Saturday, January 06, 2018


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Dublin City Library & Archive have done it again.

A very interesting and thought-provoking exhibition on the Suffragist movement. The movement had an initial success when women were given the vote in parliamentary elections in Britain and Ireland in February 1918. The voting age for men was 21 with no property qualification. For women it was 30 with a property qualification. Equal access to the vote for women and men was achieved in the UK in 1928. It had already been the case in the Free State from the beginning.

I'll just hit a few spots below but, if you get a chance, do drop in and have a look.

But first, a more general observation. This exhibition clearly demonstrates the relevance of cartoons to the developments of the day. It is great that there has been a revival of interest in the role of the cartoonist in recent times. Felix Larkin led the way with his politically perceptive book on Ernest Forbes Terror and Discord: The Shemus Cartoons in the Freeman's Journal 1920-1924. The collection is available online from the National Library of Ireland. This was followed by James Curry's book Artist of the Revolution: The Cartoons of Ernest Kavanagh (1884 - 1916), Kavanagh (EK) was the cartoonist for Larkin's Irish Worker until his unfortunate death in 1916. Then we had both James's and Ciarán Wallace's beautiful book The Lepracaun Cartoon Monthly. The Lepracaun contained mainly the cartoons of its founder and editor Thomas Fitzpatrick, but it also featured those of Frank Reynolds (S.H.Y.). And finally, there is Gordon Brewster, in whom I have taken an interest, a collection of originals of some 500 of whose cartoons have become accessible online from the National Library of Ireland, and whom I have recently publicised in a talk, also available online. Felix has a post in the now sadly inactive blog Pues Occurrences which mentions a number of other works on cartoons.

So you won't be surprised to see the works of at least three of the cartoonists mentioned above figuring in this exhibition. If a picture is worth a thousand words, most cartoons are probably worth much more.

The Suffragettes were generally depicted in the public media of their day as a crowd of violent harridans, and the illustration above and the two below certainly attempt to give this impression. Mind you, I'm not saying they weren't above the odd bit of violence (unlike the men?).

This history is in a glass case at the exhibition so I didn't get a chance to leaf through it. I'm sure its content is adequately reflected in the exhibition panels.

This is the verse on the cover of the pamphlet.

And this version of "the storming of the Bastille" by the knitters brigade has a certain air of spontaneity about it.

This development in 1911 when John Redmond's party in Westminster abandoned the women in favour of Home Rule really got them going. I can do no better than to quote from James and Ciaran's book here:
In January of 1911 the unpredictable nature of electoral politics left the Irish Parliamentary Party holding the balance of power in Westminister. At last, or so it seemed, Redmond's moment had come. In this particularly sharp cartoon Fitz plays on a famous advertisement for Sunlight Soap drawing the Liberal Prime Minister Asquith as a traffic policeman holding back two great forces in British Politics, the House of Lords and the Women's Suffrage campaign, to allow a delightfully prim John Redmond to carry his Home Rule parcel safely across. The label 'Soft Soap' on both the parcel and the cartoon shows that the Irish public were not fully convinced.

As a special favour to my readers I am reproducing the original ad above. This is not in the exhibition but is in the book. Gordon Brewster took similar liberties with one of his political cartoons but in that case it was Pears and not Sunlight soap.

In another of Fitz's cartoons featured in the exhibition poor Tom Kettle comes in for a hard time. Here he is, a year before the Redmond cartoon, promising the female population the vote.

I have to confess that this cartoon reminded me of Brexit, at least insofar as the twin promises of the vote for women and Home Rule proved incompatible and in making his choice Redmond opted for Home Rule first. The cartoon is based on the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, Patience. You can see the full cartoon here.

I just couldn't resist this photo from the exhibition of Constance Markievicz as Joan of Arc. Call me cruel if you will.

This cartoon from the pen of Grace Gifford poses the question less asked, if ever. Indeed, why would men ask it. Her point i'm sure. Grace was an artist and cartoonist in her own right but she is probably better known to the public today for her marriage to Joseph Mary Plunkett in Kilmainham jail the night before his execution in May 1916.

A few small quibbles. I was not gone on the green and orange colour scheme. I thought it took from the impact of the content. There is an ongoing problem with the high large windows. They are not always suitable as a light source and they can make it difficult to view the exhibits, particularly against the light. I had some niggles on the Irish. "Sufragóir" is neither the singular nor the plural genitive, and I don't think you can use "um" when there is a sense of purpose involved. I have seen the meaning translated as "about" rather than "for" and I think that is a good guide for its use.

Small things truly. That said, this is another great exhibition in the series commemorating the Ireland of one hundred years ago. And it is a worthy contribution to ensuring that women getting the vote, albeit on a restricted basis, will not be overshadowed by either the ending of WWI or the UK General Election of 1918.

Kim Bielenberg has a very good piece in the Indo

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