In 1920, IRA member Patrick James McGuire received an encrypted Easter postcard. Does it contain a love message? Or is the content related to the Irish War of Independence?

Yesterday I received an email from Stephen Coyle. He wrote:

I am a historian based in Scotland and have been approached by the daughter of the late Patrick James McGuire, to ask for help to decode the cipher on the attached postcard. It was sent from somewhere in the United Kingdom to Patrick James McGuire at an address in County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland. The postmark is dated November 1920.

Here’s the picture side of the card:

Source: Stephen Coyle

According to Stephen, Patrick James McGuire was a member of the Scottish Brigade of the Irish Republican Army, who fought in the Easter Rising in Dublin, 1916. The following image shows Maguire as a young man. He is at the front on the right hand side.

Source: Stephen Coyle

Here’s the text side of the card:

Source: Stephen Coyle

The encryption system used is probably a MASC. The spaces between the words are indicated by periods. Some of the symbols are hard to read. The first word could be DEAR, followed by a name (PADY?). If this guess is correct, the word ARE appears in the third line. Can a reader find out more or prove me wrong?

Encrypted postcards of this kind usually contain love messages. This one was sent to a man, which is unusual, as most enciphered cards were written by young males to their loved ones. Perhaps, it is the other way round here.

Of course, it is also possible that this encrypted message has a more serious content. According to Stephen, it might be related to the Irish War of Independence, which was being fought at the time.

We’ll know more if we can read the plaintext.

Further reading: From Russia with love: An unsolved encrypted postcard from 1906


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Kommentare (11)

  1. #1 x3Ray
    2. Oktober 2019

    Die auf dem Kopf stehende Briefmarke deutet wahrscheinlich auf einen Liebesbrief hin.

  2. #2 Richard SantaColoma
    2. Oktober 2019

    Klaus, I think you are correct with the “Dear Paddy”. Working from that (image is blurred, please forgive me!):

    Dear Paddy,
    Hope you are set as I am. So my ?ele rope??? it will enjoy ???? you riele this coming easier Easters.

    OK, still bad… maybe it will help, though?

  3. #3 Richard SantaColoma
    2. Oktober 2019

    So perhaps that third line is something about “hoping” David will “enjoy” Paddy’s visit/company the coming Easter? If my “easier” is correct, then perhaps because of the more difficult violent ones which came before? Or am I fitting a reason to a bad translation?

    If someone doesn’t finish/correct all this, I’ll try again later… but have to run.

    No doubt I’ll come back to the complete answer!


  4. #4 Richard SantaColoma
    2. Oktober 2019

    I was wrong on the last two lines. I think it reads like this,

    Dear Paddy,
    Hope you are set as I am. So my ?ele rope??? it will enjoy ???? you riele this coming Easter.

    So it MAY be LIKE, “My [real] [hope] ?? will enjoy [seeing] you [????] this coming Easter.”

  5. #5 Richard SantaColoma
    2. Oktober 2019

    Could be misspellings in here, too… that is,

    “hopeing” for hoping…
    “yoursefe” for yourself… if so, then,

    “So my ???? hopeing you will enjoy yoursefe this coming Easter”.

    But I promise, I’m done. Really.

  6. #6 x3Ray
    2. Oktober 2019

    Comparing the signs from the postcard based on your first translation i came to the same reading for the misspelled words – “hopeing you will enjoy yoursele” (compare l. 3 “you” and l. 8 “oming”).
    The first signs of the lines are unrecognizable for my eyes.

    BTW: Great work! 🙂

  7. #7 x3Ray
    2. Oktober 2019

    Line 9 is another misspelling, I read “easser” instead of “easter”.

  8. #8 Richard SantaColoma
    2. Oktober 2019

    Thanks, x3Ray… and I see what you mean about “Easser”.

  9. #9 Richard SantaColoma
    2. Oktober 2019

    “The first signs of the lines are unrecognizable for my eyes.”

    On two of the lines (7 and 8), it seems that there was a correction by the author… and some characters were crossed out.

  10. #10 Thomas
    3. Oktober 2019

    Richard: Good job! Remains the question whether the strange spelling is due to lacking orthography or might there be another underlying hidden message?

    Also here the stamp is upside down. According to the common stamp code, this means, as x3Ray wrote, “I love you.” But in this context the stamp’s placing presumably should express disregard of king George V. Moreover, why did David send a postcard with an Easter motif and Easter greetings in November? Probably in memory of the Easter Rising of the Irish independance movement. If anything was planned for Easter 1921, don’t know. What we do know is that the partition of Ireland came into effect in May 1921.

  11. #11 Richard SantaColoma
    3. Oktober 2019

    Thanks, Thomas. I share your suspicions that the anachronistic Easter reference may have a deeper meaning. We can only guess, but perhaps the card is surreptitiously asking Paddy if he is up to a future action?

    Anyway, I looked at it this morning, and think I have another change:

    If that is “WILL” on line #6, then the two characters for “L” are a lot like the third character of the first word in line #6 is probably, as I guessed, “?ELE”. I couldn’t fathom this, but then, considering that “YOURSELE” for “yourself”, perhaps that last character of “?ELE”, which I took for “E”, is either meant to be an “F” (has some small difference we don’t notice), or a common mistake for David. In either case, that could mean “?ELE” is actually “?ELF”. If so, then it is probable that it is actually “SELF” (the “S” character is possible, although too blurred to know), and so goes with the “MY” on the line before it.

    If this is correct, then, it would make sense as such (“spelling” corrected, or as intended):

    ““So my-self hoping you will enjoy yourself this coming Easter”.

    This then leaves the “THI” of my guessed “this”, because they are really not so close to what one would expect. Could “THI” be anything else?