Irish Ape (Birmingham, 1911)

1.143. George A. Birmingham, The Lighter Side of Irish Life, with Sixteen Illustrations in Colour by Henry W. Kerr, R.S.A., (London and Edinburgh: T.N. Foulis, 1911), pp. 25-26. BL

An extract from George Birmingham, The Lighter Side of Irish Life (1911), on caricatures of the Irish.

Mulligan’s reference to Caliban evokes the traditional caricature of the ‘Irish Ape’, the near disappearance of which – he “lingers on still in the English comic papers” – is discussed in the following passage:

We must, I suppose, believe the artists and caricaturists that the short-headed, snub-nosed, prognathous Irishman was common in the early part of the nineteenth century. He lingers on still in the English comic papers. From Ireland itself he has disappeared. The fact was pointed out to me by an old friend. “When I was young,” he said, “Punch used to represent Irishmen as baboons in knee-breeches and swallow-tailed coats; and the kind of face which Punch exaggerated was to be seen in every fair and gathering of the people. I hardly ever see it now.” I offer no explanation of the change, but the fact is plain. The type of Irish face which could be caricatured into the semblance of a baboon has vanished even more completely than the picturesque dress which the Irish peasant used to wear. You may still see the swallow-tailed coat, chimney-pot hat, and tight knee-breeches on some old man at a wayside railway station. The face which used to be the prevailing type you see no more. And with the face has gone a certain kind of character.