Analysing the Political Cartoons

The political cartoons about the Irish troubles drawn by a number of prominent cartoonists in the early 1970s differed sharply from the cartoons produced by artists during the peace process in the 1990s. Arguably this could be down to a number of factors. Firstly, cartoonists in the 1970s were much more likely to attack specific groups of people – the Irish themselves have been targets of British supremacist derision for several hundred years, and have been depicted in a derogatory light in cartoons since cartoons were first printed.

Second, the situation was considerably more grave in the 1970s than it was in the 1990s – although the IRA were still established and effective in the 1990s, the 1970s saw the most bloodshed, and therefore, it must have been very difficult to perceive what was a complex and (to some) ridiculous situation in Ireland without knocking the Irish for propagating and sustaining this idea of religious sectarianism. The complex political situation in Ireland that had arisen as a result of four hundred years of religious complexity between the dominant British Protestant landowners, who held the political reins, and the oppressed Irish Catholics, ultimately had a great impact on the British interpretation of the Irish throughout the generations, and also upon the representation of the English in Irish journalistic literature and art.

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Thus, a particular view of the Irish came to be represented in the British media, which tended to emerge whenever there were specific troubles within Ireland or else among the Irish in Britain. These stereotypes, especially of the Irish, can be said to be at their most potent during the time of the political troubles in Ireland. The resultant swathe of political cartoons that were printed on a regular basis in the daily newspapers in both Ireland and Britain, particularly during the political unrest and violence of the early 1970s, tended to push the Irish into a subcategory of their own, denied of their identity as autonomous individuals, subjected and represented by a more dominant political force, namely, the English.

The history of the cartoon in respect of this tradition of Irish caricaturing is interesting, as it reveals a rich history of treating the Irishman as a figure of derision and ridicule – however, it is more interesting to note that this figure changed throughout the years and, especially with the increase of militancy among the grass-roots of Irish working class communities, saw the emergence of the cartoon depiction of the Irishman as a simian, bestial, uncivilised caricature, often wielding knifes and other implements, and driven by a fervid passion to kill, much like zombies from a horror film.

The history of political cartoons goes back to the eighteenth century. However, technological developments in photography changed the nature of cartoons at the turn of the century, in many ways shaping the type of cartoon we see in newspapers nowadays: Fitzgerald, in Art and Politics (1973) argues that: “[The photograph] simply replicated the surface structure of life; it did not normally give it a ‘depth’ of interpretation or meaning.” Thus, the photograph didn’t entirely remove the need for the political cartoon, and in a sense, established the medium of the cartoon as a more biting representation of political and social malaises: “The political cartoon on the other hand sought to disrupt daily life, to make jokes and stage whispers and asides at the process if everyday life. […] The political cartoon was by its nature more subversive [than the photograph].”

So, the nature of the political cartoon is to satirize and to comment upon, using visual imagery and caricature, the complexities of the cartoonist’s imagination / ideological persuasions. The effect of satirising political situations, and the placing of topical events into the medium of the cartoon, at least according to the cartoonists themselves, is largely arbitrary in its effect on the population: “Measuring the extent of the cartoonist’s influence on public opinion is a much more difficult, if not impossible task. […] Many cartoonists are […] dubious about its power.” Conversely, however, governments have always stepped in to control the production and the distribution of subversive cartoons.

This suggests that they do possess a certain amount of impact when discussing or lampooning political leaders and people of significance: “French caricaturists of the 1830s who dared mock King Louis Philippe were fined and imprisoned; New York cartoonists’ criticisms of municipal corruption prompted government officials to attempt to pass an anti-cartoon law in 1897; and even in the modern era, when political cartoonists are prizes rather than prison sentences, satirists in totalitarian states have suffered harsh censure.”

Indeed, some of the more subversive work of cartoonists have frequently stirred up controversy, especially concerning the representation of the Irish in British cartoons. In “The Irish”, by cartoonist for the Evening Standard, JAK, the representation of the Irish caused controversy that, with Ken Livingstone’s recent “Nazi” comments about the Evening Standard, continues to plague the political scene today: “…none can excuse the fact that [‘The Irish’] represents one of the most appalling examples of anti-Irish cartoon racism since the Victorian era. […] As a result of complaints made by many people in Britain, the Greater London Council, under its leader Ken Livingstone, withdrew its advertising from the Standard and demanded a full apology, which was refused.”

The cartoon itself equates the Irish with death and barbarism, with the words: “The Ultimate in Psychopathic Horror: The Irish”. Although angered by the IRA bombings and the killing of innocents, this inability to describe the political complexities of the Irish, reducing them instead to a monstrous racial stereotype, not altogether unique in the cartoons of the time, tends to simplify, and thus promote Irish resentment during the period. However, in the second period I will be discussing in this piece, namely the late 1990s, the cartoons drawn by people like Martyn Turner during the peace process of the John Major and Tony Blair governments differ wildly from this tendency to demonise and / or denigrate the entire nation of Ireland – instead the cartoonists eye is drawn to subversive representations of the bureaucracy and the players within that complex and impenetrable political chess game that the Irish peace process became in the eyes of the public.

The cartoons drawn, generally, seem less provoked by Irish or British resentment, and more represent a more benign form of political satire, that being the politics of government rather than the (sometimes militaristic) persuasions of the Irish population. The crude and hurtful Irish stereotype as barbaric, brutish and stupid are discarded – instead, the governmental players are the main focus for the satirists eye.

There was a period in the early 1970s when an impending civil war in Ireland seemed inevitable, with clashes between British paramilitary and Loyalist groups in a state of near-war. “A number of paramilitary organisations were formed in Protestant working-class areas to counter-balance the activities of the Provisionals and carry out attacks on Catholic areas. As the IRA increased its campaign of shootings and bombings, 1972 became the most violent year of the Troubles with 467 deaths in Northern Ireland, 321 of which were civilian casualties.”

