Filter This collection: Irish Hospitals Sweepstake Advertising

  • Title: Irish Hospitals Sweepstake Advertising
  • Reference Code: IE/NIVAL IHSA
  • Level of Description: Collection
  • Creation Dates: 1940 - 1985
  • Extent And Medium: 2 series containing 67 files with over 1100 advertisement design items (e.g. design mock-ups, illustrations, prints and photographs) and administrative documents.
  • Creators:
  • Repository: NIVAL

Scope and Content

The collection related to the Irish Hospitals Sweepstake at NIVAL consists of two series. The first contains the artwork and accompanying materials used to create advertisement campaign designs to promote the Irish Sweepstakes which date from 1949 to 1975. The campaign files contain a selection of materials including preliminary sketches, ink and paint-based illustrations, photographic prints, printed design proofs, pages of text, an original sweepstake ticket and design mock-ups as they would appear when in newspapers and various other publications across Ireland. Over 1,100 items are available across 54 files.

The artwork for the Sweeps advertisements was created by a variety of Irish, British, Japanese-American and Dutch artists, including John Skelton, Paul Egestorff, Jimmy Murakami and Pieter Sluis. Many of these artists had successful careers outside of commercial design and exhibited in prestigious venues such as the Royal Hibernian Academy. Edgar Battle, for example, was the owner of a studio and gallery that represented many successful Irish artists. Jimmy Murakami was a founder of Murakami Wolf, an animation studio which produced long-running television series such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

The second series consists of administrative records from the Irish advertisement agency, Caps Publicity Ltd, who commissioned the designs. The majority of the 39 items within this series, dating from 1940 to 1985, consists of financial account books which provide details of Caps’ clients, the advertising outlets utilised and payments to employees, including artists. The administrative records also include a file of correspondence from artist Fergus O’Ryan—much of which consists of handwritten invoices. The administrative records provide insight into many aspects of advertising and design in 1940s to 1980s Ireland including the extent of artists’ earnings.

The Irish Hospitals Sweepstakes: Historical Background

The Sweepstakes and Irish Hospitals:
The Irish Hospitals Sweepstakes was a lottery officially established in 1930 to fund Irish hospitals during a time when Ireland had recently become a free state and therefore had considerable financial issues. Hospitals in Ireland were in a poor condition following Ireland’s independence. Many of the county hospitals had not been properly renovated since they were built as work houses in the 1830. By 1929 the National Maternity Hospital on Hollis Street facing the prospect of closure (Wylie, 2003). The Irish Hospitals Sweepstakes, commonly referred to as the Irish Sweeps, generated millions of pounds worth of funding for Irish hospitals which allowed them to build and equip hospitals as well as provide employment for thousands (Coleman, 2009).

The Hospitals Trust:
The Irish Sweeps was organised by a private company called Hospitals Trust Ltd established in 1930 by Richard Duggan (1878–1934). The company re-started in 1940 as the Hospitals Trust (1940) Ltd after voluntary liquidation (Coleman, 2009). Other primary organisers of Hospitals Trust Ltd were Joseph McGrath, who was the Managing Director from 1930 to 1966, and Captain Spencer Freeman. Before 1930, Duggan illegally conducted hospital sweepstakes. However, the authorities in Ireland traditionally overlooked small lotteries organised for charitable purposes (Coleman, 2009; Wylie, 2003). Duggan eventually convinced the Irish government to legalise the sweepstakes. The first legal Irish Hospitals Sweepstake was the 1930 Manchester November Handicap.

Tickets and the Draw:
A sweepstake is a gamble on a horse race where the participants entrance money goes towards the prize money of either winning or placed horses (Wylie, 2003). In order to be in with the chance to win prize money, participants needed to buy a ticket. The counterfoil was the name given to the stub of a ticket which was placed in draw. This portion of the ticket contained the name and the address of the purchaser. A large drum held all of the counterfoils and a smaller drum held the names of the horses due to race. The counterfoils were drawn to match horses and the prizes were decided on the basis of where the horse was placed in the upcoming race (Coleman, 2009).

Three prominent races connected to the Irish Hospitals Sweepstakes were the Cambridgeshire Handicap, the Derby and the Grand National--all of which were located in the UK. Races in Ireland included the Irish Derby in the Curragh racecourse, the Irish Lincolnshire in Naas and the Irish Sweeps Hurdle in Leopardstown. The names of these races are featured widely across the advertisement mock-ups in the NIVAL Irish Sweepstakes Advertising collection.

Advertising the Sweepstakes:
The Hospitals Trust began publicising the Sweepstakes through Ireland’s first radio broadcasting station 2RN which was renamed Radio Éireann in 1932 and is now known as RTÉ Radio. Financial records relating to “Radio Éireann” and Caps are available to view in the administrative records of The Irish Hospitals Sweepstake Advertising collection at NIVAL. The Hospitals Trust had a sponsored radio programme which advertised the Irish Sweepstakes.

The population of Ireland was too small to generate the funds needed for the Irish hospitals, so the Hospitals Trust looked beyond Ireland—especially to Great Britain and North America—to sell tickets (Coleman, 2009). Millions of tickets were sold abroad, generating significant foreign capital for Ireland (Coleman, 2009). However, the sale and advertisement of Sweepstakes tickets was illegal in many countries outside of Ireland. Due to the British Betting and Lotteries Act of 1934, the advertisement of lotteries—including the Irish Sweepstakes—was banned across all newspapers in Britain. As Irish newspapers were sold in Britain, the columns mentioning the Irish Sweep were blacked out (Webb, 1968). Eventually, Irish daily newspapers began printing special editions for Britain without Sweeps-related advertisements (Webb, 1968).

