Lonely Planet Writer

Step back in time with vintage tourism posters depicting romantic Ireland of the 20th century

A set of vintage Irish posters has been released online that depicts the romantic vision of Ireland that marketers were keen to promote throughout the 20th century. The National Museum of Ireland – Country Life has made available the collection of early travel and tourism posters used to sell Ireland abroad in the infancy of its tourism sector.

This 1950s Aer Lingus poster aimed at the American market shows Lusk, County Dublin. Image: Signed Adolph Treidler/National Museum of Ireland

The posters form part of the National Folklife Collection, and were previously on display at the museum in the exhibition, ‘Come Back to Erin: Irish Travel Posters of the 20th Century.’ A number of the posters feature images that have become almost iconic representations of a romantic Ireland from 1850 to 1950. From the mid-1960s however, poster art in tourism went into a decline. There was a move away from the commissioning of artists and 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.

This 1960 poster was aimed at the North American market. The medieval ruin of Blarney Castle can be viewed from the comfort of the touring ‘Banana’ Coach, which had distinctive colouring and upholstery. Image: Curran/National Museum of Ireland

The National Museum of Ireland collected the posters to help inform the story of Irish folk culture from 1850 to 1950. The earliest colour posters pertaining to Ireland were produced by British railway companies and the earliest colour lithographic poster in the collection dates to 1908. However, it was largely in the 1920s that advertisers in the United Kingdom started to capitalise on the potential of poster advertising in particular.

This 1930 poster invited people to Northern Ireland. Image: National Museum of Ireland

Some tourism companies commissioned well-known artists of the day to create images for their pictorial posters. Belfast artist Paul Henry’s poster scenes became iconic, almost quintessential, images of Ireland, and some, including View of Connemara (1926) and Lough Derg (1927), became best sellers and brought great popular recognition for Henry. The largest Irish railway company, Great Southern Railways, used posters in the 1920s drawn by artist Walter Till, and several were of popular tourist locations, such as Glendalough, Killarney and Connemara.

Set in Dublin Castle and including a policeman, the aim of this poster may have been to reassure tourists that the rule of law prevailed. Image: CIE/National Museum of Ireland

“While obviously beautiful in terms of their artwork, these travel posters demonstrate that independent Ireland was partly responsible for fostering an idyllic and simplistic image of Irish life, which we know was far from accurate for many,” says Noel Campbell, assistant keeper at the National Museum. “These posters will no doubt be of interest to our home market but also to the Irish diaspora, many of whom left Ireland during the period covered by the posters, and so it was important to make them available for viewing online.”

This 1953 poster of the Aran Islands is reminiscent of a famous John Hinde postcard. Image: Melai/National Museum of Ireland

The vintage travel poster collection can be viewed online here.