Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University has acquired a collection of 29 Irish political cartoons from the 1885-1914 ‘Home Rule’ period, when Irish nationalists were fighting to gain independence from Britain.
Co. Mayo native Gerard Morgan donated the cartoons – he has written multiple books on 19th Century Irish history, including “Sending out Ireland’s Poor” and “Mayo: A County History.”
“For historians [the cartoons] are a great resource, but also for students of visual culture because they are beautiful and very powerful images,” founding director Christine Kinealy said in a press release.
Quinnipiac’s Great Hunger Institute is a scholarly resource for the study of the Great Hunger, promoting research and fostering understanding of Ireland’s biggest tragedy through lectures, conferences, artifacts and courses.
“These paintings are a unique resource that can be used to bring more understanding to this time period in Ireland,” Kinealy said.
The images originally appeared in the St. Stephen’s Review, a weekly political magazine published in London that opposed Irish independence (depicted in the cartoons).
The cartoons opposed to Home Rule are the work of English cartoonist and satirist William Mencham, who used the pseudonym “Tom Merry.”
The cartoons sympathetic to Home Rule, which appeared in the Freeman Weekly, are by Walter Charles Mills, born in Co. Tipperary in 1853. He often built his images around the characters of Erin, the beautiful, female symbol of Ireland, and Pat, the decent, dependable Irish farmer.
‘The Naughty Boy and His New Clothes’ - November 26, 1887.
The painting depicts William O’Brien, a nationalist journalist who represented Ireland in the British Parliament, as a naughty child. When he was arrested and imprisoned in 1887 for organizing a ‘rent strike’ in County Cork, which was part of a larger agitation for land reforms, he refused to wear a prison uniform. His sympathizers smuggled a Blarney tweed suit into the jail – a suit that O’Brien liked to wear in later life in the British House of Commons.
‘The Modern Perseus’ – March 16, 1889.
The painting borrows from Greek mythology, with Perseus being a dashing hero who saves Andromeda from a sea monster. In the context of the Home Rule debate, the beautiful woman personifies Ireland, while the ‘unacceptable’ side of Ireland is depicted as a monster who can only be controlled through the use of ‘Coercion.’ Such unattractive stereotypes of Irish nationalists were commonplace.
‘Through Green Glass’ – July 13, 1889.
The painting depicts William Gladstone reading a newspaper article entitled ‘The Irish Question.’ Gladstone is reading the paper literally through green glasses – symbolizing his sympathy for Ireland. At this stage, Gladstone was aged almost 80, but still politically active. In 1892, he became British Prime Minister for the fourth time, and one of his election promises was that he would give Home Rule to Ireland. When Gladstone died in 1898, Irish Home Rule appeared as elusive as ever.
‘The Duty of the Hour’ – March 4, 1911.
This painting was given away with the ‘Weekly Freeman,’ which was sympathetic to Irish self-government (Home Rule). The beautiful female figure ‘Erin’ is used to personify Ireland and her struggles for independence. The National Fund that is referred to had been founded to support the parliamentary campaign to win Home Rule, and to counter ‘the powerful and unnatural combination of factionalism and Unionism which is opposed to us.’ The building in the background symbolizes the former Houses of Parliament in Dublin, which had been sold to the Bank of Ireland in 1800 when the Irish parliament was abolished. The caption reads, ERIN – “All goes well at Westminster, and your business, Pat, is to enable the party over there to do even better. That’s why the War Chest is the duty of the hour.”
‘Wait a Little Ulster’ - March 2, 1912.
This cartoon was given away with the ‘Weekly Freeman,’ a Dublin-based paper that supported Irish independence. The cartoon provides an unsympathetic view of the people in Ulster’s opposition to Irish independence. The man in the middle, Augustine Birrell, was an English-born politician based in Dublin Castle. He is depicted as a man of reason, who is trying to reassure the people of Ulster that Home Rule will not threaten their civil and religious liberties. Pat – the voice of nationalist Ireland – remains skeptical about the motives of those who opposed Home Rule.
Quinnipiac University is a private, coeducational, nonsectarian institution located 90 minutes northeast of New York City and two hours from Boston. The political cartoons are on display in the Lender Family Special Collection Room at the Arnold Bernhard Library.