Sunday, October 15, 2017

Gordon Brewster and Gender Equality

Original in National Library
Click on any image for a larger version

I have been doing blog posts on the various themes which appear in the cartoons of Gordon Brewster, at least in those nearly 500 cartoons in the National Library of Ireland's collection.

It struck me to wonder if there was much on gender equality astir in that period, 1922-32, so I had a look. I could only come up with two cartoons which specifically referenced this subject, but it further struck me that it might be worth extending my quest to looking at how women are portrayed in the collection.

The cartoon above, from 1925, seems to be ultra-male in its subject matter but this hides its major significance for gender equality at the time. The cartoon refers to the passing of the Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Bill by a slim majority in Dáil Éireann. In other words it just got barely over the line.

But it is in the reason why such a bill was necessary that the heart of the gender issue lies. The Civil Service was recruiting for clerk typists and customs officers. The Government wanted only female typists and only male customs officers. The rationale was, apparently, that mixed typing pools were not the thing, and anyway the women would be cheaper to employ, and, customs officers needed a combination of bulk and testosterone in case they got attacked by ungallant smugglers on the border.

However, existing legislation did not permit gender discrimination in the recruitment process so the law had to be changed.

This second cartoon refers to the situation in the UK in 1928. It features the then British prime minister Stanley Baldwin being cornered by a woman advocate of universal female suffrage.

The Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Bill, which was introduced a month after the cartoon appeared, became law on 2 July 1928. This statute is sometimes informally known as the Fifth Reform Act or the Equal Suffrage Act.

This act widened suffrage by giving the vote to all women over 21 years old, regardless of property ownership. Prior to this act only women over 30 years of age who met minimum property qualifications could vote.

Similar provision was made for the Parliament of Northern Ireland by the Representation of the People Act (Northern Ireland) 1928 (18 & 19 Geo V, Ch 24 (NI).

The United Kingdom general election held on Thursday 30 May 1929 was often referred to as the "Flapper Election" as it was the first election in which women aged 21 or over were allowed to vote, under the provisions of the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928.

Women in the Irish Free State already had this right since 1922.

And so we pass on to the depiction of women generally in the collection.

The collection has some resonances of the old British seaside penny postcards which tended to portray women at the extremes. The cartoon above might equate, mutatis mutandis, with the more desirable female image though the seaside version would normally be more generously endowed.

Then you had the seriously over-endowed wife or mother in law version. Here she brings her considerable weight to bear on the over-burdened tax payer in the interest of the longer term viability of the state.

Many of the other representations of women in the collection simply reflect prevailing social attitudes. The cartoon above, whatever about its precise context, depicts the stay-at-home rear-the-children mother.

Not forgetting having the babies who can be produced for the entertainment and pride of the father outside of office hours.

I should probably remark, by way of background here, that Gordon had two children who were effectively raised by himself and the housekeeper as his wife had gone off to England when they were very young. From my contact with his late daughter, Dolores, I gathered that the children adored their father and he them.

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children, she didn't know what to do.
She gave them some broth without any bread;

And whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

Issues of accommodation, discipline and the wise Mammy all all rolled into one.

The irony here is that this cartoon is praising a man for his "womanly" virtues. Michael Hayes was Ceann Comhairle (Speaker) of the Free State Dáil Éireann during its first decade. He is here being praised, on his retirement, for his ability to keep that unruly bunch of children, who are our representatives in the national parliament, in check over that decade.

Then we have the romancing of women in portrayals as victims. In this case it is the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland which is subject to brutal discrimination by the evil loyalist régime.

There are even sexual undertones in some of these representations which only become explicit when visibly censored in responding to the sensibilities of the audience concerned.

The cartoon above (left) is a homage cartoon to the cartoonist Raemaekers who specialised in atrocities by the Germans in Belgium during WWI. Brewster detested the régime in Northern Ireland so, for him, the parallel is relevant.

But he can't transpose the original without covering up the lady's exposed breast in deference to the sensibilities of his readers.

Had he not done so the cartoon might not have passed editorial muster. The sexual overtones in the original, combined with the new cartoon being specifically directed at the person of Lord Craigavon, might just have been a bridge too far.

A more neutral version, where the bound lady represents Irish industry exposed to the ravages of foreign competition, carries on the same theme, but with the male hero, a Taoiseach in shining armour and a kilt, coming to the rescue.

Finally, the business MAN bringing home the bacon, so to speak, emulating the prince in Cinderella. There was still a long way to go before we had typical business WOMEN outside of landladies and sweetshopkeepers.

Saturday, October 14, 2017


Click on any image for a larger version

It's that time of year again, when we think of our distant ancestors and renew our acquaintance with the infinite variety of spooks on the other side.