The work of the cartoonists of the period assumed a similarly grave and polemical nature, as often the caricaturists and the cartoonists of the period would be divided between Catholic / Protestant, as well as down British / Irish lines. The problems with British intervention as “peacekeepers” culminated in the “Bloody Sunday” massacre of 30 January 1972, where British troops opened fire on unarmed catholic protesters: “It was in January 1972 that the British Army shot and killed thirteen civilians in Derry, writing another disaster into Anglo-Irish history. ‘Bloody Sunday’, as it was called, was commemorated twenty years later in 1992 with bitterness and anger.”

The representation of the British paramilitary presence in Ireland divided cartoonists, and the culmination of the supposed folly of British intervention in Northern Ireland reached boiling point with Bloody Sunday. Thus, politics and ideology in 1970s reached such a stage that generalisation and ignorance about the Irish situation abounded, signalling a return to the grotesque caricaturing seen in Punch in Victorian times. The political complexities, difficult as they were to sum up in a simple argument, were thus heavily simplified by a number of British cartoonists, and this gross simplification often led to the demonisation of the Irish as a whole. This is demonstrated by both the cartoons of Cummings and in the highly controversial cartoon, “The Irish”, printed in the Evening Standard, in which all Irish citizens are tarred with the same brush.

Again this differs greatly from the work of Martyn Turner, who I will focus on in greater depth; his cartoons are steeped in the complexities of the Irish situation, the bureaucratic and political turmoil of the Irish peace process in the 1990s, and its eventual resolution in a ceasefire. Thus, the body of Martyn Turner’s work in a sense tells us how the political cartoon, especially the market for this particular brand of political cartoon has changed from representing the opinion of the ignorant masses, to enlightening and stimulating an informed few.

Martyn Turner strays away from the traditions of social stereotyping, choosing instead to focus on the political bureaucracy and its many players. His cartoons are effective on a number of distinct levels, and his work is predominantly concerned with satirizing political institutions and their players, rather than making sweeping and hurtful gestures about a whole group of people. Especially from the overtly racist work of the 1970s, we see a resurgence of the Irishman as a simian stereotype, who is either drawn to carnage and violence, or else is too stupid to conduct his own affairs with any degree of control. In Cummings work of the early 1970s, we see the Irish represented as racial stereotypes.

In this dissertation, I will look firstly at the development of this stereotype, how it developed from an idealised representation of Ireland in the 18th century, to the myth of stupid, impulsive, apelike creatures in publications such as Punch in the mid-nineteenth century. From this I will then turn to representations of the Irish (and of the British involvement in Ireland) in the 1970s, looking especially at pieces of work that explicitly and blatantly attack Irish culture, using a stereotype that is both broadly racist, the only effect of which is to emphasise the lack of understanding and the bigotry in which a great swathe of British citizenry lived.

History of Stereotypes in Cartoons

James Gillray (1757-1815) is widely reputed as being the first great British cartoonist. In his work, the notion of the Irish as simian tends to prevail, and they, along with the French, are seen as barbaric, stupid, tokens of “otherness” that one tends to associate with any representation of a minority and / or, a barbaric outsider. In “United Irishmen upon Duty”, printed on 12 June 1798, Gillray attacks the dissident Irishmen: “It depicts the rebel United Irishmen as mere agents of destruction and pillage, without political or moral principles. […] The cartoon is one of several in which Gillray simianises the belligerent Irish.”

Thus, the reduction of the Irish to bestial stereotypes has a long history, that frequently makes a return whenever there is a reason for projecting hatred or condescension onto the Irish nation. In “Paddy on Horseback”, Gillray encapsulates the view of the Irish as stupid. In the picture, the Irishman has unkempt hair and a protruding jaw, however, he still possesses human, rather than simian features: O’Connor suggests that: “The early cartoons from the 18th century are openly racist, portraying the Irish as ignorant peasants – barefoot, ragged and thick.” Indeed, the image of the Irishman as a figure to poke fun at, and to label as the typical “fool” of caricature continues in a rich vein in British cartoons dating from this period.

Slightly later, George Cruikshank uses the Irish to poke fun at. In “The Two Irish Labourers”, which features two Irishmen climbing a ladder and getting mixed up, “George Cruikshank […] illustrates the antiquity of the English view of the Irish as objects of laughter and derision.” This cartoon isn’t political in its persuasion, but merely points out that, traditionally, and as the millions of jokes and put-downs featuring Irishmen in the punchline, the Irish could be used effectively to represent a typical stupid or ignorant person, who gets things mixed up or wrong. Thus, the re-emergence of these traditional Irish representations in the 1970s, when contextualised in a rich history of Irish racism, isn’t particularly surprising.

Punch magazine, published in the 1840s, became widely famous for its derogatory representation of the Irish as silly, warmongering, and ignorant, and signalled another re-emergence of this historical Irish stereotype, this time, and thanks to the scientific identification of racial stereotypes, the Irishman became more linked to representations of the Negro in mass art than to the civilised, aristocratic Brit. Thus, in Harper’s weekly in 1898, the Negro, with protruding jaw, upturned nose and large eyes, according to this very subjective illustration, actually equates the perception of the Irishman with the perception of the Negro. By contrast, the profile of an “Anglo-Teutonic” appears in the centre, and, with long nose, strong jawline and fairer hair, appears less simian in appearance.

This representation of the Irishman as a Negro, who is frequently seen as being untrustworthy, rapacious and animalistic in persuasion, is resurrected by a number of cartoonists in the 1970s as an ideal way of explaining, or at least glossing over the complex nature of the Irish situation. In “What was so marvellous…” by Cummings, he represents the current political situation in Ireland as a n exercise in British colonialism. Edward Heath and, then Home Secretary Reginald Maudling sit at a desk with a soldier on top of a map of Ireland. In the background, a soldier is seen walking through India, Cyprus, Kenya and Malaya.

The caption underneath reads: “What was so marvellous about the rest of the British Commonwealth was that we could always leave it.” The superiority with which Cummings regards Britain in relation to Ireland is striking, insofar as it essentially depicts Ireland as a dispossessed, colonized country, and glosses over the significant problems that the presence of British troops in Ireland actually caused. Of course, this view has some historical significance.