Although newspaper publicity was effectively banned in Britain, the Irish Hospitals Sweepstakes radio programme was still available to British citizens (Wiley, 2003). The Hospitals Trust took advantage of the ability to advertise the Sweepstake to a foreign market by catering the radio programme content to their non-Irish listeners. For example, the closing slogan to the Irish Sweepstakes radio programme “It makes no difference where you are, you can wish upon a star” is arguably aimed at the Hospitals Trusts’ foreign audience.

A further loophole utilised to promote the sale of Sweepstakes tickets abroad was through travelogue style films created under the guise of promoting Irish tourism. These films were published during a time when direct advertising of the tickets had been banned in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Two examples—available to view via the Irish Film Institute Archives’ (IFI) collection—are “O’Hara’s Holiday” (1959), Peter Bryan Productions and “Dublin of the Welcomes” (1936) produced by The Irish Club. “O’Hara’s Holiday” is a story of an American man’s trip around Ireland which subtly promotes the Irish Sweepstakes by including a short segment about the Sweepstake-related excitement the tourist encountered during his visit. “Dublin of the Welcomes”, targeted at British audiences, conspicuously publicises the Irish Sweepstakes as the majority of the film is dedicated to information about the Sweepstakes operation including mention of a Scottish man purchasing a ticket coupled with imagery of thousands of pounds worth of cash.

The huge international publicity surrounding the Irish Sweepstakes was also due to Freeman’s idea to invite journalists from around the world to attend the Sweepstakes draws (Wiley, 2003). The draws themselves were a spectacle as many began with a parade of large floats accompanied by showgirls in elaborate costumes. The Hospitals Trust Ltd spent large sums of money on these events to generate excitement and to sell the idea of luck (Wiley, 2003). An example of this was a publicity stunt called the “Irish Sweep Water Carnival” which included a race on horse-shaped boats down the River Liffey (Webb, 1968). Despite the strict ban on advertising the Irish Sweeps tickets in America, journalists were allowed to publish stories in newspapers about the Sweepstakes that were considered to have genuine news value (Corless, 2010).

In Ireland, the Sweepstakes was heavily advertised through a large selection of Irish Newspapers. Caps Publicity Limited were the advertising agency employed to generate and distribute the promotional material related to the Irish Hospitals Sweepstake. A large portion of the preliminary designs and sketches for these newspaper advertisements was donated to NIVAL and is accessible to the public.

Controversy Surrounding the Sweepstakes:
One controversial aspect of the Irish Hospitals Sweepstake was the intricate system to smuggle and distribute tickets in countries where gambling was illegal (Coleman, 2009). This was achieved by illegally shipping hidden tickets (Wylie, 2003). Unofficial Hospitals Trust employees—working in countries such as the USA— would then pick them up, distribute them, sell them and send the counterfoils back to Ireland (Wylie, 2003). Rather than returning the counterfoils directly to the Hospitals Trust headquarters in Ballsbridge, a system was devised by the Sweepstakes promoters to send the returned counterfoils to a variety of depot addresses across Ireland (Wylie, 2003).

The management of the money generated from the Sweepstake tickets and the Duggan, McGrath and Freeman family wealth also attracted bad publicity. The gross turnover of an individual Sweep was much greater than what appeared in the official accounts presented which raised suspicions. Although hospitals across Ireland received a considerable amount of money from the Hospitals Trust, only ten percent of the funds raised went towards the hospitals while a large sum went directly to the organisers and their families (Wylie, 2003).

Decline and Closure of the Irish Sweepstakes:
From the early 1960s onwards, the income of the Sweepstakes began to slowly decline (Coleman, 2009). Other countries saw how profitable the Irish Sweepstakes had become and set up their own lotteries which led to the decrease in tickets sales. The National Lottery was proposed in Ireland and the Irish Government chose An Post to operate it rather than Hospitals Trust Ltd due to their poor reputation regarding the financial management of the Sweepstakes (Wood, 1985). Following the last Irish Hospitals Sweepstake, the Sweeps Hurdle in January 1986, the employees the Hospitals Trust were made redundant and the company went into liquidation the following year (Coleman, 2009).

Publication Notes
Coleman, M. (2009). The Irish Sweep: A history of the Irish Hospitals Sweepstake, 1930-87. Dublin: Univeristy College Dublin Press.

Corless, D. (2010). The greatest bleeding hearts racket in the world: Irish Hospitals Sweepstakes. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan.

Webb, A. (1968). The Clean Sweep. London: Harrap.

Wood, K. (Reporter). (1985, October 18). Reaction to the National Lottery [Television Broadcast]. RTÉ News. Dublin: Radio Telefis Eireann.

Wylie, L. (2003). If you're not in you can't win [Motion picture]. Ireland: Radio Telefis Eireann.

This large collection of advertising materials used to promote the sale of tickets for the Irish Hospitals Sweepstake was deposited to NIVAL in 2012. The project to archive this visually and historically rich collection began in May 2018. This venture was undertaken by a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) student, Mary Clare O'Brien, facilitated by an award from the Thomas Dammann Junior Memorial Trust. This award is designed for individuals to further their
research and practice by participating in projects relating to multiple fields within art and design, including art history.