Come Back To Erin

Irish Travel Posters of the 20th Century


When preparing the story of Irish folk culture from 1850 to 1950 which is presented in the National Museum of Ireland - Country Life, the question of the romanticising of the past as opposed to the reality was addressed. This led the museum to look at enhanced images from the past. Since that time, the Museum has acquired a growing collection of travel and tourism posters and in 2007 mounted the temporary exhibition Come Back to Erin: Irish Travel Posters of the 20th Century, which was curated by the late Dr Séamas Mac Philib in Turlough Park.

The earliest colour posters that pertain to Ireland were produced by British railway companies. These companies obviously had an interest in getting passengers to the ferry ports for Ireland, but more than that, they owned or had a share in several of the shipping lines across the Irish Sea. The earliest colour lithographic poster in the collection was produced by London and North Western Railway in 1908 (F:2007.109). It is cluttered with timetable information in a way that the new breed of poster from the 1920s on would not be. It was largely in the 1920s that, what has been described as the ‘reform movement in advertising’ in Great Britain, brought a clarity and focus to poster advertising in particular. This was in part facilitated by the rationalisation of more than one hundred railway companies into four main companies in 1923.

The London Midland and Scottish Railway commissioned recognised artists to design posters from 1924. Among the artists was Belfast man Paul Henry. Two of his posters became best-sellers – his views of Connemara (1926) and of Lough Derg (1927). They brought great popular recognition for Henry and some of his poster scenes became veritable icons, almost quintessential images, of Ireland. The largest Irish railway company, Great Southern Railways, was quick to commission well-executed posters in the 1920s also. Its main artist was Walter Till. Several of the GSR posters were of renowned tourist locations, such as Glendalough, Killarney, Connemara and Killiney in County Dublin.                               

Many of the posters marketed the new entity of Northern Ireland. They all date from a peaceful era prior to the conflict of the late 1960s, which severely diminished tourism there. The name 'Northern Ireland' or sometimes 'Ulster' is used on these posters. Posters directed at the rest of Ireland generally use simply the name 'Ireland', with a few making reference to ‘Southern Ireland’, although this was never an official name. Whether marketing the southern or the northern states, the images are similar in both cases: upland well-proportioned landscapes, big skies, lakes and coasts. The backward and undeveloped nature of society that existed in Ireland at this time and which often had serious economic implications, is manipulated to represent an Irish Arcadia - the idea being to create an attractive marketing image.

From the mid-1960s poster art in tourism went into a decline. There was a move away from the commissioning of artists and instead towards the use of colour photographs. Television advertising began to dominate the industry and all of this sounded the end of the high quality pictorial poster.


 

'Ireland For Entrancing Scenery'

'Ireland For Entrancing Scenery'

Posters from 1900-1929

'Ireland Land Of Beauty'

'Ireland Land Of Beauty'

Poster from 1930-1949

'Ireland Welcomes You'

'Ireland Welcomes You'

Poster from c.1950

'Land Of Legend'

'Land Of Legend'

Posters from 1953-1959

'L'Irlande Pour Vos Vacances'

'L'Irlande Pour Vos Vacances'

Posters from 1960-1979