by Grace Hall, photography student at DIT

I have just completed my third year as a student of photography at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT). The course includes not only the practice of photography, in addition to its theoretical and cultural contexts, but also the study of the archive as it relates to photography especially in terms of history. As the DIT photography course is situated in the same building as the National Photographic Archive (NPA) in Temple Bar, it has a close and significant relationship with the Archive both physically and philosophically.

The work that I carried out at the NPA was completed in fulfilment of the Stage 3 module ‘Archiving in Context’, and this module is run in conjunction with the NPA. The work I undertook offered an opportunity for me to learn about preservation methodologies and the cataloguing of photographic collections, with particular emphasis on the place of the photographic print.

Fergus Bourke died aged 70 in October 2004, after a long career as a renowned Irish photographer. There were some 494 prints in his studio and his widow offered these prints to the NPA.  On receipt by the NPA the prints had all been inserted into Mylar preservation sleeves and placed in 8 drawers, but had not been sorted, listed or catalogued, and so there was no real order as to how they were stored.  I started with the prints in one of the drawers, checking the front and reverse of each print and entering the details on to the database. (It was quite slow work as I had to wear cotton gloves when handling the prints, but could not type in them with the result that the gloves were on and off for every print!)

The Pickaroon
The Pickaroon, Dublin, 1966 by Fergus Bourke

The majority of these Fergus Bourke prints are large, approximately 500 x 400mm. There are many different types of prints, some of street scenes, some of people, and some landscapes. Some of the images have titles, such as The Pickaroon above, a copy of which is one of seven Fergus Bourke images held by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  Most are untitled and appear, from their condition, to be work/test prints.  Only a few are signed. Most of the prints in this drawer are either street documentary or landscape, one of the most famous being The Banshee’s Grotto below.

I completed the detailed entry of the contents of this one drawer of 56 images on to the database.  However, due to the limited number of hours available for the work (since the module only covered one semester), it was impossible to carry out a detailed survey of all the images. In consultation with the NPA, I decided to do a second detailed survey of one other drawer. This one contained 2 boxes of A4 portraits of people. These prints are portraits of actors, politicians, and celebrities taken in the years 1984-1991, whom Fergus Bourke had photographed with a family member, and then published in a book entitled Kindred.

Banshee's Grotto
The Banshee’s Grotto, Connemara by Fergus Bourke

As there was only time in this ‘Archiving in Context’ module for the detailed listing of two drawers out of the eight, I then carried out a brief exploratory survey of the remaining six drawers. What became clear during this survey is that there are multiple copies of Fergus Bourke images scattered throughout the drawers, and that these images fall into roughly four categories: the early street documentary images of the 1960s such as The Pickaroon; the series of Kindred portraits from the 1980s; twenty four images from his two decades as official photographer of the Abbey Theatre; and his Wicklow and Connemara landscapes such as the The Banshee’s Grotto.

Due to the discovery of multiple copies of many of the images, it was decided in consultation with NPA staff that before any more detailed cataloguing of the collection was undertaken, it would, with the exception of the Kindred portraits, be necessary to re-sort the images, placing all copies of each image together. This helps to give staff at the NPA a better idea of exactly what is contained in the Fergus Bourke Collection.

Untitled, 1968 by Fergus Bourke

I found this collection amazing since it brought back so many memories of Ireland throughout my life. The Connemara images resonated very strongly with me, since this is a place I have returned to again and again and have also photographed many times.

The work involved was painstaking, but never dull.  I never knew what I would find when I checked out an image since many had scribbled notes, drawings, plans, poetry on the reverse in Fergus Bourke’s handwriting. Also the work prints with their stains and marks all made him seem very alive to me. These marks brought home to me the importance of retaining the material image in any archive. Digitisation is great for showing the contents of an archive, but it is the material artefact with all its imperfections that carries the history of the image.

Dancing at Lughnasa
A scene from Dancing at Lughnasa at the Abbey Theatre by Fergus Bourke

My time working in the National Photographic Archive was a truly rewarding one. The work was of a very practical nature, and what was also very interesting was learning about the work of the NPA in its wider sense, i.e. education and outreach. In particular, I liked the investigative aspect of the work. I found the ‘Archiving in Context’ module to be very rewarding and it brought alive for me the importance of an archive such as the NPA to the preservation of cultural heritage, while giving me a greater knowledge of the work involved in the creation and maintenance of such a photographic archive. I also became more fully aware of the financial constraints that exist in acquiring, storing and renovating archived objects.

In agreement with the NPA I will be spending some time over the summer sorting the rest of the Fergus Bourke Collection and completing a detailed catalogue.


by Felix M. Larkin, vice-chair of the NLI Society and member of the NLI’s statutory Readers Advisory Committee. His book Terror and Discord: The Shemus Cartoons in the Freeman’s Journal, 1920–1924 was published by A&A Farmar in 2009

In December 2006 the National Library of Ireland acquired some 250 original drawings of the Shemus cartoons that appeared in the Freeman’s Journal between 1920 and 1924, the final years of that old and distinguished Irish newspaper. They have now been digitised and are available to view on the NLI’s online catalogue.

