Shemus Cartoons from the Freeman's Journal

December 2009 - February 2010

The Shemus cartoons were published in the Freeman’s Journal newspaper between 1920 and 1924. Described in Dáil Éireann in 1923 as ‘artistic bombs’, they provide a remarkably hard-hitting commentary on events of that period. During the War of Independence, they targeted the increasingly brutal nature of British rule in Ireland. They later attacked the new government of Northern Ireland and the republicans who opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. The cartoonist was an Englishman, Ernest Forbes (1879-1962), afterwards a successful artist in London and in his native Yorkshire.

Shemus CartoonShemus Cartoon

In December 2006, the National Library of Ireland acquired an archive of about 280 items by Forbes, mostly original drawings of Shemus cartoons. The archive has the originals of over three-quarters of the published cartoons, together with about 30 more that appear never to have been published. Three of the cartoons are in watercolour; the rest are pen-and-ink drawings in black and white, with often a little shading in blue crayon. The archive includes, in addition, approximately 25 lithographic prints and magazine clippings of Shemus cartoons, some original caricature portraits of notable persons also signed with the Shemus monogram, and original drawings of other cartoons by Forbes which he signed as ‘Cormac’.

This exhibition accompanies the publication of Terror and Discord: the Shemus cartoons in the Freeman’s Journal, 1920-1924 (A&A Farmar, 2009) by Felix M. Larkin, vice-chairman of the National Library of Ireland Society, and which is published in association with the National Library of Ireland. Terror and Discord is available to purchase in the Library bookshop priced €14.99.

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NLI Reference: CLON55
NLI Reference: CLON55
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