As usual, my local supermarket, Nolan's of Clontarf, already has a magnificent motley collection lining up for the night. I just couldn't resist sharing them here. They were not all willing to sign release forms but I got a block exemption from the manager on their behalf.


Given the times that are in it we just cannot ignore BREXIT. I'm not sure whether this is a collection for Mrs. May's pension or a rerun of the Referendum. However, when you're down there you can make up your own mind.

Sunday, October 08, 2017


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Raheny Camera Club currently have an exhibition in my local (Raheny) library. It is well worth a visit and there are some lovely photos on display.

But I just wanted to draw attention to one aspect of the exhibition in this post, and that is the number of photos of the iconic ESB Pigeon House Chimneys.

While they are quite ugly, it was clearly the right decision not to demolish them when the plant was decommissioned. They have become a Dublin icon over time.

A welcoming sight as you approach the city by sea or by air. And their status is underlined by the extent to which they are photographed from all angles and in all shades of lighting.


Fionn Mac Cumhaill
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The occasion was the launch of a book, Fear na Rosann, about "Fionn" Mac Cumhaill. It took place in The Old Music Shop Restaurant on Dublin's northside on 5 October 2017.

And here we have to pause to sort out what might otherwise become serious confusion in the mind of the reader.

There are three Fionn Mac Cumhaills in this story.

First is the ancient and mythical Fionn Mac Cumhaill, leader of the Fianna (no relation to Fianna Fáil, or to Sinn Féin for that matter). You can follow Fionn's exploits here, but do make sure to come back to read the rest of this post.

The second Fionn Mac Cumhaill is Mánas, subsequently christened Fionn for his agility. He is the subject of the book and we'll hear more about him anon.

The third Fionn Mac Cumhaill, in the image above, is the son of Mánas and the only really genuine one as he had the name from birth and is known not only to have existed but is thankfully still with us. It is he who, with Nollaig Mac Congáil conceived and produced the book.

Distinguishing between these three presents me with a problem which I am solving in the following manner. Fionn (1) never existed, Fionn (2) is the subject of the book, and Fionn (3) is hosting the launch.

And the location? The Old Music Shop Restaurant is a new restaurant but an old music shop. Those of us who attended Coláiste Mhuire across the road, and a host of musicians in Dublin and throughout the country, will remember it as Walton's Music Shop. It even used to have a sponsored programme all of its own on Radio Éireann.

Bertie Ahern

Guest speaker of the night was former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, very much in his role of Northside Taoiseach (with apologies to Phoenix). But there was a lot of sense to that as Bertie gave us the background to Fionn's (3) efforts to rejuvenate this relatively neglected part of the city and of his philanthropic and civic spirited role in supporting the area's institutions.

Bertie did make the point that he himself could take no credit for Fionn's achievements as he did not manage to get the area designated for development or for tax purposes.

Eithne Ní Ghallchobhair

The book was launched by Donegal scholar, Eithne Ní Ghallchobhair. Eithne gave us a most informative and wonderfully entertaining talk in lilting Donegal Irish. She gave us a potted rundown on Fionn (2) the man and his views, throwing a few of her own into the mix as well.

She made it clear that shyness was not one of Fionn's characteristics.
Bhí tuairimí s'aige féin aige - tuairimí láidre - agus nuair a thoisigh sé ag scríobh ní raibh drogal ar bith air a chuid tuairimí a nochtadh dá lucht léitheoireachta go lom, neamhbhalbh, soiléir agus i dtólamh i dteange na ndaoine.
Fionn (2) was a great advocate of the Irish language, but the language as she was spoken by native speakers with all its rhythms and natural richness. He distinguished three types of Irish: the native, the learned, and
ar an drochuair don Ghaeilig - tá Gaeilig Bhaile Átha Cliath ... Buíochas don Rí, tá Gaeilig i gCúige Uladh, agus míle buíochas do Dhia go bhfuil daoine sa Chúige céanna nach ngéileann don dream a bhfuil Gaeilig Bhaile Átha Cliath acu, agus nach dtabharann faic na fríde d'aird ar na daoine atá chomh mí-ionraic sin go bhféachfadh siad le cur i gcéill do dhaoine go bhfuil Gaeilig acu nuair atá a fhios acu féin nach bhfuil.
Full marks for calling out the hypocrites, shysters and tokeneers, though I have to admit that my own Irish is of the Dublin variety and, much as I admire an fhoirm tháite of the Kerry Irish which was the caighdeán in my day, I never really mastered it.

