Troubled Images: Posters 1-10
Posters from an exhibition drawn from the Linen Hall Library's Northern Ireland Political Collection
Throughout the Northern Ireland political conflict, 'poster politics' have adorned countless gable walls and lampposts as the key political parties used graphics and visuals to voice their message to the people on the streets.
CultureNorthernIreland is pleased to be able to bring you a selection of 25 posters spanning the 30 years of the Northern Ireland conflict and peace process. The posters are a selection of the 70 posters which feature in the Troubled Images exhibition, compiled from the Linen Hall Library's Northern Ireland Political Collection. Posters 1-10 follow below:
1. Remember Derry - People’s Democracy, 1974 This killing by the Parachute Regiment of 13 unarmed civil rights demonstrators in Derry on ‘Bloody Sunday’ in 1972 was to remain a deep-seated grievance for Nationalists and Republicans, one exacerbated by the Widgery Tribunal, which largely exonerated the troops. This second anniversary response by Sean O’Toole had only limited circulation in England, but, in a powerful use of silk-screen technique, reflected continuing anger. The black background becomes the black of hollow eye sockets. The skulls are piled high, speaking of holocaust, although the dead were buried separately. Only with the launch of the Saville Inquiry in 1998 did closure seem possible.
2. Vote Yes: It's the Way Ahead - Yes Campaign, 1998 The Yes Campaign was created solely to advocate a ‘yes’ vote in the May referendum on the Belfast Agreement. It adopts here the modern road furniture already used by other political parties. Just as too many signs confuse, the triple repetition of the ‘yes’ message loses rather than gains effect. The campaign was handicapped by the, at best, uneasy alliance of parties favouring a ‘yes’ vote. The contrast with the easy ‘no’ dynamic of anti-Agreement Unionists was evident. In the event, 71.1% voted ‘yes’ in the referendum. Exit polls suggested that 55% of Protestants favoured the Agreement.
3. The Long March: Londonderry-Portadown - The Long March Committee,
1999 Unionists assume the victimhood once the preserve of Nationalists. Anonymous marchers against a blood red sky are led by a man carrying a bouquet to plant on the graves of the dead. Widows and orphans follow. The ‘Long March’ claimed individual Catholic support, but primarily reflected the alienation of sections of the ‘Protestant and Unionist population’ who felt betrayed by the Good Friday Agreement—those seeing themselves as ‘the innocent victims of terrorism’. The march proceeded without bands and banners via predominantly Unionist towns, concluding on 4 July in Portadown, the focal point of Orange protests over
marching rights at Drumcree.
4. The Parade of Innocence - Co-ordinating Group on Miscarriages of
Justice, 1989 A caricature of a blood-spattered British judge, in the tradition of Judge Jeffreys, ‘the hanging judge’. This highlighted the campaign against miscarriages of justice in British courts in relation to Irish cases. The ‘Parade’ at the foot features the cases of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four—jailed in 1975 for bloody pub bombings—with the Winchester Three—jailed in 1988 for plotting to kill the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. This December 1989 Dublin demonstration coincided with the release of the Guildford Four, and by June 1991, all other defendants had been acquitted.
5. Stop Strip-Searches, 1984 The full-size pen and ink original of this came from Dublin artist Oisin Breatnach, and required no elaboration. The powerful unspoken message, and one
spelt out in a campaign leaflet, was that ‘strip searching is legalised rape’. Controversy developed following the arrival of women remand prisoners in 1982, as a result of the supergrass trials. Remand prisoners were routinely searched going to and from court. By 1984, it was alleged that an average of 24 women had been strip searched 1,899 times in two years. Concern over the issue extended beyond a purely Republican constituency to the radical wing of the women’s movement.
6. Dublin is just a Sunningdale Away - Ulster Unionist Party, 1974 The division in the road, with signposts pointing in opposite directions, has a long poster pedigree, stretching back within a dissenting tradition to John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. John Laird designed this Ulster Unionist Party response to the December 1973 Sunningdale Agreement for the February 1974 Westminster elections. The agreement had provided for a power-sharing executive, and, crucially, a Council of Ireland—hence the threat of ‘Dublin’ rule evoked here. By February, Brian Faulkner, though leader of the new Executive, had lost the support of his party, and an anti-agreement Unionist coalition triumphed in the election, winning 11 out of 12 seats.
7. Bobby Sands - Sinn Féin, 1981 Bobby Sands achieved worldwide attention as the 1981 hunger strike leader. He was the first to die after 66 days. The poster uses a 1976 prison snapshot as a counterblast to security force mug shots. As each fast commenced, 2,000 posters were rushed out in a night. Posters during the failed 1980 hunger strike used black type on a white background; these used white on black, with funereal effect. Sands’ April election as MP for Fermanagh-South Tyrone brought the hunger strike into dramatic focus, and was to foreshadow Sinn Féin’s wider electoral intervention. His funeral in May was attended by 100,000.
8. Whiles the Richt Wurd is 'Naa' - United Unionists, 1998 A new variation on ‘Ulster says no’ campaigning by Unionists emerged in the 1998 campaign against the Belfast Agreement. Here, the Ulster-Scots language is used to argue that ‘Sometimes the right word is no’. The parallel with the use of the Irish language by Sinn Féin is obvious, and after the 1994 and 1997 cease-fires, competition in this cultural sphere was to increase. This poster was one of a series, with the others in English, in the ‘Have a heart for Ulster’ campaign. This was largely devised by Cedric Wilson, then of the United Kingdom Unionist Party. The heart-shaped Union Jack also appeared as a pin badge.
9. All Party Peace Talks Now - Sinn Féin, 1995 Despite the sea change in approach suggested by the IRA cease-fire of September 1994, the image in this 1995 Sinn Féin poster is of the traditional school—simply the ‘united’ island of Ireland on a suitably national green background. Thus, those who supported ‘all party peace talks’ would be supporting the creation of a united Ireland. It was a poster more likely to rally Sinn Féin’s own constituency than to enthuse others across the political divide. In 1995, the question of where all-party talks might lead remained entirely abstract. Protracted delays, and a breakdown in the IRA cease-fire in early 1996 were to intervene, and all-party talks including Sinn Féin did not take place until September 1997.
10. Smash Stormont - People’s Democracy, 1969 Silk-screen poster, designed by John McGuffin, and using techniques picked up in Paris in May 1968. Produced during the serious disturbances of August 1969, it was the first poster to advocate the abolition of the Stormont parliament. Here a red hand, either the red hand of Ulster or the clenched fist of solidarity, smashes the neo-classical seat of Unionist government for the previous 50 years. Within the disparate radical alliance of the People’s Democracy, McGuffin was an anarchist and, accordingly, favoured smashing all states. As the Northern Ireland crisis deepened, the proposition had a particular local impact.
Text (c) Linen Hall Library