The governing elite in Ireland following the invasion in 1690 laid the foundations for a Protestant Ireland for nearly two centuries, and those in charge of Irish affairs were essentially protestants descended from English colonialists, using parliament to enact stifling and repressive legislation against the catholics, which culminated in removing the right for catholics to own land. This of course led up to the potato famine, which killed millions. Thus, the colonialist implications of Cummings’ cartoon flippantly portrays a reality in a fairly hurtful and bitter way.

In Apes and Angels, an overview of how the caricature developed in British cartooning, Curtis Jr. suggests that: “During the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century the stereotypical Paddy or Teague of English cartoon and caricature underwent a significant change. In sharp contrast to the regular, even handsome features of the ‘wild Irishman’ or woodkern of the Elizabethan and early Stuart period, such as may be found in abundance in John Derricke’s The Image of Irelande, with a discoverie of Woodkarne, first published in 1581, and different too, from the brutish, slovenly faces of Irish peasants appearing in prints dating from the reign of George III, the dominant Victorian stereotype of Paddy looked far more like an ape than a man.”

This reduction of the Irishman to animal is one that begins to return sporadically when the political situation gets grave once again in the 1970s. In these cartoons, often the complexity of the political situation is whitewashed, or else no attempt whatsoever is made to describe the Irish problem in terms of satire or a representation of different sectors of Irish society: conveniently, the Irish are placed into one single melting-pot, with no distinction or difference made between Catholicism, Protestantism, or of any of the different groups or classes that were at play in the turmoil that led up to bloody Sunday. Curtis Jr. suggests that the sudden stereotyping of the Irish may have been as a result of politics of a different type – namely, immigration:

“There was nothing specifically Irish about a projecting lower jaw until the 1840s, when thousands of Irish immigrants were pouring into England and Scotland, most of them destitute and many of them diseased.” So, much like modern views and prejudices surrounding asylum seekers, as well as Jews in the 1930s, the right-wing presses also found their target in Victorian times, namely, the Irish. This introduction of class into the issue adds another level of complexity to the issue. Often, the fighting Irishmen are seen crammed together into terrace houses, itself a sign of working-class life and a form of living regarded by the more middle-class newspapers as being inherently intolerable, just as their barbarity was regarded as stupid, brash and ignorant in Victorian issues of Punch. Thus, Curtis Jr., says that “The antecedents of this stereotype were just as widespread as the conviction in England and Scotland that the Irish were inherently inferior and quite unfit to manage their own affairs.”

Indeed, the superimposition of ideas onto the Irish is in itself exacerbated by the caricaturing of the entirity of the Irish race, essentially robbing them of the individuality of their own voices and subsequently their own autonomy. Punch magazine spearheaded a movement to caricature and derogate the Irish in cartoons: “…it soon became clear that Irishmen, in particular the more politicized among then, were the favourite target of both writers and cartoonists. Marion H. Spielmann, the chronicler of Punch, wrote that the comic weekly acquired a reputation for being anti-Irish during and after the 1850s.” An example of this anti-Irish sentiment can be found in John Leech’s “Young Ireland in Business for Himself” (August 22, 1846), in which a grotesque monster sells blunderbuss’s next to the sign “pretty little pistols for pretty little children.”

Thus, we are given the preconception that the Irish are violent, stupid and ugly. In John Tenniel’s “The Irish Frankenstein”, a sophisticated, British man tries to stave off a giant beast holding a bloodied knife. Thus, the bestial, simian qualities of the caricature emerge. This is especially pointed when the Irishman begins to demand autonomy: “When Irishman turned to political agitation and began to demand an end to British rule, then Punch changed his tune, and, according to Spielmann, the artists began to ‘picture the Irish political outrage-mongering peasant as a cross between a garrotter and a gorilla.’” Thus, perhaps the simionisation of the Irish stereotype is more as a result of the politicisation of the Irish working-class, which presumably the British cartoonist, especially one working for Punch, a deeply conservative publication, would feel threatened by. Thus, we have to also consider notions of class, as well as racial stereotyping: “The only Celt to be flattered and admired by Punch’s cartoonists was ‘Hibernia,’ the intensely feminine symbol of Ireland, whose haunting beauty conveyed some of the sufferings of the Irish people.

In The Fenian-Pest, published in Punch on March 3, 1866, Hibernia turns to her sister, Brittania as a grotesque, derogatory rendition of an Irishman peers at her with animalistic desire. Wallach suggests that: “Tenniel, depicts the rebellious Irishmen, those ‘troublesome people,’ as ape-like and unkempt. The main Irish character glares menacingly at Britannia, with his mouth agape and a sword-like weapon partially concealed under his coat. Behind him are other Fenians, chaotically amassed and presumably anxious to make trouble. Here the stereotype of Irishmen as violent, simian and disorganized reveals itself.” Indeed it is interesting the Hibernia, the only character that is celebrated in Punch, or at least not attacked on grounds of racial profiling, is one that is divorced from the traditionally masculine realm of political persuasion. In this particular cartoon, she is seen in the pose of desperately running from the Irish monster, and this traditional of derogation of the Irishman, especially the politicised Irishman, continues throughout history, making a controversial reappearance during the political conflicts of the 1970s.

Cummings, who drew cartoons in the 1970s for the Daily Express, uses similar prejudices to generate humour in a situation regarded by the British as increasingly confused. In “We’re pagan missionaries…”, Cummings depicts a group of pagans, coming over the sea and saving the Irish from their imminent self-destruction. The caption at the bottom reads: “We’re Pagan missionaries come to try and make peace among the bloodthirsty Christians.”

The Irishmen are shown crammed together, on the opposite sides of a terrace block, and details include a lop-sided dustbin, and a sign in the middle of the street, reading: “Cage: To keep the wild animals apart.” Again we return to the generally held perception of Irishmen as a race of sub-human animals: “The Cummings cartoon reflects this British incomprehension in its depiction of primitive tribesmen arriving to reconcile the barbarous Irish, who seem intent on tearing each other apart. The racist implication is that black, presumably African, tribesmen are more civilised than the Christian Northern Irish, who have now slipped below even primitive pagans in their innate barbarity.” Thus, Cummings seems to extract his political humour mainly from the use of stereotype and conceptions of otherness.