I do, however, share Eithne's nostalgia for the tuiseal tabharthach and have only recently remarked on this myself.

Nollaig Mac Congáil

Nollaig's book is well structured. The first part deals with Fionn (2) the man, his circumstances and his views. The second part consists of Fionn's own writings from various sources, mainly the Derry Journal and the Irish Press. There is also an inventory of his output insofar as it can be ascertained.

What has struck me so far as I read the book is the unbelievable material poverty of the Rosses. This appears to have become acute after the famine and with the splitting up of holdings through inheritance so that they became progressively smaller and smaller and totally unable to support their owners and their families. This led to families being farmed out to the richer farmers elsewhere in Donegal and eventually in Scotland. These people were treated worse than animals. Liam Hogan will have my blood if I mention slavery but Nollaig does. However this is a metaphor and what is involved is more like indentured seasonal labour but with possibly less rights than their comparators in the Carribbean.

Yet, out of this abject poverty and oppression came some fine literature and, of course, the nation, and subsequently the State, was relying on these people as the source for the preservation of the Irish language and its restoration as a national vernacular.

A few things struck me from what Nollaig said and from that part of his book that I have read so far.

Starting school was the first contact most of the children had with the English language and this for them then meant missing out on their own native heritage. As adults, many of them were in a position to, and did, devour the English language newspapers from cover to cover to the extent that they ended up knowing more about what was going on in the world than their betters. And many among them succeeded in nurturing and spreading their own Gaelic culture in spite of the powerful influence of the English language.

And the small matter of formality in grammar and phonetics. Nollaig reproduces one of Fionn's (2) experiences in Coláiste Uladh in Gortahork.
Bhí trácht ar fhoghraíocht ar an Choláiste, más ea. Agus tá tréan cuimhne agam ar an chéad léacht a chuala mé fá fhoghraíocht. D'inis an t-ollamh dúinn go raibh R caol i Máire agus go raibh srónacht in Anna. Ní luaithe a dúirt an t-ollamh a méid sin ná gur bhuail truaigh mé féin. Ní raibh aithne agam ar cheachtar den bheirt a luaigh sé. Ní raibh a fhios agam cé iad féin agus bhí truaigh agam dóibh. Shíl mé gur aicíd choimhthíoch inteacht abhí ar Mháire agus shíl mé gur goncach abhí Anna. Ach chomh luath is a thoisigh an t-ollamh a dh'inse dúinn fán áit gur chóir don teangaigh a bheith nuair a bhéadh duine ag rá na n-ainmneach sin, tháinig athrú ar mo dhearcadh. Agus b'éigean dom a ghabháil ag gáirí nuair a chonaic mé an mhórchuid den rang ag cur cáranna ortha féin agus iad ag iarraidh R caol a chur i Máire agus srónacht in Anna. Thiocfadh leat gáire a dhéanamh ar an Cholaiste agus ní bheadh aon duine míshásta leat.
He also notes the absence of snobbery in the Coláiste.
Ni raibh dréimire an ghalántais taobh istigh nó taobh amuigh den Choláiste.

I'm looking forward to reading the rest of this most interesting book with its insights into times past, some of the problems of which are still with us in one form or another.

Fionn Mac Cumhaill (3)

Finally, Fionn (3) himself gave us his recollections of his father and of how much he appreciates him to this day. He felt his father would have been proud to have had a former Taoiseach launch a book about him.

Incidentally, it is amazing how things turn out sometimes, and this is me speaking.

Fionn (2) was born in Leitir Catha in the Rosses and my father in law was born a mere five miles down the road in Meenbannad. Both men's fathers had built a bare dwelling on the top of a hillside on the poorest of poor land. Switch the scene to Dublin many years later and my father in law was teaching Fionn (3) in St. Aidan's. Rotha Mór an tSaoil ag casadh ar bhealaí nach mbeifeá ag súil leo.

Presentation: Elrington Ball's History of County Dublin

As a mark of gratitude for his night's work, and maybe more besides, Fionn (3) presented Bertie with a fine six volume set of Elrington Ball's History of the County Dublin, assuring him that Drumcondra had its due of coverage in it.

Nollaig, Eithne, Fionn (3)

There was another more active photographer present on whose back I piggied to snap this formal lineup.

Fionn (3) and Marie

It was mentioned that Fionn (3) and Marie had been together forty years this year. Congratulations.

Some further few pictures from the night below.

Bertie & Nollaig

Fionn (3) & Michael Tutty

The Munster Delegation - Agallamh na Seanóirí
Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh, Jim McMahon, Cathal Cavanagh

The local Parish Priest
who blessed the new premises and the congregation at large

Fionn (3) signing the book

De Buke