British Tabloids’ Cartoon Coverage of the IRA

British Tabloids’ Cartoon Coverage of the IRA

Roseanna Doughty (Edinburgh) discusses how her BAIS bursary allowed her to purchase the copyright for an exciting new journal article.

This week I submitted the revision for my first article, soon to be published in Media History, as part of a special edition on Media Connections between Britain and Ireland. I am so excited, but I am aware that this article would never have happened if it were not for the help I have received from the British Association for Irish Studies. If you will forgive the old cliché, they say a picture is worth a thousand words, but as anyone working on material culture will know they can cost a pretty penny too.

My article investigates the British tabloids’ cartoon coverage of the IRA’s bombing campaign in England during the early 1970s. Scholars have long used pictorial representations to explore the complex relationship between Britain and Ireland, especially during the late twentieth century. Little attention, however, has been given to the cartoon coverage of bomb attacks in English cities. This is in marked contrast with the contemporary media coverage. For the majority of British people, it was not until the IRA bombs were exploding in English cities that the conflict in Northern Ireland came onto their radar. The bombing campaign in England therefore, is hugely significant for understanding how British people understood and reacted to the conflict in Northern Ireland. The humour inherent in cartoons, which enabled the paper to address ideas not easily expressed in written report, gives us a unique insight into contemporary attitudes. You cannot appreciate the full significance of these cartoons, however, without seeing them. The British Association for Irish Studies’ postgraduate bursary allowed me to purchase the copyright licences for a series of cartoons to illustrate my work. Most of these cartoons have not been seen since they were originally published in the newspaper.  

My article highlights how the tabloid press drew on British motifs and Second World War iconography to (re)construct an imagined British community in the face of the IRA threat. The cartoons also indicate a more ambiguous image of the Irish in Britain, simultaneously portraying them as both harbourers and victims of terrorists. In their presentations of the IRA, the British tabloids drew on a wide range of long-established stereotypes of the Irish. Various scholars have rightly observed that the British tabloids resurrected the simian Paddy of the nineteenth century. My article, however, demonstrates that the Daily Mirror and The Sun’s cartoon coverage of the late twentieth-century bombing campaign in England re-employed a variety of motifs common in Victorian cartoon. Ultimately, the article seeks to challenge the widely held view that the press coverage of Northern Ireland simply parroted the British government’s line, to highlight the complex range of views expressed in the newspaper coverage of this period.

Writing the article has been immensely beneficial to my PhD research, which examines British media representations of the Northern Ireland conflict between 1973 and 1997 and how this affected the lived experiences of the Irish in Britain. The article is based on the research that informs in my first chapter, which investigates the British press coverage in the early 1970s and writing it has helped to hone many of my ideas. It will also really help me in pursuing an academic career and will hopefully stand me in good stead for future employment.

We are constantly made aware that it is no longer enough to just finish the PhD. You need to have attended conferences, organised conferences, taught, lectured, run seminar series, and published. Yet all this costs money and PhD students aren’t exactly known for being flush. This is why initiatives such as the BAIS postgraduate bursaries are lifelines for many PhD students. I am incredibly grateful to the BAIS for their generosity, which has allowed me to further my research as well as my career prospects.     

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