The British army is seen ironically as a pagan tribe, which obviously alludes to the primitive tribes that the Britishers colonised in the past. Therefore, the Irish are depicted as being even more primitive than this. Cummings’ cartoon ideas are steeped in the long tradition of pompous anti-Irish cartoons and jokes. “The cartoon […] reinforces stereotypical notions of the Irish as violent and blacks as primitive, and makes no attempt to convey any understanding of the underlying causes of conflict other than religious bigotry.” This is a reflection of a commonly held view about the political situation in Ireland. It seemed baffling to some of the British that two essentially Christian religions should be fighting, and the cartoons by Cummings highlights this innate superiority that the British has by portraying itself as heroes in trying to resolve the Irish conflict. Similarly, Cummings sides again with the British army in “How Marvellous it would be…”, printed in the Daily Express, on 12 August 1970.

Cummings naively treats the British influence in Ireland as completely benign. A beaten up solider stands between two monsters, one of which is wearing a t-shirt called “Ulster Catholics”, the other called “Ulster Protestants”. They run for each other, as the soldier, more diminutive in presence and, in case we didn’t know his nationality, sports a Union Jack on his forehead. Over his head towers a plethora of miscellany – socks, broken bottles and rocks – again, the two warring factions are apelike, bestial and violent in nature. The caption underneath reads “How marvellous it would be if they DID knock each other insensible!”. Thus, the patronising and condescending nature of the cartoon asserts itself more. “The implication underlying both cartoons is that the irrational nature of the Irish question can only be explained through some form of racial madness.”

Indeed, the racial implications, coupled with the inability, or reluctance to try and articulate and represent the complexities of the Irish situation in an easily digestible format, assists in depriving Ireland of a voice – of seeing Ireland and the Irish as a colonised island, once more exacerbating catholic (and protestant – the shifting of parliament to Westminster had the effect of causing offence to both Unionists and building support in working class catholic areas for the I.R.A.) tensions; furthermore adding support to the notion that Britain was indeed an occupying force in Ireland, and that the only means from which the British could be removed from Ireland was through paramilitary force.

Cummings later said that the IRA’s violence “make them look like apes – though that’s rather hard luck on the apes.” Of course, Cummings views on the IRA, their uses of violence and barbarism would never be particularly popular, but Cummings doesn’t even try to consider their opinions, and lowers himself instead to racial stereotyping and bigotry.

The cartoon by Cummings is rendered especially naïve by the events of ‘Bloody Sunday’. Of course, this stereotype has been resurrected many times since the 18th century, but, during Victorian times something in particular happened to the representation of the Irishman. According to Douglas, R., et al.: “The equation between militant Irish nationalism and a savage bestial nature achieved its apogee […] in the Punch cartoons of the Victorian era.” And this bestial nature was resurrected whenever war or conflict required an easily categorised and common enemy.

Certainly the most politically controversial cartoon drawn during the Anglo-Irish conflict was “The Irish” by JAK, for the Evening Standard on 29 October 1982. In it, a bystander is seen looking at an enormous billboard poster. It says: “Emerald Isle snuff movies present the ultimate in psychopathic horror”, then in enormous letters underneath, “The Irish”. The image seems designed to both shock and to reinforce the traditional stereotype of the Irish as bestial and bloodthirsty. A horde of Irish stereotypes, bloated and bestial, wielding daggers, drills, dynamite, saws and other crude forms of weaponry all fight in a orgiastic frenzy over a hill of graves. The caption underneath on the poster says: “Featuring the I.R.A., I.N.L.A., U.D.F., P.F.F., U.D.A., etc. etc.”.

Thus, every political group of every political persuasion is placed under the same violent and caricatured image of Irish barbarity. It is apparent that the cartoon would be controversial. “’The Irish’, featuring a cast of degenerate nationalist and loyalist paramilitaries, whose initials appear at the bottom of the poster. Not only is there no attempt to explain Irish political complexities or distinguish between different paramilitary groups, the cartoonist irresponsibly homogenises the Irish as a race of psychopathic monsters who delight in violence and bloodshed.” The political reaction to this cartoon had far-reaching implications, and the Evening Standard had advertising money cut from London Council, then headed by Ken Livingstone, if a full apology wasn’t issued, which wasn’t.

It is apparent that the power of the cartoon to shock and to provoke resonates profoundly through political circles, certainly as regards the more overtly racist images of Irish paramilitary groups, that depict an Irish nation that is both stupid, confused, poor and drawn genetically to acts of barbarity and violence. “One notable feature of some British cartoons about the troubles is their tendency to resurrect the simian stereotype to present a view of republican and loyalist paramilitaries as sub-human psychopaths, a feature which merely served to perpetuate British ignorance and misunderstanding of the complex nature of the conflict.”

Indeed, ignorance of the complexities of the political situation in Ireland, indeed, an absolute denial of the British influence and the disruption in Ireland, led to strengthening the anti-Irish fervour, and many cartoonists that used this idea for a cheap joke, may have done unnecessary harm to the establishment of peace among Loyalists, and the Irish in general already racked with anti-British tension. Although the cartoon cannot be justified entirely, it can certainly be contextualised by the political situation at the time the cartoon appeared:

“[The Irish] appeared at a time when paramilitary violence showed no sign of abating and when Anglo-Irish relations were still strained as a result of the southern government’s ‘neutral’ attitude towards Britain during the Falklands war. In July, two IRA bombs in London had killed eight people and injured over fifty others.”

Indeed, it is interesting that, when political and social situations are most strained, the simian stereotype re-emerges in cartoons. Overall, the simianisation of the Irish in cartoons has had a long historical legacy that dates back as far as the history of the political cartoon itself. In a situation of conflict, especially considering the supposed lack of knowledge surrounding the Irish situation in the 1970s, many of the cartoons represent this tendency towards returning to the historical stereotype of the Irish as bestial, monstrous sub-human, whose thirst for blood remains intrinsically linked to the racial characteristics of the people.

