By Tom Gilmore

Since the world’s first adhesive stamp, The Penny Black, appeared in England in 1840, or the words Rialtas Sealadac na hÉireann were printed in black over a brownish-yellow background on Ireland’s first stamp in 1922, very often it’s the image or design of a stamp that attracts the attention of the recipient of a letter first.

UK stamps often have the faces of kings and queens on them. Ireland’s stamps have featured everything from mythical figures from our ancient past, etchings of famous historical people or events to presidents, but never recent Irish royalty – until now.

Recent Irish royalty? Is there such a thing you might well ask? The answer is yes – and much loved Irish royalty at that. A new set of five colourful Irish stamps by An Post feature kings and queens, princes and princesses – of Irish Country music!

Back in 1840, the Penny Black featured an image of Queen Victoria wearing her tiara. But the Irish (Country) queen on one of the An Post stamps says she doesn’t want any tiara and is shocked to see her face on a stamp.
The five are the late Big Tom, known as the King of Country in Ireland, the Queen of Irish Country, Philomena Begley, international star and surely a Country prince, Daniel O’Donnell, as well as new young Country prince Nathan Carter and young Country princess Cliona Hagan.

For many years many Country music fans, and others involved in the business, have expressed the hopes that someday some of the Irish stars in this music genre would be honoured on stamps.
A few years ago, shortly before the passing of Big Tom McBride in 2017, Hugh O’Brien from Cork, the presenter of Europe’s longest running Country music TV show, Hot Country on the Sky channel, launched a campaign to honour the Monaghan singer with a stamp.

The five Keep It Country stamps also have a curious and very interesting design as they reflect the letterpress printing process which was used extensively to print posters, usually in either two or three colours, for Country music stars, dances and carnivals.

It was pre-digital days and pre-full colour printing also in most parts of Ireland. It was an art in itself for the compositor to hand-pick the type face and painstakingly assemble each letter one by one into a frame called a ‘chase’ for placing on the bed of the printing machine before the inked rollers, and then the sheets of paper, were pressed over them.
That made the impression and it was an even better impression if some of the brighter colours on the ink rollers merged into each other to give the multi-colour look that attracted attention.

All that has been replicated, albeit on a smaller scale, and incorporating the use of new technology on those unique stamps.

One of the first singers to express his surprise and delight at being honoured with a stamp by An Post, is Daniel O’Donnell. He has taken Irish Country music to the four corners of the world with his concert tours, multi-million selling hit records and TV shows.

“When I was on a concert tour of North America last year and sending out some letters, I was using stamps with Elvis on them. But I never imagined being on a postage stamp in Ireland.”

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own