In recent years, claims that “No Irish” signs were only a myth have grown in number in both the UK and the US.
Writing for The Irish Post, journalist Aidan Lonergan examines the claims that the infamous “No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs” and “No Irish Need Apply” signs — notorious symbols of racist attitudes towards Irish immigrants — may have never existed.
He mentions the only known photo of such a sign, which is held by the Irish Studies Centre of London Metropolitan University.
Lonergan refers to a letter published in The Guardian in 2015 written by reader John Draper, who argued that the photograph of the sign is a fake.
“The photograph emerged only in the late 1980s, and the university has conceded to me that it is of ‘somewhat uncertain’ provenance. They have been unable to discover who took the picture, where or when,” Draper wrote.
“An old news clipping which I have presented to the university points to the image having been mocked up for an exhibition called “An Irish Experience” mounted at the now-defunct Roger Casement Irish Centre in Islington, London.
“This dubious picture has long been cited by politicians, academics, even the Equality and Human Rights Commission, all of whom no doubt believe it is genuine.”
“Many even claim to have seen such signs in the past, though what they may actually remember is the London Met picture endlessly recirculated, nowadays on the internet.”
In 2002 in the United States, historian Richard Jensen attempted to minimize the significance of the “No Irish Need Apply Signs” in his paper “A Myth of Victimization.”
Jensen, at the time a Professor of History at the University of Illinois,
claimed that anti-Irish job discrimination was not really a widespread problem and the signs were only posted by a small minority of 19th century English immigrants.
Jenson’s claims have now largely been discredited, especially after Rebecca Fried, an 8th grade student from Washington DC, published a rebuttal to his claims, providing multiple examples of “NINA” signs in newspaper archives.
And in response to John Draper’s letter in The Guardian, Dr Tony Murray, director of the Irish Studies Centre at London Metropolitan University, wrote that although the “No Irish…” photo was donated to his university in 1989 there is “no reason to doubt” its authenticity.
Dr Murray explained: “With community ventures of this kind, such items are not always formally acquisitioned and their provenance not always recorded.
“We had no reason to doubt the authenticity of the image and that the archive had received it in good faith.
“Mr Draper appears to be confusing authenticity with provenance. Numerous artefacts with minimal provenance are held in archives but this does not necessarily mean they are not genuine.
“[Draper] claims the photograph was ‘mocked up’ for the exhibition An Irish Experience. But this took place in the mid-90s, a decade after the original photograph was donated."
He added: “I’m puzzled by what exactly Mr Draper is trying to prove. Ample evidence exists in numerous oral history interviews with both Caribbean and Irish migrants that such signs existed well into the 60s.
“Further proof can be found in the report Discrimination and the Irish Community in Britain published by the Commission for Racial Equality in 1997.
“It seems mischievous at best and malicious at worst on John Draper’s part to suggest that this photograph is a fraud and by implication that Irish people in Britain were not discriminated against in the post-war era.”
Lonergan writes in The Irish Post: “And discriminated against, they certainly were. That is not up for debate – especially not for the many thousands of Irish men and women who crossed the sea to Britain in the aftermath of the Second World War.”
He concludes: “So there you have it – the infamous ‘No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs’ signs almost certainly existed.
“But even if – for argument’s sake – it was all a myth, those menacing six words encapsulated the lived experiences of an entire generation of outsiders who made Britain their home. And that perseverance meant something.”