The representation of the British presence in Ireland, especially with the work of Cummings, and JAK, is seen in turns as a fruitless endeavour designed to bring peace to a nation that stubbornly clings to the historical notion of religious difference, or else are innately drawn to barbarity. Although these were not the only cartoons represented at the time, and there were some more sympathetic representations of the Irish situation, that tried to explain in pictures and simple captions the complexity of a political situation in Ireland, this return to the overtly, explicitly racist was definitely a theme in the 1970s cartoons, and served either to reflect the general confusion prevalent at the time concerning the troubles in Ireland, or else exacerbated this confounded hostility towards the Irish in general that certain sections of the British population must have felt.

Political Representations of the 1970s Crisis in Ireland

The Irish representations of the conflict differ insofar as they offer the viewer of the cartoon a more balanced, albeit anti-British view of the political conflict during the crisis. Gerald Scarfe provides a more sensitive body of work than what was usual in the British press during the time of the political troubles in Ireland. In “Untitled”, printed in the Sunday Times on 14 March 1971, blood runs into a lake from three graves on a hill, there to represent the deaths of three soldiers, two of which were lured into a pub and killed by the provisional I.R.A., the militant arm of the I.R.A. A crack in the dam pours blood onto a peaceful community, and provides another perspective on the Irish troubles in the 1970s that go beyond that of stereotype, confusion and resentment, instead providing a sympathetic and tender view of the events. Indeed, the representation of the political struggles at the time, in cartoons could be both chillingly regressive, and inspired – of course, the Irish conflict polarised opinion, insofar as the lines could be drawn down difference between the British and the Irish, or else Protestant and Catholic fronts.

This tendency to promote one particular view of the events highlights the struggle that cartoonists must have found when trying to find humour beyond the resentment and the anger at both the violence, which some people, especially in Britain, saw as unnecessary, and a particularly stubborn and irreconcilably oppositional set of ideologies in Ireland on the brink of civil war. Naturally, Irish cartoonists provided the least racist of stereotypes, but there are also instances of British cartoonists trying to show sympathy for a situation that was, essentially, down to the protestant invasion of Ireland, some 400 years ago, and the ritualised and systematic suppression of the catholics present there by William of Orange, which laid the foundations for a wholly protestant ruled Ireland for nearly 200 years. Gerald Scarfe, in “How to Make the Irish Stew”, printed in the Sunday Times on the 15 August 1971, tries to go some way into explaining the conflict to the audience.

He shows a pot with two crosses and a corpse in it. A paragraph down the side says: “How to make Irish stew. Take Ireland. Mix in catholics and protestants. Add potato famine to reduce mixture. Stir in English absentee landlords. Bring to slow boil and simmer for four centuries. Later – pour in British army. Squeeze catholics. Add nail bombs and rubber bullets (lead if preferred). Cook on C.S. high speed gas and retire.” Beneath a corpse lays strewn on a plate – the caption reads, “the finished dish”. In the background are the rows of dilapidated houses that one had come to associate with the bloody conflicts between working-class catholics, the main recruitment ground for the Provisional I.R.A., and the working class protestant areas, associated similarly with militant unionist groups. Of course, Scarfe was in a minority in trying to offer the reader such a complex and word-heavy cartoon.

“As violence increased in 1971, few English cartoonists addressed the complicated nature of the issues which underpinned the Northern Irish problem. This tendency to over-simplify a complex situation was widespread in Britain, and goes some way towards explaining the persistence of the Troubles.” Indeed because of the nature of this war as inherently local (a great number of Irish ex-pats lived in Britain), the British cartoonists and their simplification of a political system down to ancient notions of racism and / or exacerbating the political naivity prevalent at the time, would only serve to cause harm. However, to actually try to communicate a complex and multi-layered message in a cartoon could be argued as being an oxymoron.

The cartoon thrives on simplicity, thus, perhaps the racial stereotyping, the hurtful caricatures painting the Irish as a universally bestial, apelike civilisation was necessary in sustaining that communicative edge that cartoonists required. Fitzgerald argues that: “The style of mass artist was one of conscious simplification suitable for news media and the printing press. Art in the twentieth century predominantly tended to create a form more and more inaccessible to any but the cognoscenti. And insofar as Cezanne and others attempted to develop simplicity, it was an abstract simplicity that only a sophisticated art viewer could immediately appreciate.”

Indeed, the mass artist or cartoonist often has to work within established boundaries of pictorial simplicity in order to get the message across to the audience. Because the cartoonist is working in the mass media and the mass media is linked intrinsically to a system whereby the newspaper has to sell papers, then obviously, the message has to be as clear cut as possible, and to eschew the seemingly natural inclination for cartoons to degenerate into racist stereotype could, in many ways, be seen as the central ambition for the cartoonist at the time of this political conflict. Of course, this ideal was not always adhered to.

“Bloody Sunday” marked a turning point in the conflict in Ireland, because British troops could no longer masquerade as a neutral force in Ireland, and it was seemingly impossible to reconcile their role as “peacekeepers” with the killing of innocent, unarmed civilians. However, the situation after Bloody Sunday was ambiguous enough for a variety of views, often cut along lines of nationality, to emerge. Coogan suggests that:

“Initially, the protest passed off in a peaceful fashion, but, as it concluded, the inevitable ‘Derry fusilier’ began throwing stones. The army replied with water cannon and rubber bullets and the crowds were forced back. Suddenly, Wade observed ‘PIGS’, armed personnel carriers, approaching. Doors were flung open and, […] the paratroopers hurled themselves forward.”

The aftermath of “Bloody Sunday”, presumably, was a difficult time for cartoonists to actually try to extract humour from such a devastating event. However, the resultant confusion did lead to a great variety of cartoon work to be produced of great ideological variety. The Irish press, in particular, took a more cynical view of the events. In “And now for…”, printed in the Irish Times, on 5 February 1972, conveys with some scepticism, the public enquiry, called the Widgery Report, that was launched in order to investigate the events at “Bloody Sunday”. In it, Maudling wields a paintbrush coated in whitewash, while two British troops carry guns. Maudling says, as he reaches forward to coat the armed troops, “And now for the independent enquiry”.

