Thursday, February 27, 2014

Toon Time


The venue was Dublin's National College of Art and Design, now housed in the old distillery in Thomas Street. The subject was "Political Cartoons and the 1913 Lockout".

I turned up a day early and had to have a second coming, and the talk started late due to a spat between a computer and a projector. But it was well worth waiting for.


Gary Granville

The session was introduced by Gary Granville, Professor and Head of the Education Faculty at the college. He remarked that we were fortunate to be in the presence of two historians of political cartoons. Felix Larkin, who chaired the session, had published a book on the Shemus cartoons, and James Curry, who gave the talk, had published one on Ernest Kavanagh, who turned out to be the subject of the talk.


Felix Larkin

Felix, who had also contributed a post on Shemus to the National Library's blog, made some salient points relating to political cartoons in general. He stressed the importance of the cartoon as a means of getting an often subtle point across to readers of the publication in which it appeared. He reminded us that, while today the cartoons need to be accompanied by a fair amount of commentary to be fully appreciated, the original readership, being familiar with the context and controversies of the times, would have grasped their meaning immediately.


James Curry

James took us through the cartoons of Ernest Kavanagh. These cartoons were known through Jim Larkin's paper "The Irish Worker" where they appeared on the front page. In modern history books and articles some of the cartoons are reproduced in the context of the Lockout, for example, but without attribution or explanation. This is because they were simply signed "EK" and Ernest's real identity was not widely known at the time and had been lost sight of since, until James Curry discovered it.

The three main targets of the cartoons were, John Redmond, the Police, and, of course, William Martin Murphy. Murphy was the subject of some vicious cartoons. the most famous of which is reproduced below.


The Vulture of Dartry Hall

Murphy is depicted as a vulture, at his residence at Dartry Hall, looking down on a citizen who has had his head bashed in by the police. This one was published just after the riot in O'Connell Street, where the police had killed some and wounded many of the worker participants in a banned major protest meeting.

My own interest in the area comes from the sudden death of cartoonist Gordon Brewster in my mother's shop in 1946. The National Library of Ireland have recently come into possession of a collection of some 500 of Brewster's excellent cartoons and have digitised them on the internet.

The Library have also digitised the Shemus cartoons.

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