Postcard from the past, at the turn of the year…

"Rhefert Church, Glendalough, Co Wicklow"

“Rhefert Church, Glendalough, Co Wicklow”

Aidan O’Sullivan

UCD School of Archaeology

Some months ago now, I bought an old postcard on eBay (it was very cheap – £3.99) of Reefert church (misspelled “Rhefert”) , at the Upper Lake at Glendalough, Co. Wicklow. Although it is a place that I am fond of, having visited it hundreds of times before, I was intrigued because the postcard clearly showed the church in relatively open country, and before its enclosure within oak and hazel woods.

Intriguingly, when I opened the envelope from the eBay seller, I discovered the postcard was posted in 14 December, 1926, to The Rev Charles Plummer, at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. This of course can only be the famous medievalist who is best known in our part of the world for editing the 2 volume Vitae Sanctorum Hiberniae, whose work made a range of medieval Irish hagiographies available to the reader. See here for a brief biography of Plummer.

The sender, then unknown to me, of the postcard wrote

“Dublin 14.Xii.26

The carols arrived all right, just after I had despatched a post card to you. I am very glad to have them & so are the other recipients. Best wishes for the season.

M. Joynt”

M. Joynt's message to Charles Plummer, before Christmas 1926

M. Joynt’s message to Charles Plummer, before Christmas 1926

At that stage, I couldn’t figure out the author’s name, but when I posted it on the Early Medieval and Viking Age (EMVARG) Facebook page here, a better-informed colleague Dr Emer Purcell suggested that it was Maud Joynt, a contributor to the Dictionary of the Irish Language published by the Royal Irish Academy and the key work on the origins and character of Old and Middle Irish, (and also a signatory, I see here, of a letter in October 1922 protesting about changes to article 3 of the Draft Constitution “Relating to the Rights of Women as Citizens; Extracts from Clauses in Constitutions of European States Relating to Women’s Rights”). Strangely, but perhaps unsurprisingly (being a woman), there’s not a whole lot about her on the internet.

Maud Anna Evans Joynt was a significant early Irish scholar, who as well as contributing to the DIL, edited various Irish texts including Feis Tighe Chonáin and  Tromdámh Guaire as well as Echtra Mac Echdach Mugredóin. Dr Sharon Douglas-Greene suggested that the correspondence related to Plummer sending Joynt some “new music for church congregation/choir”, which seems likely.

There’s not much more to it than that, except I find it fascinating as an artefact from the past (a material email), and as well as giving me a glimpse of Reefert as it was c.1900, I’m also imagining Dublin just before Christmas, a few years after the war of independence, and two medieval scholars corresponding over something that they had chatted about, presumably during a visit to Dublin by Charles Plummer. I’m also intrigued as to how such an ephemeral item survived Plummer’s death, only a year later in 1927?

The postcard itself was published by William Lawrence, Dublin, and is clearly one of the Lawrence Collection, which the National Library of Ireland describes here which this website tells me was used to produce postcards from the 1890s onwards, and that “after 1902 when one side could be devoted to a picture, and you could send a message, his postcard business took off”. At this point, I should probably make some cliched comment about the ephemerality of emails and how mine will not survive a century like Maud Joynt’s postcard, written before Christmas 1926…

But finally, Happy Christmas and a Peaceful and Prosperous New Year to everyone…

Aidan O’Sullivan

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