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Due to the latest guidance from the NI Executive, our museums will remain closed for a planned 6 week period from the 23 December. We look forward to welcoming visitors back to our museums when it is safe to do so and we would like to thank the public for their continued support and patience.

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The McBrien Postcard Album

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In the early 1900s, postcards were a quick and low-cost way for people to communicate with each other. Mail was collected and delivered several times a day. A postcard or letter sent that morning could be with the recipient that afternoon. Postcards were the instant messages of the time, content and images providing the comparable updates, photos and memes.

As the postcard industry grew, publishers printed postcards to suit every theme and occasion. Topics go from bustling holiday resorts to quiet villages, seasonal traditions to scenes of home life. They go from puppies and kittens, to celebrities; women getting undressed, to adverts for chocolate, from humour to love and loss.

Postcards were collectable. They were bright and attractive and held memories of loved ones. Albums kept them safe for display. The McBrien Family postcard album contains 501 postcards.

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The McBrien family lived in Fintona, County Tyrone. They lived on Main Street, the hilly, steep street running through the centre of the town. Mother Mary Ann’s maiden name was O’Donnell. She had family in Ederney, County Fermanagh. The father, William McBrien was also Fermanagh born. He was a Sub-Constable in the Royal Irish Constabulary.

They had five children – Catherine, Francis Hugh, Mary Ann, William James and Rose Agnes. Throughout the postcards, the siblings use shortened affectionate pet names - Kitty, Frank, Minnie, Willie, and Aggie.

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Reading the messages on the cards, we can begin to piece together aspects of their lives. The family had cousins called Slevin in Dunfermline, Scotland. Minnie stayed with them for a time. She later travelled on steamship from Londonderry to the United States of America. Frank, Willie and Aggie emigrated to America where they already had networks of family and friends.

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They sent home postcards showing cityscapes, high rise buildings, Atlantic City funfairs and an airship in the sky. Messages vary from including every snippet on people known to those at home, to the brief ‘I will write soon. Hope all are well at home’. To the siblings remaining at home, there are postcards back and forward to Ederney. Mary Ann and her daughters appear to have stayed in turn with Mary Ann’s bachelor brothers. There is also a set of sweetheart postcards sent to Minnie from an admirer in Sixmilecross. Who was he?

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The album contains postcards with portrait photographs taken in a local photographer’s studio. Perhaps some of these people are the McBrien family? If you can help us with identification, we would love to hear from you.

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Image: Inspired by this postcard sent to the family at Christmas from America, this year we have created our very own set of notelets to send to your loved ones this season!
Inspired by this postcard sent to the family at Christmas from America, this year we have created our very own set of notelets to send to your loved ones this season!
Image:  Available in all National Museums NI shops.
Available in all National Museums NI shops.