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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
The vintage travel poster collection can be viewed online here.