Images of Erin

Published in Issue 4 (Winter 2000), News, News, Volume 8

Throughout history, literary and graphic images of Ireland have taken various female forms. Among many examples are the demure, pure and desirable maiden, complete with harp, who adorned seventeenth-century coins. There’s the eighteenth-century version, a plain looking but smiling Hibernia breast feeding pygmy-sized politicians; other times depicted as part freedom fighter part vestal virgin. There are various mature and motherly nineteenth-century versions—Dark Rosaleen, Cathleen Ní Houlihan and the Shan Van Vocht—to name but a few.

The National Library of Ireland has a wide range of images of this kind. Some of the most interesting are contained in a large collection of nineteenth-century political cartoons, especially those published in the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s, the period during which Charles Stewart Parnell was active in politics. This collection is the source for a new book and accompanying exhibition, Images of Erin in the Age of Parnell, by Perry Curtis (Brown University).
Professor Curtis, a long-time student of political cartoons on both sides of the Irish Sea, revealed the fondness of British and American comic artists for portraying radical Irish nationalists as apemen, or ‘gorilla guerillas’ in his book Apes and Angels: the Irishman in Victorian Caricature (1971). In the present work he focuses on the contrasting roles assigned by Irish nationalist cartoonists to the young and beautiful icon of Ireland known as Erin or Hibernia.
The exhibition will run until February 2001. Enquiries: Sandra McDermott, (01) 6030227.

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