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The 'Irish card' in the 1885-86 general elections

A cartoon, 'The General election Game', Weekly Freeman, 28 November 1885

The cartoon


Tories, Lord Salisbury and *Randolph Churchill and Liberals, William Gladstone and Joseph Chamberlain sit around a card table. Parnell (‘the Irish Chief’) is the dealer. Salisbury has been dealt a hand which includes the ‘Irish Vote.’

The election of 1885 has clearly left Parnell’s party in a strong position and this cartoon by John Fergus O’Hea seeks to parody the dilemma in which members of the British political establishment find themselves as they court the support of the Irish Parliamentary Party.


The General Election Game
(The “Irish Chief” has just dealt the Cards.)
The Grand Old Man To “Brum” [Birmingham] Joe [Chamberlain] – “That is a poor hand to ‘go on’ – he must have given those other fellows the Trump Card.”
Randy, to Salisbury – By Jingo! That is a ‘Nap’ [winning] hand. Go on the Irish Card, and you must win.’

Document questions
Description & comprehension
What is happening in the cartoon?
Describe the characters portrayed?
Are there any characters in the cartoon with whom you are unfamiliar?
Interpretation & criticism

Check the date of the cartoon’s publication. To what issue or event is the cartoon referring?
Who is the cartoon aimed at?
What does the caption mean? Is it meant to be humorous or ironic?
Discuss the significance of the term ‘Irish Card’ in the caption.
How does the caption reinforce the cartoon’s primary message? Would you understand the cartoon’s message without the caption?
Does the cartoon clearly convey the desired message?

Wider context
What is the connection between the work of the cartoonist and the campaign for Home Rule?
Comment on the physical appearance of the persons in the cartoon? Is it the cartoonist’s intention simply to poke fun at British politicians?
What can visual texts (such as this cartoon) illuminate that written sources do not reveal?

Taken from

Irish Leaving Certificate History Case Study: The Elections of 1885-86