Ernest Kavanagh’s ‘Dublin Labour War’

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Issue 5 (September/October 2013), Letters, Volume 21

10Sir,—Ernest Kavanagh’s cartoon ‘Dublin Labour War’, which appeared on p. 34 of your recent special issue on the 1913 Lockout (HI 21.4, July/August 2013), did not actually appear in the Irish Worker newspaper, as stated in the caption. To the best of my knowledge it had never been published prior to its welcome appearance in HI. Recently discovered amongst a large collection of uncatalogued material in the Dublin City Library and Archive, its discovery is a real find. For not only is ‘Dublin Labour War’ the only known surviving original Kavanagh drawing, it is also the only known surviving cartoon by ‘E.K.’ featuring James Larkin, a friend of the artist. The towering general secretary of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) is instantly recognisable as he crouches down to shine a light on Dublin’s depressing list of problems in 1913.

The front and back of Ernest Kavanagh’s ‘Dublin Labour War’—the only known surviving original Kavanagh drawing. (Dublin City Library and Archive)

The front and back of Ernest Kavanagh’s ‘Dublin Labour War’—the only known surviving original Kavanagh drawing. (Dublin City Library and Archive)

The back of the 10in. by 12½in. cardboard drawing is also intriguing, containing as it does a selection of Kavanagh’s rough work sketches that offer a further glimpse into the Dublin artist’s mind as he ponders ideas for possible future cartoons. This section is dominated by a damning depiction of Irish Parliamentary Party leader John Redmond, a frequent target of Kavanagh’s ire, playing golf and concerning himself only with a ‘Bogus Home Rule Bill’ which excludes Irish workers ‘while 25,000 men are “locked out” in the Capital of Ireland’. Also featured are an idiotic-looking constable from the Dublin Metropolitan Police’s ‘Intelligence’ Department, William Martin Murphy as a rooster crowing over his achievement of forcing workers to face jail or the workhouse, the ‘Melancholy Humbug’ John Dillon refusing Votes to Women, United Irish League leader William O’Brien melodramatically resigning ‘for the fifty sixth time’ and declaring ‘war on everybody’, and a maniacal-looking Edward Carson (with a Union Jack planted in his head) waving a rifle and shouting ‘God Save the King’ as he refuses to tolerate a future under ‘Home Rule, or the Pope’.
Readers wishing to learn more about an artist described by Countess Markievicz as ‘a bit of a genius’ are welcome to consult my Artist of the Revolution (Mercier Press, 2012). This short volume features several dozen labour, suffrage and nationalist cartoons by Kavanagh from the four years leading up to his death by sniper fire during the early stages of the 1916 Easter Rising.—Yours etc.,

NUI Galway

Because it was a Kavanagh cartoon I assumed (incorrectly) that it must have been from the Irish Worker (although I was puzzled at the absence of a date). The mistake was mine and not the author’s, John White, who got it from the same source, Dublin City Library and Archive, Pearse Street—Ed.


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