Wednesday 21 March 2018

Art of politics: how posters have been taking potshots for 80 years

Cumann na nGaedheal poster which is on view at the exhibition
Cumann na nGaedheal poster which is on view at the exhibition
The party went on to merge with two others to form Fine Gael
Cumann na nGaedheal poster which is on view at the exhibition

Lise Hand

ONE of the more well-worn cliches trotted out by people in power -- attributed to former British prime minister Harold Wilson -- is that "a week is a long time in politics".

And yet, oddly enough, when it comes to the art of electioneering it seems that 80 years is no time at all, judging by an exhibition of Irish political posters from the 1930s which opened in Tiesan Cafe in Dublin 8 yesterday evening.

The exhibition shows a series of Cumann na nGaedheal posters and fliers mainly taken from the 1932 general election -- and include a serious spot of Fianna Fail-bashing.

Cumann na nGaedheal (which a year after its defeat in that election, merged with two other parties to become Fine Gael) didn't pull their punches when it came to taking political potshots at the new party on the block, Fianna Fail, and in particular at its leader, Eamon de Valera.

One poster in the exhibition shows a gold coin bearing a cartoon image of Dev sporting a Roman emperor-style laurel wreath on his head and topped by the slogan, 'Our New Half-Sovereign? Worth its Face Value?'

Another lampoons the leader of Fianna Fail by printing a version of a circus poster advertising 'Devvy's Circus'. It proclaims, hailing 'Senor De Valera: World Famous Illusionist, Oath Swallower and Escapologist' and also mocks future Fianna Fail Taoiseach 'Monsieur' Sean Lemass who it describes as a 'Famous Tightrope Walker'.

And even at the distance of almost eight decades, election campaigning was a dogfight over who had caused the most damage to the Irish economy.


One image which may appear strangely apt for the times that are now in it, excoriates what it reckons is a mountain of national debt racked up by the opposition party.

'Fianna Fail have left us with a bill for £35 million!' it claims, listing off the damage to roads and buildings caused by the 1922 civil war and thundering, 'PEOPLE OF IRELAND! don't be misled today by cant about economy from the man who saddled you with the crushing burden of £35,000,000 in 1922.'

The exhibition of images comes from the private collection of Dr Niall Tierney, whose son Patrick owns Cafe Tiesan.

"He inherited them from my grandfather father Professor Michael Tierney, who was a Cumann na nGaedheal TD and also the son-in-law of Eoin MacNeill," explained Patrick.

With both the presidential election and the Dublin by-election looming next month, there'll be plenty of election posters being hoisted on lamp-posts around the country.

But chances are that they'll be a bit more polite than the mud-slinging posters of times gone by.

Irish Independent

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