The cynicism about the public enquiry was rife in the Irish print media at the time of Bloody Sunday, and the resulting verdict by the judge only served to exacerbate the feeling that, once again, the atrocities against the Catholics had been covered up by British intelligence: “The image of Maudling preparing to whitewash the British army for Lord Widgery accurately represents the prevailing sense of injustice felt by many nationalists on the publication of the Widgery Report in April 1972. By finding that the army had done its best in difficult circumstances, the judge was widely accused in Ireland of presenting a whitewash.” Indeed, the whole of the mainstream media in Britain tended to promote this particular view, and the bitterness that presumably provoked the entire event spilled out into the media representations of the event: “I well remember watching General Ford on BBC television that night as he defended what had happened.

Looking and sounding every inch the epitome of an officer and a gentleman, he said: ‘Paratroopers did not go in there shooting. In fact they did not fire until they were fired upon and my information at the moment… is that the 3rd battalion fired three rounds altogether, after they’d had something between ten and twenty fired at them.” So, the problems with interpretation resided in the fact that, because of the highly sensitive and political nature of the event, the exact truth was difficult to extract from the melange of different views and interpretations.

Thus, battle lines were drawn between Irish opinion and British opinion. The Irish Times tended to side with the (now proven to be correct) opinion that the British government were covering up the embarrassment of Bloody Sunday, meanwhile the British press largely took the view that the catholics who complained about Bloody Sunday were simply using the situation for political gain. JAK, in the weeks following the enquiry, decides to caricature the political situation:

“[Bernadette] Devlin punched Reginald Maudling, the Secretary of State for the Home Department in the Conservative government, when he made a statement to Parliament on Bloody Sunday supporting the British Army line that it had fired only in self-defence. Devlin had witnessed the event and was infuriated that, although parliamentary convention decreed that any M.P. witnessing an incident under discussion would be granted an opportunity to speak about it in parliament, she had been consistently denied the chance to speak. She was suspended from Parliament for 6 months.”

JAK represents Bernadette Devlin as an impetuous child, as she accused Maudling of being a “murdering hypocrite”. “Until the outbreak of violence in August 1969, Devil had been a popular figure with the British press and had been featured in several flattering cartoon poses. Aged twenty-one, she was the youngest person ever to be elected to Westminster in the modern era and presented a confident, youthful image. JAK reverses this image by depicting her as an impetuous young child who is politically immature and lacking in self-control”

Thus, the previously heralded political starlet was attacked for her reaction to the Bloody Sunday fiasco and, as an actual eyewitness to the events, is tarred with the same brush as other Irish representations that had re-emerged in cartoons at the time of the conflict. This is interesting, because her involvement in the events of Bloody Sunday essentially label her a sympathiser with the causes of the working-clas catholics, and therefore, in JAK’s cartoon, she is subsequently denigrated and forced to embody the same caricature.

Despite Devlin’s unorthodox methods in bringing the hypocrisies of Bloody Sunday to the forefront of political discussion, she is pictured in “By Jove…”, printed in the Evening Standard on 2 February 1972, as being a child, manhandled by two men. Although the caption attacks Reginald Maudling, by saying “By Jove, that nearly woke Reggie up!”, as he was famous for going to sleep during House of Commons meetings, it is Bernadette Devlin who seems to be portrayed in the worst light.

Because of her decision to react directly to the actions in parliament, some cartoonists from Britain decided to use this in order to increase anti-Irish sentiment, and thus the general air of bitterness surrounding the event. Her lack of self-control could easily be seen as returning her to the world of Irish stereotype – indeed, as she is seen straining against the two people, the picture is both condescending, and regressive as regards her stature as a politician. Of course, to say that all news media in Britain was anti-Irish at the time would be to deny the massive voice of opposition to the Irish ‘occupation’: Coogan states that:

“The force of this assertion [that the dead were not killed by British troops] was somewhat lessened by a report a day later from Brian Cashinella of The Times in which he reported hearing Ford call out: ‘Go on, the paras. Go and get them.’ Cashinella said that the paratroopers appeared ‘to relish their work, and their eagerness manifested itself, to me, mainly in their shouting, cursing, and ribald language. Most of them seemed to regard the Bogsiders and people who took part in the parade as legitimate targets.’”

Indeed, the turmoil that resulted from the events at Bloody Sunday led to a situation whereupon it was almost impossible for a cartoonist not to take sides. Because of the nature of cartoons; their innate simplicity and their tendency to simplify complex arguments, it was nearly impossible to remain unbiased in a conflict that had suddenly become polarised in the extreme. The disastrous events of the Bloody Sunday massacre succeeded in putting everybody either on the side of the British or else on the side of the Irish, and also helped gain support for the Provisional I.R.A., which believed wholeheartedly in utilising terrorist and violent actions in order to gain catholic independence in Ireland.

The ‘Politicisation’ of Cartoons in the 1990s.

Of course, the cartoons as represented in the 1970s aren’t apolitical as such, but, possibly because of the nature of the violence enacted upon Irish and British citizens, coupled with the anti-Irish sentiment in the air at the time, they tended to focus on the Irish as a separate and distinct race, and thus the complexities of the political situation was glossed over in order to simplify and condemn the Irish and / or the British people.

In the 1990s, the object of ridicule for the satirist seemed to shift from promoting and reinstalling the traditional Irish stereotype, to lampooning instead the political system and the characters that worked within. Central to this style of deeply political cartoon drawing was Martyn Turner. Martyn Turner was born in Essex, but moved to Belfast where he experienced the years of the sectarian struggle between protestant and catholics. This had a profound effect on his cartoons, which concentrate on the complexities and the peculiarities of, specifically, the peace process:

“I learned that the dilapidated streets I passed through on the airport road were both Protestant and Catholic. I learned not to be stupid enough to suggest some sort of working-class revolt might be in the offing, because there was no working class. There was a Protestant working class and a Catholic working class, Protestant Boy Scouts and Catholic Boy Scouts, Protestant atheists and Catholic atheists, and rare the twain shall meet.”

