🇮🇪 On 11 October 2018 The Republic Of Ireland, that well known French-speaking country, was admitted to Observer membership of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie at that organisation's summit meeting in Yerevan, capital of another well known French-speaking country, Armenia.
Actually only 12% of Irish citizens speak French but the move by the Irish government to seek membership of the French equivalent of The Commonwealth is thought to be related to the United Kingdom's decision to leave The European Union in March 2019 and to Irish fears that its English-speaking diplomats would be left isolated in the European Union. The Irish Foreign Affairs minister claimed improbably that although barely anyone in Ireland actually speaks French membership of La Francophonie was justified because the Irish have a 'passion' for French and reminded doubters that both Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett wrote some of their works in French.
Irish membership of La Francophonie isn't as odd as it may initially seem since the organisation is very willing to accept almost any country into its ranks - Uruguay and Ukraine for instance where in both territories only 0.1% of the population speak French. In Yerevan Kosovo, Serbia and The United Arab Emirates all became full members while The Gambia, Malta and the great nation of, er, Louisiana all became members with observer status. None of these new members speak French very much at all and one of them isn't even a country! Saudi Arabia was also due to join the organisation but Canada objected to its joining because of its human rights record.
Of course, it's all very silly. Most likely this race to sign up most of the world to join the French-speaking group is a modern-day manifestation of the centuries-old rivalry between France and England. First came The Commonwealth and afterwards came La Francophonie to counter-balance the English-speaking influence in countries in all continents. When the President of Rwanda which had never had any historic links with Great Britain introduced English to his country as an official language after falling out with France and then took his country into membership of The Commonwealth, French egos were bruised. Now President Macron of France is keen to reassert the Francophone influence in the country and wishes to install the Rwandan Foreign Minister as Secretary General of La Francophonie but The Commonwealth has countered by assigning the hosting of the next Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting in 2020 to Rwanda. In some ways Anglo-French diplomacy seems the same in the 20teens as it did in the 1960s when many nations were being granted their independence and Britain and France competed to be top dog in these new states.
And of course this struggle goes back much further than the 1960s. Several Irish stamps over the years have commemorated French attempts to help the Irish rebel against British rule. The issues centre on the events of 1798 when the Society Of United Irishmen which had been formed in 1791 by Catholics, Protestants, Methodist and other Protestant dissenters, staged a rebellion against British rule. With Britain locked in warfare with the French during the Wars of The Coalitions, the Irish approached the French for support against the British and in 1796 the leader of the rebels, Wolfe Tone, arrived off Bantry Bay with 14000 French troops but the weather and sea conditions prevented them from landing and they were forced to sail away again.
The rebellion finally took place during 1798 and French forces returned in the summer of that year to support it. An Irish Republic was declared but lasted 12 days only until the British defeated the rebels at the Battle of Ballinamuck on 8 September 1798 and the French troops surrendered ingloriously and were sent back to France in exchange for British prisoners of war.
Wolfe Tone himself attempted to land with 3000 more French troops in County Donegal on 12 October 1798 but was intercepted by a Royal Navy squadron and he was forced to surrender after a 3 hour naval battle and was put on trial. He was sentenced to hang as a traitor but escaped the hangman's noose by slitting his own throat in prison on 12 November 1798 and died a week later.
The French intervention in Ireland had failed.
The United Irishmen rebellion was first commemorated philatelically by Ireland on 19 November 1948 on the 150th anniversary of the Uprising. The issue was made up of 2 stamps which depicted Wolfe Tone and a sailing ship on a rough sea and was designed by K Uhlemann and printed by typography. Interestingly, these were the last stamps issued by Ireland before it became a republic and left The Commonwealth.
Wolfe Tone was then again featured in a military uniform on a pair of stamps released on 13 April 1964 to commemorate the Bicentenary of his birth. The issue was designed by Peter Wildbur.
The insurrection was once more commemorated at its Bicentenary by the release of a set of 5 stamps issued on 6 May 1998. One of the designs again depicted Wolfe Tone against the background of a naval battle. One of the other stamps depicted Henry Joy McCracken who led an uprising in County Antrim on 6 June and held the county but briefly. The stamp at the head of this piece depicts another value of the set with the Tricolore featured prominently. One of the 30p values depicts the flag of the ephemeral Irish Republic in the form of a yellow harp on a green field.
Thus Anglo-Irish-French relations remain a tangled web as they have done down the centuries. One can not help but wonder that as Britain draws closer and closer to Brexit if Irish membership of La Francophonie is another instance of the centuries-long mischief-making that France has enjoyed indulging in with the relations between Ireland and Britain. Perhaps joining La Francophonie was one of the prices Ireland had to pay to ensure French support over the Brexit border question. Who can tell but one thing's for sure, stamps, though sometimes very subtly, will continue to tell the story of the world and what's going on and what's happened in the past to explain what is happening now.