A few years ago, I wrote a rather lengthy post on the satirical print trade in Dublin during the eighteenth and early nineteenth-centuries, and since then I’ve always been interested in any Irish prints that happen to cross my path. I spotted this one in a sale catalogue the other day and thought it was worth writing about.
Daniel O’Connell appears on the left of the image, riding into a cave on the back of a creature with a cat’s head and an ass’s body; a visual pun on the abbreviated name of the Catholic Association, a ‘Cat-Ass’. He waves a paper above his head which is inscribed with a reference to the rout of an army of 50,000 men by the “Great Liberator” and addresses his three companions with the following verse: “Well done – Well done – I like your toil / And every one shall share the spoil / Thus shall your banefull [sic] vapours rise / Like legal dust in Clients Eyes.”
In the centre of the cave, O’Connell’s fellow Catholic Association members are gathered around a large cauldron in the manner of Macbeth’s three witches. They each intone their own rhyme as they attempt to summon up a revolution, the lyrics of which collectively refer to the various strains of popery, criminality, and deception that they hope to visit on the Irish people. Arms and other military stores are stockpiled to their right. The cases engraved with the words “Arms collected by Captain Rock’s faithful soldiers” and “Subscriptions from renegade Protestants. Dawson & Co”. The latter is a reference to George Robert Dawson, Sir Robert Peel’s brother-in-law, who had outraged Irish Protestants by delivering a speech at an Orange Order dinner on 12th August 1828 in which he expressed sympathy for the Catholics plight and urged the audience to accept their emancipation. The rest of the cave is littered with disparaging visual references to Irish nationalism, Catholicism, rebellion, and war.
The print provides a disparaging commentary on O’Connell’s victory in the Clare by-election of 1828. Catholics were barred from holding office as MPs under the terms of the Act of Union of 1801. However, the law did not specifically prohibit them from running for election. By fighting and winning a by-election, O’Connell precipitated an immediate constitutional crisis, forcing the government to choose between violating its own anti-Catholic laws and unconstitutionally disenfranchising Irish voters. As politicians in London struggled to solve this conundrum, the mood in Ireland grew ugly. The Catholic Association began preparing for large-scale public demonstrations against the decision to bar O’Connell from office, whilst Protestant groups also began mobilising for armed confrontation with the Catholic majority. Eventually London, fearing that the country was on the brink of a rebellion, forced an emancipation bill through a reluctant House of Lords, abolishing a raft of discriminatory legislation which dated back to mid-seventeenth-century.
The print was published by Holbrooke & Sons of 15 Anglesea Street, Dublin, in August 1828. This was the firm of John Holbrooke, or Holbrook, an engraver and printer who later went into business with his son William. An early twentieth-century dictionary of Irish artists states that Holbrooke senior was born in 1778 and attended the Dublin Society School (the Irish equivalent of the Royal Academy) from 1790 onwards. His business at 15 Angelsea Street appears in Dublin trade directories for the period from 1815 to 1830 and is consistently described as that of an ‘engraver and copperplate printer’, although all of his surviving works are lithographs rather than copperplate etchings. By 1838, the business had passed into the ownership of William Holbrooke (fl.1828 – 1848) who later relocated it to Grafton Street and Crow Street before emigrating to America.
Like most satirical prints of this era, the image speaks to the political views of middling and upper class consumers drawn predominately from the ranks of Ireland’s Protestant community.