Troubled Images: Posters 11-20
Posters selected from the Northern Ireland Political Collection (part 2 of 3)
Troubled Images encapsulates the graphics that have helped to shape Northern Ireland's politics and to punctuate its conflict. Posters 11-20 follow below:
11. Joe McCann: Soldier of the People - Official Sinn Féin, 1972 Silk-screen poster based on a celebrated photograph, which also appeared in Life magazine. It captured the shadowy figure of Official IRA volunteer, Joe McCann, against a backdrop of the blazing Inglis’s bakery. This followed an attack on the British Army near the bakery in Eliza Street in the Markets area of Belfast. A legend within Republican circles, McCann, though unarmed, was shot dead near his home by members of the Parachute Regiment on 15 April 1972. The flag shown is the Starry Plough, originally used by James Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army. McCann would certainly have seen himself within this Republican Socialist tradition.
12. Tufty says Keep Out - Northern Ireland Office, 1978 ‘Tufty’, a familiar squirrel in United Kingdom road safety campaigns, was enlisted for special service in Northern Ireland. Here his role is part of a wider ‘Check on your children’ campaign, designed to keep children out of the clutches of the paramilitaries. Although the ‘very dangerous’ message is not explicit, it is in an alternative adult version in which Tufty is omitted, but we are warned that the ruined buildings ‘may be booby-trapped’. Why the particular angle of these posters? Perhaps to make paramilitaries more identifiable when using derelict buildings. Perhaps to steer attention away from covert Army surveillance operations in them.
13. For God and Ulster - Patrick McGrath, 1960s Silk-screen poster capturing the raw dynamism of the Reverend Ian Paisley as the rising radical other of the Ulster Unionism in the late 1960s. Seen here in his role as a formidable mass orator, he used the slogan ‘For God and Ulster’ employed in the Unionist anti-home rule campaign before the First World War. This was a radicalism that sought to restore presumed past virtues, and in which political Unionism, evangelical Protestantism, and anti-Catholicism were merged. As founder and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, he became the most powerful opponent of all political settlements that included an Irish dimension.
14. Stop the War! - Peace People, Betty Williams, 1976 Betty Williams dominates this Peace People poster; her image, and that of co-founder Mairead Corrigan, became the movement’s message. The Peace People was formed following the deaths of the three children of Anne Maguire (Mairead’s sister) on 10 August 1976. The driver of the IRA getaway car that killed the children also died. The movement held large-scale ‘peace rallies’, and was the first organisation to achieve significant cross-community mobilisation for peace. In 1977, Williams and Corrigan were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. By then the impact of the movement was fading. Betty Williams resigned in 1980, while Mairead Corrigan remains actively involved.
15. Stand Firm! - Social Democratic and Labour Party, 1982 Despite the enthusiastic crowd scene, perhaps from some erstwhile civil rights meeting, or constructed in the designer’s studio, this was a defensive poster from the Social Democratic and Labour Party for the 1982 elections to a new Northern Ireland Assembly. What were they standing firm against? For Nationalists, a Unionist-dominated Assembly offered little prospect of an acceptable constitutional settlement, and the SDLP stood on an abstentionist platform. The crowd scene characterises the party as one of mass mobilisation, and thus well able to repel the unprecedented intervention of Sinn Féin in elections in the aftermath of the 1981 hunger strike. Stand Firm was an appeal to voters not to be swayed by temporary emotion.
16. Does it Matter which Foot you Kick with? - Community Relations Council, 1996 Typical use of Ulster idiom and the confounding of sectarian myth in the professionally produced posters of the government-funded Community Relations Council, established in 1990 as an independent agency to promote better community relations. The myth that Catholics and Protestants use different feet derives from farming; hence to ‘dig with the other foot’ is to be of the other religion. In football, this becomes the individual who ‘kicks with the other foot’. The English design company picked the subverting slogan here, and the CRC’s committee, concerned at appearing to moralise from on high, added the provincial ‘catch yourself on’ message, meaning ‘have some sense’. The poster was originally used in billboard format in 1994, and was re-issued as here for use in leisure centres and to appeal to young people playing five-a-side football to combat racism in 2001.
17. Your Finger on the Dial can take the Finger off the Trigger - Northern Ireland Office, 1972 In August 1972, the RUC introduced the ‘confidential telephone’ to record from the public unattributable information relating to crimes. In the first six months of 1973, the RUC claimed that just under 3,000 calls were received, and by 1974 the Northern Ireland Office was spending £48,000 of its £80,000 advertising budget on this campaign. This poster and similar newspaper masthead advertisements were an all-pervasive feature of the government’s response to the rising tide of violence in the 1970s, and advertisements continued until the 1990s. From the late 1970s onwards, however, the security forces placed greater reliance on the active cultivation of informers in the Loyalist and Republican heartlands.
18. President Clinton: Belfast City Hall - Paula McIlroy, 1995 Poster by local student Paula McIlroy for the switching on of Christmas lights at Belfast City Hall by President Clinton in November 1995. The single candle marks the birth of Christ, but enthusiasm for Clinton’s visit colonises the Christmas message itself, with the red, white and blue of the US flag and Bethlehem’s guiding star replaced by stars representing American states. Appropriately for the occasion, the American five-pointed star becomes six-pointed, as in the star of the Northern Ireland flag. For all the non-politics of the occasion, it became a massive demonstration in favour of making the political peace process work, with 80,000 turning out.
19. Féile An Phobail: West Belfast 1-8 August '93 - Féile An Phobail, 1993 Art foreshadows political development in this Robert Ballagh poster. An Easter lily sprouts from, and splits, a concrete road block representing urban dereliction. The Easter lily is a Christian symbol co-opted by Republicans for those killed in the Easter 1916 Rising. Here, the lily appears as a dove of peace. Behind the concrete block, a Belfast peace line has ‘Vote’ scrawled on it. The poster is significant because the West Belfast Festival was substantially a Sinn Féin initiative. It was established in 1988 to provide an alternative focus to rioting that had habitually marked the 9 August anniversary of internment, and to foster community pride and self-development.
20. Free Speech on Ireland - Campaign for Free Speech on Ireland, 1989 A gagged figure on television, unable to speak into a microphone, the lead of which is already knotted, features in this London poster advertising a benefit concert for the Campaign for Free Speech on Ireland. It was responding to the 1988 broadcasting ban, which excluded paramilitary groups and their supporters from the airwaves. While the technique of silkscreen printing travelled rapidly from the radicalised Paris of May 1968, complete migration of images was rare. This is, however, identical to Information Libre, produced by Atelier Populaire on 27 May 1968 for ‘the strikes of ORTF’. The broadcasting ban was removed shortly after the 1994 IRA cease-fire.
Text (c) Linen Hall Library