Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sepia Saturday #256: An Extravaganza: The Irish Hospitals' Sweepstakes



Do you ever buy lottery tickets, perhaps at the local grocer or news agent? Apart from advertisements on television which promise the sun, the moon and the stars if you win, and the big lineups that might accompany the prospect of a huge windfall, these days there is very little fanfare connected with lotteries.

As you can see from the image above [1], fanfare was the order of the day when it came to the Irish Hospitals' Sweepstakes. This particular parade was held in March of 1935, prior to the 'sweeps' as they were popularly called. Costumed women and men carry the counterfoils — i.e. ticket stubs — in large boxes alongside the float, and more boxes can be seen surrounding the elephant's feet on the float.

The Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstakes scheme was founded in 1930 by three men — bookmaker Richard Duggan, former British army captain Spencer Freeman and Sinn Féin politician and member of the Irish Republican brotherhood Joe McGrath. Initially the mandate of the scheme was to fund only voluntary hospitals in Ireland; however, over the period of its history from 1930 through to 1987, the sweepstakes became a major contributor to the funding of the Irish healthcare system. Millions were raised resulting in a network of hospitals and clinics being opened all over Ireland. As it happens, the bookie, the captain and the politician also managed to line their own pockets along the way. Throughout its history the sweeps managed to attract quite a number of persons of dubious character, all looking to make a buck, legal or otherwise.

The Theme: 'The Honeymoon Sweep', 1935.
Notice the ticket drum beneath the wedding party mannequins.
Click on image to view larger version.
Nevertheless, the best thing about the annual sweepstakes was that it was so exciting for the ordinary person, an extravaganza which might literally ‘sweep’ people away from their work-a-day world. With ticket in hand, there was always the possibility that 'maybe, just maybe, I'll win', always the promise of a life free from ordinary worries.

For many years Mary ‘Mollie’ Magee Halpin, my paternal grandaunt, was among the over 4000 workers who were employed by the Irish Hospital Sweepstakes organization at its permanent home in Ballsbridge, Dublin City. Prior to the move the draws were held at Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, and the counterfoils would be paraded there on draw day. Each year the parade had a different theme and hundreds of young people, many of them women, were employed to participate. Mollie recalled the excitement that would build in those early days of the sweeps as people looked forward to the parades and displays.

From the Irish Hospital Sweepstakes of 1937, the theme was Stamps of the World.
This enormous display was constructed on Dawson Street in front of Mansion House,
the residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin.
Note the 'counterfoil girls' marching past.
The Canada Float in the Irish Hospitals' Sweepstakes Stamps of the World parade, 1937.
Interestingly, the sweeps brought millions in foreign money into Ireland from countries all around the world, most especially from Britain, the United States of America and Canada. The impact in Britain was so significant that the government found itself in a bit of a sticky wicket, with some members of Parliament suggesting that, like Ireland, Britain should introduce legislation for hospital sweepstakes, so that British hospitals, which were also in financial straits, might benefit. Ultimately, in order to stem the flow of money out of Britain, the government settled on making it illegal for its citizens to buy Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstakes tickets.[2]

Of course, the actions of any government didn’t prevent individuals around the world who wanted tickets from getting them. To be sure there were the smugglers and illegal ticket sellers operating beyond Ireland's shores, but for many people a ticket might quite simply arrive inside a birthday card from granny or wrapped inside a gift from a favourite auntie. The Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstakes was a phenomenon, an extravaganza, and many people the world over hoped that with it a little luck might come their way.



From 1932, the video above shows women, dressed as jockeys, bringing in and mixing the counterfoils in preparation for the Irish Hospital sweepstake draws.

Footnotes and References for further reading:

[1] Image embedded from The National Library of Ireland Flickr page. Click on the image to connect with the entire NLI image collection on Flickr.

[2] Hansard: http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/search/irish+hospitals%27+sweepstakes

Also, see The British Pathé website for additional films of various Irish Hospitals' Sweepstakes draws, such as 'The Honeymoon Sweep'.

Coleman, Marie. ’The Irish Sweep: A History of the Irish Hospitals Sweepstake, 1930–87’, University College Press, Dublin, 2010.

