Oldest Christmas Card In Thurles, Co. Tipperary Unveiled

Possibly the oldest Christmas card in Thurles, was sent during the Christmas Season of 1917, by a soldier, Private William Cahill, 16th Irish Division, Company “C” South Irish Horse. The destination of the card was to his next of kin, his father, also named Mr William Cahill, Dovea, Thurles, Co. Tipperary.

Mr Cahill and his father, together with his uncle Mr Thomas Cahill were both then employees of the Trant Estate, at Dovea, Thurles, working under the supervision of one Mr William Swan, the Land Steward on the estate. All are described as “Good workmen, good ploughmen and understand well the workings of mowing and reaping machines”, and “can be confidently be recommended to anyone requiring their services”, writes Mr William Swan in a reference.

William Cahill (Jr) joined the British Army, aged 18 years and 1 month, on the 1st January 1914. His family regarded as “sober, honest and well conducted”; Private Cahill, on April 10th 1915, was transferred to the Military Police, earning two shillings and two 2 old pence per day.

A 103 year old Christmas card sent to Dovea, Thurles, in 1917, one year before the end of World War One. (Photo: G. Willoughby.)

Mr Cahill happily survived the war and return to Ireland taking up his position as a farm labourer and as an armed bodyguard on market days to the Trant family.

Today, despite the growing popularity of sending Christmas greetings and cards online, the physical Christmas cards still remains ever popular, thus keeping old traditions and that personal caring touch very much alive, at least once in our calendar year.

Initially, the first recorded Christmas cards were sent by a German physician, Michael Maier to James I of England and his son Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales in 1611.

This Christmas tradition of the posting of Christmas cards however progressed during the Victorian era. While centuries later, the much maligned Queen Victoria (Famine Queen), sent an official Christmas card, it was Sir Henry Cole, the first Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A and formerly the South Kensington Museum), who commissioned the first commercial Christmas card in 1843.

He placed an advert for the sale of the cards in the ‘Athenaeum’, latter a literary magazine published in London, from 1828 to 1921, which read:

“Just published a “Christmas Congratulation Card” or picture emblematical of Old English Festivity to Perpetuate kind recollections between dear friends.”

Initially his print run was for just 1000 card, designed by the artist John Callcott-Horsley, for Sir Henry Cole, and were printed lithographically before being hand-coloured by the professional colourer Mason.

Very few of these first Christmas cards remain in existence today, but if you come across one, expect a 4 figure sum, at least, as being acceptable as its basic value. This price compared favourably to Sir Henry Cole’s then selling price, back in 1843, of one shilling each; sold under the pseudonym ‘Felix Summerly’.


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