Martyn Turner’s cartoons reflect this knowledge of the streets of Belfast in a way that other cartoonists wouldn’t, and thus he manages to negotiate the complex arguments yet remain humorous. In a fashion, his cartoons harken back to Gillray. Certainly, the great majority of Turner’s cartoons are exceptionally complex and allegorical, but they are also heavily steeped in the politics of the peace process, and in the appallingly complex bureaucracy that was built to house the various and disparate players in the Irish peace process. In “Summit”, John Major is seen holding a flag that is a picture frame with “framework” written on it. Beneath him lies an enormous pile of rubble, contained within it are slabs of concrete, gravestones, and crosses, some of which have written on them such things as “Ulster says no”, “Sunning Dale”, “Direct Rule”, “Maryfield”, “Blueprint for Stability” and other things. John Major himself looks sheepish and confused on the top of the Summit. Thus, Martyn Turner, in that school of caricature, abandons the notion of getting humour from denigrating a specific class of people, whether that be the Irish or the British, and turns his eyes onto the whole political system.

It is ironic that, in many ways, this is also how many of the politicians chose to reconcile their differences. Political players such as Ian Paisley, Gerry Adams, John Major, Tony Blair and John Hume are all lambasted or praised (occasionally) with equally cutting satire, and the result is that the traditional stereotypes of Irish and British prejudice are undermined for a political system that appears to the outsider as inherently ridiculous. Turner’s work is also much more topical in nature, often commenting on the news that had happened very recently. Fitzgerald suggests that: “Topicality was […] a value that mass artists held dear. By topicality is meant the attempt to create an art that comments on the events of the day and on the times. In general, twentieth century art is more topical than that of the mid-nineteenth. Newer printing techniques which came into common usage in the late nineteenth century made the mass circulation daily press possible.

Thus, cartoon was forced to be ever fresh and the news truly new, and as both grew more topical, cartooning in particular became a mass medium.” Turner’s topicality uses the characters and the celebrities available at the time to provoke political subversion. His employment as a regular cartoonist for the Irish Times, coupled with his British background, combines to produce a satire of the political system that is neither unbiased or steeped in the traditions of generalisation. In a cartoon in Pack up Your Troubles, he depicts the stalemate by using an actual chessboard. Gerry Adams sits at one side of the table, and in a series of six frames, refuses to make a move.

He continually says “Your move!”, as an arm stretches out holding pawns with “peace forum”, “security changes”, “fund raising” and “talks before decommissioning” written on them. Thus, Turner comically attacks Gerry Adams and his inability to negotiate with anybody at all. The overall effect is that, in many respects, the sociological and religious ramifications of the events are subverted, instead for a vision of a political system full of comedic personalities. By highlighting the hypocrisies and the idiosyncrasies of the peace process, Turner essentially subverts and shifts his political persuasions away from the people, thus ensuring that his cartoons don’t merely serve as humorous propaganda, but instead lambaste the entire system of politics.

The same obsession with the bureaucracy of the peace process could be said of many cartoonists in the 1990s. In essence, the peace process itself becomes the target, and the cartoons themselves become much more benign as a result. For instance, in Untitled, by Brookes, printed in The Times on 8 September 1994, there is a picture of George Bush, Gerry Adams and John Hume throttling a puppet of John Major. This was following the American decision to grant Gerry Adams an American passport, which, for a brief time threatened to sour Anglo-American relations. Major here is the central target for the cartoonists assault.

Also, in “The Ides of March”, printed in the Daily Telegraph on 16 March 1995, the relationship between Bill Clinton and John Major is seen as the slaying of Brutus in Julius Caesar. In his hands, John Major holds a paper documenting the U.S., U.K. “special relationship”. Clinton ushers off Gerry Adams. The overall effect is that, by attacking the peace process itself, the effect of the satire is shifted, and thus becomes less pointed and less likely to incite hatred or resentment. Specifically, “The Ides of March” was printed in the Daily Telegraph, a right-wing publication.

The playful, allegorical nature of the cartoon in many ways undermines the ideology of the newspaper, being fervently conservative. The past is still commented upon, but the caricatures represented are those of politicians rather than demographic, sociological or racial groups, and thus seem less inclined to promoting resentment and bitterness. The bestial stereotype of the Irishman is removed, and is instead represented by comedic characters such as Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams, who are also placed next to comedic caricatures of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.


Overall, the history of cartooning and caricature is peppered with interpretations of the Irish that provide the cartoonist with an easy route toward depicting stupidity and ridicule for use in generating humour for their cartoons. And, although the past 400 years or so has been laced with this notion of the Irishman as stupid, since the Victorian age, especially in the deeply racist and derogatory cartoons printed in Punch magazine, as well as other magazines, the simian stereotype really began to emerge as the prevalent image of representation for the Irish working-class dissident. Arguably, this was as a result of mass immigration in the 19th century, and the influx of diseased and poor Irishmen and women naturally provided an easy target for middle-class bile. But also, there was a perceived British threat to National security.

The protestant invasion of Ireland in 1690 by William of Orange, has obviously had political ramifications in Ireland and has led to the impossibly difficult political situation that reached a head with the violence among working-class communities in Ireland, based on protestant and catholic fronts. The simian representation of the Irishman is generally seen to represent the Irishman’s perceived liking of bloodshed and war, and indeed, there is a definite correlation between the working-class catholic Irishman’s desire for self-rule, as portrayed by the I.R.A., and other more moderate catholic organisations, and the proportion of bestial caricatures drawn of him.

The 1970s, a time of political upheaval that eventually culminated in the British atrocity of Bloody Sunday, in which thirteen catholic protesters were shot dead by British troops, saw a distinct return to these series of stereotypes, in which Irishmen were largely seen as either primitive, bestial or bloodthirsty, and were often depicted carrying knives and saws and other sharp and primitive weapons. In a particularly controversial cartoon printed in the Evening Standard, The Irish are portrayed universally as bloodthirsty criminals, hell-bent on causing as much destruction and mayhem as possible. They are unanimously portrayed as being monstrous, unholy, and are framed within the context of a horror movie poster. An Englishman looks at the poster in bewilderment.

