Sunday, January 27, 2013

Irish Industries, Cartoon (1881)

This rather unflattering illustration appeared in Puck magazine in November 1881. Puck was a US satirical periodical that was popular from the 1870s up until 1918. The magazine had a distinct anti-Irish point of view which was not uncommon at the time in either North America or Britain. As with similar anti-Irish illustrations of the era by the likes of Frederick Opper, Thomas Nast and the illustrators who worked for Punch magazine in Britain, the Irish are depicted with distinctly simian features. In each of the panels the lads are up to no good. From bomb making to vote rigging and murder to begging, the only industries the Irish excel at are nefarious ones. Despite the nastiness I think it's a class illustration. As with many of these cartoons it's hard to deny the draughtmanship even if the message is disgusting. I especially like the globe character. He looks a bit like he's not too long ago been down on his luck himself. He also looks like the type of globe who enjoys a pint and a natter the odd time.

As this and similar illustrations attest to anti-Irish prejudice existed in the United States in the 19th Century especially as regards Irish-dominated political institutions such as Tammany Hall, the role of the Catholic Church in American society, and agrarian unrest back in Ireland. It's nowadays hotly debated as to the extent of real prejudice and marginalisation of Irish migrants to the US and their descendents. Irish festivals across America thrive on the idea of exceptional Irish victimhood and metal-cast signs with the slogan "No Irish Need Apply" are a popular giftshop item at these events. Despite the popularity of such signs nowadays research has found few historical instances of the slogan's use in job adverts during the period. That's not to say that such signs never existed just that they were never as common as the folk memory suggests. For an engaging look at the changing fortunes of the Irish in America this book is worth a look.

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