left) and Nelson's Pillar (blown up by Irish republican Liam Sutcliffe in 1966):

Sadly, these days O'Connell St is a very depressing place, full of (or at least, seemingly full of) fast food chains, casinos, and in the northern half of the street, derelict buildings. I feel especially sorry for the tourists who end up there having spent hundreds or even thousands of pounds to visit the city.

In any case, having sadly trudged to the top of O'Connell St, I made my way in short time to Mountjoy Sq. And very nice it is too: it sits on a hill looking down toward the river, and the buildings in the four ranges are remarkably consistent and apparently very well preserved. Here's a nice description of the square due to 18th c. contemporaries Warburton, Whitelaw and Walsh:

This square, which is now completely finished, is neat, simple and elegant, its situation elevated and healthy … the elevation of the houses, the breadth of the streets, so harmonize together, as to give pleasure to the eye of the spectator, and to add to the neatness, simplicity, and regularity every where visible, entitling this square to rank high among the finest in Europe.

And here's a picture I took of the south range (Mountjoy Sq South):

I had a nice surprise as well: having just taken this picture, I noticed that I was standing right next to this freshly-painted and well-preserved VR pillarbox:

The street directly behind the box sloping toward the Liffey is Gardiner St, named after Luke Gardiner, 1st Viscount Mountjoy (1745-98), who planned and developed the square (which was built between 1790 and 1818). Here's an excellent portrait of the man himself, by Reynolds:

Mountjoy was killed fighting for the Crown against the United Irishmen at the Battle of New Ross during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. However his square persists, and has been an important part of Dublin - and Irish - life over the last two hundred years. Famous past residents of the square include James Joyce, Sean O'Casey, and W B Yeats. And - somewhat ironically given Mountjoy's demise - some of the planning for the 1916 Easter Rising took place in the square. I suspect he wouldn't have been best pleased. 

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Parnell Place (+ Maximum Nerdage)

Here's a lovely E-VII-R situated on the corner of Parnell Place and South Mall in the heart of Cork City. The picture was taken at about 5pm (just before collection time) on a May afternoon in 2016, which would explain why the box is so full that you can see the most recent deposit peeping out through the aperture. That just goes to show that even though the box is over a century old (Edward VII was king between 1901 and 1910), it's used now as much as it ever was.

I'm specific about the date that this picture taken because it's interesting to see how the postbox has moved around over the last seven years: we can document it using Google's "streetview." If you're coming with me on this ridiculous journey, brace yourself for maximum nerdage...

Google's Streetview allows you to see historical images where they're available. In the top left of the page, you can see a little clock icon, and if you pull down the menu, you get a slider so that you can track the same scene over time. So here's what this junction looked like in June 2009, with the postbox sandwiched between electricity boxes and a dustbin:

Now, a little over a year later, in October 2010, we see the postbox has stayed proudly in the same place, even though taggers have vandalised the electricity box:

Less than a year later -- in September 2011 -- the electricity box has been cleaned up, but WHOAH! The bin has moved closer to the corner... where are you going?

And now, finally, we see the current configuration as from September 2014. There's a new, additional, electricity box (presumably to control the more complex light sequence at the intersection) and the bin has vanished completely (along with the mature tree). The postbox has moved closer to the road, presumably to facilitate ease of mailing by users of the new cycle lane, but it's still present, after over 100 years of use.

After so many incremental changes at this intersection, I'm glad the powers that be kept the old box (even though they had to move it), rather than replacing it with one of those hideous new "box-on-a-stick" contraptions.

Phew... time for a cup of tea and a lie-down in a darkened room.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Suburban Box

I spotted the pillar-box below while visiting my sister-in-law in Blackrock, Dublin, on the corner of Brookville Park and Springhill Avenue (googlemaps reference: It was a cold November afternoon and the weak, wintery Irish sun was just setting, casting a lovely yellow glow on the rich green paint of the box. A dead fox lay on the side of the pavement close by, having clearly met his end under the wheels of a car. 