This provides an ideal example of the ways in which the Irish stereotype re-emerged in cartoons and caricature in the 1970s as a result of the seemingly inexplicable conflicts that had broken out in Ireland as a result of hundreds of years of British rule. Cummings in his cartoons for the Daily Express also harboured a similar, albeit a much less extreme view of racial stereotyping, portraying the oft held opinion that the Irish were stupid, and that the war in which they were embroiled in made no sense, and must therefore be innately linked to their genetic inclination to wage war. This view harkens back to the Victorian times, where a view of scientific racism was upheld, genetically equating the Irishmen to the Negro in a portrait shown in Harper’s magazine.

This example demonstrates how colonialist attitudes were extended to Ireland during the time of the British ‘occupation’, and of how the British, by asserting themselves as superior to the Irish on grounds of genetics and intelligence, managed to quell or at the very least demonise the militant grass roots factions seeking to gain self-rule.

The cartoons in the 1970s however, encountered difficulties when the Bloody Sunday massacre implicated British troops in the massacre. The attack of Reginald Maudling, who essentially denied that British Troops acted irresponsibly and barbarically during Bloody Sunday, by Bernadette Devlin, provided Cummings with material with which to reduce Devlin, who was previously regarded in very high esteem as a politician, to this barbaric caricature, so prevalent in Irish cartoons. She is reduced to the status of a petulant child, as she is dragged off by two larger men.

Thus, it could be argued that the politicisation of the Irish is the most harmful thing, especially when it is linked with the passion and the anger that catholics (and, to a lesser extent, protestant) must feel. This widespread denial that the Irish problems stretch into British territory, and that the Irish are innately stupid, and cannot look after themselves, reaches into a deep insecurity regarding the British psyche.

This is not to say, however, that the cartoonists of the period were exclusively racist. Gerald Scarfe attempts to implicate the British into the affairs and, with a series of extremely wordy and complex cartoons, as well as simple ones that don’t necessarily try to be humorous in tone, but simply try to capture the desperate state of affairs in which Anglo-Irish politics was subsumed at the time. Scarfe attempts to explain the other side of the conflict, namely, that the British are more to blame for Irish suffering than the Irish themselves are. The Irish reaction to Bloody Sunday in cartoons was that of widespread cynicism, and this cynicism tended to divide cartoonists over the Irish / British border.

The 1990s saw a resurgence in the Irish problem, which this time was linked to the instigation and the formulation of the peace-process – a logistical exercise that required the co-operation of a great swathe of political bodies of varying extremity. The characters that were pushed to the forefront in these representations were Ian Paisley, Gerry Adams, and John Major. In them, John Major is effectively seen as an unfortunate, bumbling fool, forced into negotiations with these political extremists. However, what is notably different in the cartoons from those from the 1970s is that here, the cartoons and caricatures only extend so far as to explaining and / or satirising the peace process.

Martyn Turner especially concentrates on the logistical and bureaucratic nightmare. In one picture, he juxtaposes John Hume onto the Sisyphus myth, where he spends his life pushing a giant stone ball up a hill, only for the ball to fall down the hill again once it reaches the summit. Hume pushes this ball, labelled “peace” up to a giant castle door, whereupon John Major says “sorry, we’re having a peace meeting.”

Thus, it is the bureaucracy, rather than the actual population that are mocked and derogated by Turner and many other political cartoonists of the 1990s who chose to focus intently on the political problems of instigating the peace process and, perhaps the seemingly labyrinthine and Kafkaesque mechanisms of the peace-process was what eventually caused the peace process to eventually work, by enabling cartoonists to see the whole process, regardless of political persuasion, as equally absurd. Essentially, the cartoonists of the 1990s succeeded in making a mockery of the entire political process, rather than knocking specific groups and classes of people.

The influence of cartoons on the public’s imagination and on whether their opinions hold any sway in negotiating public affairs is dubious, and almost impossible to measure or define accurately. However, it is nearly certain that cartoonists in the popular media do have some impact, however negligible on public opinion and suchlike. The difficulties with responsible art lies in the innate need for cartoonists to simplify their arguments and / or persuasions in order to get a singular, satirical message across: the art of the political cartoonist will always be in perceiving flaws.

Curtis Jr., suggests that: “Caricature is a parasitic art. In a perfect world it would perish.” Indeed, the complexities of the political situations in Ireland have led to some colourful, some inspired and some deeply disturbing images of a society firstly at war, then trying to grasp peace. Whether there is harm in portraying the Irishman as monstrous depends entirely on how highly you happen to regard cartoons as a tool for shaping influence and opinion. “The Irish”, as an example of the most chillingly extreme version of racial bigotry in cartoons, certainly couldn’t have helped Anglo-Irish relations at a particularly sensitive time in its long, chequered history.


Coogan, T. P., The Troubles: Ireland’s Ordeal 1966-1996 and the Search for Peace, Revised ed., Arrow Books, London: 1996
Curtis Jr., L. P., Apes and Angels: The Irishman in Victorian Caricature, revised ed., Smithsonian Institution Press, London: 1997
Douglas, R., Harte, L. & O’Hara, J., Drawing Conclusions: A Cartoon History of Anglo-Irish Relations, 1798-1998, The Blackstaff Press, Belfast: 1998
Fitzgerald, R., Art and Politics: Cartoonists of the Masses and Liberator, Greenwood Press, London: 1973
Hussey, G., Ireland Today: Anatomy of a Changing State, Penguin, London: 1993
Keogh, D., Twentieth Century Ireland: Nation and State, Gill & Macmillan, Dublin: 1994
O’Connor, G., Recognising and Healing Malignant Shame, from [Accessed 31 January, 2006]
Turner, M., Pack Up Your Troubles: 25 Years of Northern Ireland Cartoons, Blackstaff Press, Belfast: 1995
Turner, M., Railings: Political Cartoons 1998-2000, Blackstaff Press, Belfast: 2000
Wallach, H., The Fenian-Past, from [accessed 27th February 2006]
Wikipedia, [accessed 27th Feb 2006]

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