These cartoons are remarkably hard-hitting comments on the events of this bitterly contested period in Irish history. Up to the truce of July 1921, which led on to the Anglo-Irish Treaty in the following December, the main thrust of the cartoons was to react to the increasingly brutal nature of British rule in Ireland. Thereafter, they targeted principally the new government of Northern Ireland and the anti-Treaty elements in the new Irish Free State.

The cartoons complemented the Freeman’s editorial policy at that time, and the fact that the newspaper saw itself as an important player in the unfolding events is evident in the cartoons. For instance, the cartoon entitled ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ (published 3 April 1921) reflects the Freeman’s self-image as a bulwark against the British government and the excesses of the British military forces in Ireland during the War of Independence.

Under the Greenwood Tree by Shemus.

Under the Greenwood Tree by Shemus. NLI ref. PD 4309 TX 76

This cartoon depicts Lloyd George and Sir Hamar Greenwood, respectively the British prime minister and the chief secretary for Ireland. The title of the cartoon links Greenwood’s surname with a readily recognisable passage from Shakespeare’s As You Like It – ‘Under the greenwood tree, / Who loves to lie with me’. Greenwood is thus the tree against which Lloyd George lies, his left foot holding down a copy of the Freeman – and the message is that the Freeman’s fearless reporting is frustrating the efforts of both Lloyd George and Greenwood to cover up the truth about British policy in Ireland.

Shemus the cartoonist was Ernest Forbes (1879–1962), an Englishman who had come to Ireland to join the Freeman’s staff in 1920. He was later a noteworthy landscape artist and portrait painter in London and in his native Yorkshire. He used a number of pseudonyms in his long career, and even ‘Ernest Forbes’ was a contrivance: his full name was Ernest Forbes Holgate and he dropped the surname when signing his work. In 1927 he changed his name by deed poll to Ernest Forbes. The pseudonym ‘Shemus’ was exclusive to the Freeman’s Journal.

When Forbes joined the Freeman’s Journal in 1920, the paper’s principal proprietor was Martin Fitzgerald – a rambunctious figure, who had founded a firm of wine merchants in Dublin and was prominent in the commercial and sporting life of the city in the early years of the last century. His main sporting interest was horse-racing. An associate of his in horse-racing circles was R. Hamilton Edwards, a retired British journalist who had once worked with Lord Northcliffe in London but was now living in Ireland. Fitzgerald and Edwards jointly purchased the Freeman’s Journal in October 1919. It had been the semi-official organ of the Irish Party at Westminster since Parnell’s time. Accordingly, after the 1918 General Election and Sinn Fein’s triumph over that earlier nationalist tradition, it lost its raison d’être and was forced into liquidation some weeks before its purchase by Fitzgerald and Edwards.

It is likely that Hamilton Edwards, with his experience and connections in London, recruited Forbes to the Freeman – and the Shemus cartoons are broadly similar in style to cartoons that had been appearing in London newspapers such as the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail, both Northcliffe publications. Forbes retained an essentially British mindset throughout his sojourn in Ireland. His work for the Freeman during the War of Independence mirrored the British liberal critique of British policy in Ireland, a critique based principally on what British journalists were reporting from Ireland. He was at his best when treating of his Irish subject matter from the perspective of British politics and focusing on British politicians. A good example is the cartoon entitled ‘The Carson Kids’ (published 19 November 1920).

The Carson Kids.

The Carson Kids by Shemus. NLI ref. PD 4309 TX 52

This is one of only three Shemus cartoons in the National Library’s collection to have been finished in watercolour. Lloyd George and Greenwood are portrayed as children clutching Sir Edward Carson’s apron strings. The implication is that, with Lloyd George dependent on the support of the Conservative Party to continue in office, Carson can dictate British policy in Ireland.

Lloyd George, Greenwood and Carson also feature in the next cartoon reproduced here. It marks the introduction of partition under the Government of Ireland Act 1920, and is entitled ‘The Six Counties’ (published 28 May 1921). The first elections to the new parliament of Northern Ireland had just taken place. In the cartoon, the six counties of Northern Ireland are denoted by bubbles blown from Sir Edward Carson’s toy pipe. Sir James Craig, the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, is borne aloft on top of the bubbles, while Lloyd George and Greenwood look on from a distance.

The Six Counties.

The Six Counties by Shemus. NLI ref. PD 4309 TX 80

The Freeman’s support for the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 was generally regarded, even on the pro-Treaty side, as unduly partisan. It was marked by intemperate editorials, the suppression of anti-Treaty manifestos and speeches, and a series of notably malevolent cartoons attacking the anti-Treatyites with all the venom previously directed against the British authorities. The most notorious of these cartoons ‘Giving him his lines’ (published 10 February 1922) caricatures Éamon de Valera as the somewhat demented mouthpiece of his close associate, Erskine Childers.

Giving him his lines.

Giving him his lines by Shemus. NLI ref. PD 4309 TX 104

This cartoon appeared shortly after the Treaty had been ratified and de Valera had resigned as President of the Dáil Éireann executive. In the cartoon, Dev is arrayed in the ermine-edged robe of a peer – implying a disdain for democracy. He also holds the French revolutionary ‘Liberty Cap’, the bonnet rouge. In the caption to the cartoon, Childers says to Dev: ‘That’s fine. They fit you as well as ever – all except the cap. Now, don’t forget to say it exactly as I told you’.