This looks to me like a Royal Mail box with the Royal Cypher removed - it reads 'POST OFFICE' rather than 'PℸT' (1922-1984) or 'An Post' (1984- present), and in overall design closely resembles the 'GR' (1910-22) pillar-box on St Patrick's Hill in Cork (see this earlier post). This makes me think that the box has been moved from somewhere else, as it is surrounded by modern residential housing. Or perhaps its surroundings have simply changed dramatically over the past hundred-or-so years. In any case, it's tucked away in a residential side-street, but is in very good condition (missing Cypher notwithstanding) - an elegant suburban box.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Tongue and Target

I was in Cork recently and decided to take a picture of this beautifully-situated pillar box in St. Luke's Cross:

The box is a recent 'An Post' (pronounced 'un pust') box, probably dating from the 1980s (An Post was established in 1984, replacing the Department for Posts and Telegraphs) and no later than the mid-90s, when cast-iron pillar boxes such as the above were replaced by the horror-show that is the modern green box on a steel pole (you may not have noticed these due to their resemblance to electricity boxes). An interesting feature of this box is that it has been vandalised - the 'An Post' logo under the window on the door has been ripped off, leaving a rusty scar. You can see the pre-vandalised box here.

The church in the background is St. Luke's (C of I), which was designed by Hill and consecrated in 1889, and then deconsecrated in 2003, when it became a music venue and cultural centre. (The parish migrated to Cork's famous St. Anne's church in Shandon, known locally simply as 'Shandon'). See here for more info.

Another feature of the above box that caught my eye was the prominent stamp of the foundry in Dublin that made it:

A little research shows that Tonge & Taggart were a well-known Dublin foundry that produced all sorts of iron street furniture until the 1990s when they were swallowed up the Smurfit group. Walking around Dublin since my visit and keeping an eye on the ground, I've been finding them everywhere:

I've even roped in my daughter, who takes great delight in spotting 'Tongue and Target' manhole covers whenever we go out for a walk. If time permits, I'm going to try to find out where in Dublin they were based, and get some photos of the foundry itself. Watch this space!

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Rue Bonaparte

Wellington Road in Cork city runs from the intersection of Sidney Place and York Street to St Luke's Cross. The names of the streets and buildings in this part of Cork - the area directly north of the river Lee and east of St Patrick's Hill - speak strongly of Cork's history as a former British city, and in particular, of the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815). Sidney Place leads to York Street and Wellington Road, and Wellington Road leads to Belgrave Place, Waterloo Terrace, Wellesley Terrace (pictured below), Alexandra Road (Queen Alexandra, wife of Edward VII), and Military Hill. Wellington's victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 - where a full 30% of the British forces, including the Duke himself, were Irish - made him a famous British war hero, and Wellington Road reminds us that his victory was celebrated (by some, at least) in Cork as elsewhere in the British Isles.

Wellington Road is a lovely street - one of the nicest in Cork. If you find yourself in the city, walk down the street from St Luke's cross to Sidney Place and follow Sidney Place to where it meets St Patrick's Hill. Along the way you'll see some of the finest 18th and early 19th century terraces in the city.

At the top of the hill you'll also see the former St Patrick's Hospital, founded in 1870. This imposing red-sandstone building is an important Cork landmark, and has a fine neo-Gothic chapel.

At the lower end of the former hospital, on the same side, is the entrance to Charlemont Terrace. The terraces off Wellington Road are set on their own roads which run parallel to the main road but remain level, giving privacy to the residents and excellent views that would be lost had they followed the slope of the street. Charlemont Terrace is served by this freshly-painted wall-mounted postbox:

It's pretty clear that this box has been removed and re-set into the wall - hence the messy mass of cement now holding it in place. But at least it has been preserved, and painted, and continues to serve the area. Note that this box is marked 'Post Office' - and is therefore a pre-independence, British box - but is missing its Royal Cypher. I can only assume it has been removed - see the faint scoring below the aperture where the cypher would normally appear.

As you continue down the street you'll notice how the wall on the right side grows higher and higher, as the terraces above stay level with the top of the hill. There are a number of beautifully worn flights of stone steps providing access to the terraces along the way, some with ornate and often very rusty old iron gates. If you see any locked gates, make sure to peer in - at least one is filled with plants and flowers and looks like a little country lane. In the lower end of the street you'll find some lovely 18th century red-brick terraces - demonstrating that Dublin is not the only Irish city with attractive Georgian buildings! And finally, when you reach St Patrick's Hill, you'll find this handsome 'GR' pillar-box (installed between 1910-1922) standing sentry:

This box probably isn't used as much as it once was, but it still frames the end of the road beautifully, proving once again that the Irish postbox isn't just a functional thing but a piece of architecture in its own right. And now we can ask ourselves: what would have happened had Napoleon won the war? Perhaps we'd be standing at the end of Rue Bonaparte, and we'd find ourselves faced with a green wall-mounted La Poste box. Somehow it wouldn't be the same.