Dr. Marie Coleman's landmark book offers an extraordinary look at not only all of the workings of the sweepstakes, but the overall impact the scheme had on the Irish healthcare system.

Be sure to stop by the Sepia Saturday Blog to see how others have interpreted today's theme, and perhaps you'll be inspired too.

©irisheyesjg2014.
Click on images to view larger versions.

18 comments:

  1. Great photos, Jennifer. I couldn't place the Elephant, but think it might be Abbey Street.

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    1. Thanks very much for your comments, Dara. I just love these photos. I should have added that it is Abbey Street. Not much room for a parade on it these days with the Luas Red line running down it. It all looks like great fun.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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    2. "Stamps of the World" is an interesting theme. "Counterfoil" is a new word for me.

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    3. Thanks very much for your comments, Postcardy. I agree the theme is an interesting one. Counterfoil is kind of an interesting word too. How they ever thought that would mean 'ticket stub with name and address on it' I'll never know, but I guess it made sense when it was coined in the early 17th century.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  2. Very interesting bit of lottery history - lottery money to fund hospitals! Here in Florida the lottery money all goes to support our schools, but everyone complains that it hasn't helped despite the millions (or billions) that have been sold.

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    1. Thanks very much for your comments, Teresa. It always seems to be the way doesn't it, that all the money from charitable lotteries which seems or seemed to be going somewhere may not or did not quite end up there.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  3. What a grand way to announce lottery winners....never heard of this bfore...

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    1. Thanks very much for your comments, Pat. It was grand wasn't it. When my grandaunt told me about it I thought it sounded like a big Hollywood production with thousands of extras. I imagine it was uplifting in the 1930s when life for some may have been looking a little dim.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  4. Counterfoil was new to me too Postcardy. What amazing photos and thanks for informing us about the lottery in Ireland. I had no idea. They went to so much trouble didn't they? Interesting too that people from overseas wanted tickets but I guess there were a lot of Irish emigrants living overseas so maybe this was a connection with home/a way to fulfill a dream of returning home? Fascinating stuff.

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    1. Alex, thanks very much for your comments. They definitely did go to a lot of trouble. As I was saying to Pat, it must have been uplifting for many. With these black and white photos, I am always struck by the clear distinction between the brightness of the costumes and grey shades of the people watching the parade.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  5. I remember my grandfather talking about the Irish Sweepstakes and being Irish-American he might have bought a chance or two. The elephant is a wonderful symbol of grandeur for losing your money on a lottery. We have many similar "gambling" systems for raising public money here in the US. In my state a lottery supposedly collects money toward supplementing education but it is a tax in disguise directed at people without wealth or common sense.

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    1. Mike, thanks very much for your comments. Indeed the elephant is a wonderful symbol for 'getting taken', so to speak. Seems 'gambling systems' are now the order of the day in many places. It saddens me to think of vulnerable people falling prey to such.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  6. Very interesting history, indeed. My state also has a lottery that supposedly helps fund education (much like Mike's comment).

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  7. Thanks very much for your comments, Wendy. When you hear about what comes to pass with lotteries, I guess it's true what they say about things seeming too good to be true.

    Cheers,
    Jennifer

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  8. Wrote a great long comment and lost it :( Very impressive floats and decorations. Aussies share that dream of winning the Lotto though not sure many really think they will....just one of those day-to-day expressions.

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    1. Hi Pauleen, thanks very much for putting a second comment; sorry you lost the first one. I suppose there must be lottos many places the world over, and hopefully no one believes they will actually win. I guess it's the thought that they might that keeps those schemes going, but as Mike and others have said, it's troubling to think that they are aimed at the most vulnerable.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  9. Definitely an extravaganza! I had heard of the Irish lottery but didn't know they made such a big deal of it. It reminds me of old Hollywood movies with thousands of extras. Catherine

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    1. Thanks very much for your comments, Catherine. I recall my parents receiving a ticket every now and again when I was growing up, but didn't realize so much went into it until my grandaunt Mollie gave us a tour of the Ballsbridge office when I was a teenager. I agree with you, it does have a sort of Hollywood quality to it.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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