Ireland’s gradual descent into civil war later in 1922 occasioned what is probably the best of all the Shemus cartoons – for, in addition to the punch that it packs, it is a most accomplished and skilful piece of drawing. It was published on 26 April 1922, shortly after the occupation of the Four Courts in Dublin by armed anti-Treatyites – the prelude to the outbreak of the civil war. Entitled ‘It Means Nothing to Them’, the caption has one of the gunmen in the foreground asking ‘What’s all the noise?’ to which the second replies ‘Don’t worry. It’s only the voice of the unarmed people’. The ‘unarmed people’ can be seen in the bottom left-hand corner of the cartoon.

It Means Nothing to Them.

It Means Nothing to Them by Shemus. NLI ref. PD 4309 TX 118

The unambiguous message of this cartoon is that armed resistance to the Treaty, represented by the skilfully drawn gunmen, flouts majority opinion in Ireland. The building in the background is the Bank of Ireland in College Green, Dublin, the seat of the last Irish parliament before the Act of Union of 1800.

The Shemus cartoon that resonates most with us today is the one that appeared in the Freeman after the death of Michael Collins (published 24 August 1922). It shows the female figure of Erin – and she is prostrate with grief at his death. The broken column is a traditional symbol for a life cut short, and each column in the cartoon bears the name of an Irish leader whose aims were not realised because of his untimely death. Collins is the latest in a line that includes Arthur Griffith, Charles Stewart Parnell, Daniel O’Connell and others. Their broken columns mark out  ‘Ireland’s Via Dolorosa’, which is the title of the cartoon.

Via Dolorosa

Via Dolorosa by Shemus. NLI ref. PD 4309 TX 145

The Shemus cartoons continued to appear in the Freeman until it ceased publication in December 1924. Forbes then returned to London, where he worked on the London Evening News and also contributed caricatures to the Illustrated London News. He moved back to Yorkshire in the 1930s, and wrote a long series of pictorial articles for the Yorkshire Post on the cities, towns and villages of Yorkshire and the ordinary people of the county – using his own drawings. To quote his obituarist in the Yorkshire Post, in these articles Forbes ‘proved himself as much an artist in words as with the pencil’. With the success of this series, he was able to give up work for newspapers and concentrate on oil painting, particularly landscapes. Bizarrely, in 1946 he suffered severe head injuries and fractured ribs when attacked by a bull while painting in a field. He died in February 1962, aged 82.

In 1923 the Freeman’s Journal boasted that the Shemus cartoons ‘will not easily fade from public memory … [and] are amongst the most notable productions in the history of the cartoonist’s art’. That may be an extravagant claim, but the cartoons certainly did light up the pages of the Freeman between 1920 and 1924. With the National Library’s digitisation of the original drawings of these cartoons in its collection, it is likely that they will again become well known – deservedly so, for they are eminently suitable for use as illustrations in academic and other studies of the period. To quote Hamlet, they are ‘abstracts and brief chronicles of the time’.


Last October, the Labour Party donated its archive to us here at the National Library. This fascinating collection reaches right back to the Party’s foundation in 1912. Project archivist, Ross Higgins, is currently working on this important archive and will be posting about items he finds…

by Ross Higgins, Project Archivist

The More Things Change…

Dick Spring for Taoiseach

Dick Spring for Taoiseach from the Labour Party Archive

Here’s a Labour Party lapel sticker from the 1992 general election. During the campaign Dick Spring TD (who was then leader of the Labour Party) was hoping for Labour to make a breakthrough and become one of the two largest parties in the Dáil. In the course of that campaign they adopted the slogan ‘Dick Spring for Taoiseach’ shown on this sticker, with the Labour Party emblem of the rose. Eamon Gilmore TD and Labour leader used this same slogan in the 2011 General Election.

100 Years A-Waiting

Labour Party Annual Reports

100 years of Labour Party Annual Reports

Ever wondered what a hundred years of annual reports looks like? Don’t answer that! – Have a look at 100 years of the Labour Party’s Annual Reports stacked in my office at the National Library of Ireland. Unusually among Irish political parties, Labour produced these reports to put before its conferences each year, thus keeping up a tradition the party had inherited from the Irish Congress of Trades Unions (ICTU). The reports run from 1914 to 2011 and will provide a wealth of information to researchers interested in aspects of Labour history including minutes of conferences and meetings; Labour’s stance during the Irish Civil War and World War Two; along with details of scores of individuals involved in the Labour movement in Ireland.

Small records often start big things…

Nomination Form

2007 nomination form for deputy leadership of the Labour Party

Here’s a copy of Joan Burton’s (current Minister for Social Protection) nomination form to become Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. The election took place in September 2007 where she ran against the current Minister of State for Housing Jan O’Sullivan TD. We can see from the form she was nominated by fellow TDs Brian O’Shea from Waterford and Joanna Tuffy, who represents the Dublin Mid-West constituency.