By Ray O’Hanlon
A stamp commemorating Irish immigration to the U.S. is to be simultaneously unveiled by the U.S. Postal Service in Boston and Chicago this Friday. The 33 cents commemorative issue will go on general sale around the U.S. on the same day.
The U.S. release will coincide with a same day unveiling of a near identical emigration stamp by the post office in Ireland.
The release of the U.S. stamp follows several years of campaigning by Irish American groups for a stamp commemorating the Great Hunger in Ireland and the wave of migration to America that followed.
The commemorative coming out Friday does not, however, mention the famine, a fact which has caused some concern.
“The stamp misses the mark,” the American Irish Political Education Committee stated.
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“The same agency that found in itself to honor Elvis and Tweety failed to put an image on the stamp that captures the American Irish contribution to the development of this nation,” the PEC stated in its latest newsletter.
“Instead the stamp depicts a boat entering a deserted harbor. On the wharf in the foreground there are barrels, a bit of rope and the bow of a docked ship. This stamp could commemorate boats or empty harbors if it weren’t for the words, ‘Irish Immigration,’ at the bottom of the stamp,” the PEC added.
The group said that it still wanted to see a stamp that marked the contribution of the American Irish to the U.S., “particularly those who came here during the Great Hunger.”
In contrast, Tom Culhane, director of the Irish-Celtic USA Stamp Committee, said in a recent letter to the Echo that while he was aware that not everyone was entirely pleased with the stamp design, he still hoped that the stamp would be educational.
“This stamp does help retell the saga of the Irish forced out of their homeland and having tens of millions of these stamps sent to all corners of the world helps assure us that this story will not be forgotten,” Culhane wrote.
The stamp, meanwhile, will be dedicated in a special ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston at 11 a.m. Friday. Sens. Ted Kennedy and John Kerry and U.S. rep. Joe Moakley will speak.
William Henderson, U.S. postmaster general and chief executive officer of the U.S. Postal Service, will dedicate the Irish Immigration stamp.
In Chicago, the stamp will be unveiled at a ceremony beginning 12.30 p.m. at the Chicago Art Institute at the Rubloff Auditorium. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, who joined Sen. Kennedy in a lobbying effort for the stamp, is expected to attend.
“It’s gratifying that the Postal Service is using this significant (famine) anniversary to honor the many contributions that Irish immigrants and their descendants have made over the past century and a half,” Kennedy said.
Rep. Moakley took the view that the stamp also commemorated the famine.
“By issuing this stamp, the Postal Service is commemorating the long voyage of Irish immigrants who fled the potato famine 150 years ago, and grew to become the second largest ethnic group in this country.”
Salute to the Irish
Postmaster General Henderson was hopeful that Irish Americans would see the stamp as a salute to their heritage.
“Postage stamps have long been revered as America’s calling cards. It is my hope that this stamp will serve to remind us of the contributions Irish-Americans have made to our history and to our way of life,” he said.
The Irish emigration stamp will be unveiled in Cobh. U.S. Deputy Postmaster General Michael Coughlin will join John Hynes, chief executive officer of An Post, in the ceremony. Cobh was the major point of departure from Ireland in the post-famine years.
The U.S. stamp was designed by veteran stamp designer Howard Paine of Delaplane, Va., using an illustration by Dennis Lyall of Bridgeport, Conn. It features a large ship sailing into a harbor as seen from a ship’s deck. The words “IRISH IMMIGRATION 33 USA” are featured in white lettering at the bottom.
On the Irish version, the words “IRISH EMIGRATION 45 EIRE” are featured in black lettering in the same location.
According to the Postal Service, 40.4 million Irish Immigration stamps will be available for sale nationwide in panes of 20 following the issuance. A first-day cover featuring both the U.S. and Irish stamps and cancellations from the respective countries will be available by calling 1-800 STAMP-24.