Elections collections: one man’s campaign to preserve posters

‘Some of the stuff from the referendums is real social history. The scaremongering involved is unbelievable’

Alan Kinsella at the exhibition What You Maybe Meant to Keep, at the National Print Museum, Beggars Bush, Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Alan Kinsella at the exhibition What You Maybe Meant to Keep, at the National Print Museum, Beggars Bush, Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Sat, Apr 26, 2014, 01:00

It’s election time and as we fight the onslaught of posters, leaflets and manifestos, Alan Kinsella rubs his hands with gleeful anticipation. The man behind the Irish Election Literature blog and co-curator with Dr Ciarán Swan of an exhibition, What You Maybe Meant to Keep , at the National Print Museum in Dublin, he began collecting political ephemera during the 1982 election, when he accompanied his family to vote.

“In those days, outside the polling station was like the Spring Show,” he says. “I started collecting cards and stickers. Barry Desmond was the local TD and he signed a canvas card ‘To Alan from Barry Desmond’, so I kept that and then there was another election in the November of that year and I kept the stuff from that also.

“Other people started to hold on to the material for me as well. My aunts would keep things. Then there was a byelection in ’83 in Dublin central and then there were the European elections in ’84 and the local elections in ’85 . . . and then there were the referendums, which were mad.”

It’s a strange hobby for a child, all the same. “Well, it was a very exciting time politically,” says Kinsella. “There were heaves against Charlie and there was the rivalry between Charlie and Garret. [Desmond] O’Malley was getting kicked out of Fianna Fáil . . . but my friends thought it was a strange hobby – and I was embarrassed about it in a way. ‘You know that stuff coming in your door, you wouldn’t mind keeping it for me, would you?’

‘What do you want that for?’
‘I collect it.’
‘Ah right’.”

His interest didn’t stop with collecting. “I was at the first ever meeting of the PDs,” he says. “I would have been 15.” He laughs. He eventually left active party politics because “campaigning was so boring.” He never lost his fascination with collecting, though. He says it is interesting to look back and see the major issues that aren’t such big issues any more, “divorce, the North, the Good Friday agreement”, and to see other issues recurring.

“The property tax stuff now is like the property tax stuff in the past. The arguments are the same.” His favourite material? “Some of the stuff from the referendums is real social history. The scaremongering involved is unbelievable. I’ve one leaflet where the argument is, ‘if a husband batters his wife, if there’s divorce, he’ll batter someone else’. There are some leaflets from a crowd called the Christian Principles Party whose slogan was ‘jobs for youth, not condoms’.”

He also enjoys seeing how party identities change over the years. “In the Eighties, Sinn Féin leaflets were all ‘so-and-so was a volunteer, in the movement, five years in jail’. Nowadays it’s ‘so-and-so is a small business owner interested in bringing down rates’.”

Time though isn’t always kind to bygone political slogans. “There was a Fianna Fáil leaflet from Offaly talking about the funding Fianna Fáil got for the area. The leaflet read: ‘It was Fianna Fáil that did it!’ But a couple of months later when the bank guarantee happened, that wasn’t a slogan you wanted to have around.”