Mischaracterisation and “punching down” of Ulster Protestants is an eery echo of the past 

Back in the 19C, the vituperation in the English press had to be seen to be believed. Around the time of the 150th anniversary of the Irish famine, I had to some research for a short presentation for the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum Punch.

I discovered a huge row going on between the editorial pages of the Belfast News Letter and the Times of London in which the former was taking the latter to task for its ongoing calumny against the character of the people “in the south and west of this country” as being authors of their own misery.

The easy characterisation of the Irish as an uncivilised and simian mob in the pages of Punch is now, thankfully a thing of the long distant past. But May Foster agreement demonstrates that there is still one Irish ‘out group’ that’s still capable of triggering similarly rank caricatures.

Chris McGimpsey in the Bel Tel notes:

To be sure, the cartoonists are no longer as blunt as Punch magazine of a century ago wherein we were always depicted with simian features, shillelaghs and bizarre clothing. Nevertheless, we have received a jolly good thrashing at the hands of the cartoonists.

Inevitably Ulster Protestant males are depicted as evil Orangemen. In one cartoon, four Orangemen – one of them sitting on a large bag marked ‘SWAG’, another one of them a horse – are interrogating a young boy as to his religion.

In a terraced street the Prime Minister is giving bags of money to a large Orangeman in front a mural which includes a Red Hand of Ulster with a £50 price tag. In a car nearby sits a smiling skinhead in a sweatshirt with tattooed arms. Money floats in the air.

All the images stress blackmail money for the over-dressed an overfed Orangemen. One image shows Arlene Foster leaving Downing Street with a large smile and an even larger wheelbarrow filled with money. Theresa May is tied up in Orange collarettes, gagged and with a ball and chain on her leg.

He goes on…

In an open society with a free Press, politicians need to expect criticism, some of it unfair, and the cartoonists play their part in this. But many of these renditions have crossed the line.

The portrayals are vicious and they are not simply of a politician, but of Ulster Protestants in their entirety. This form of art is depressing. And panders to the baser instincts of the readers.

The Belfast bar scene where Guinness is now free forever and the DUP are all lying on the floor in a catatonic state, suggests a lack of knowledge of the average Ulster Protestant, DUP member or supporter. But then everyone knows that we all drink far too much on this island.

Those News Letter editorials came from a time when there was much more of a fellow feeling between the various parts of our island and in the face of unspeakable government callousness of the Russell administration towards an unspeakable human tragedy.

Of course, there’s satire. And it has to live and breathe and get its dig into the egos of politicians who think they are above the rest of us. In this regard, Mark Steel rarely misses and as someone who’s spent actually some time in Ireland, he didn’t this time either:


But this ongoing mischaracterisation and “punching down” of Ulster Protestants has an eery echo to it.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty