Extracts from Pack up your Troubles: 25 Years of Northern Ireland Cartoons by Martyn Turner
[Key_Events] [Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]
The following extracts have been contributed by the author Martyn Turner with the permission of The Blackstaff Press Limited. The views expressed in this section do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.
These extracts are taken from the book:
Pack Up Your Troubles:
Published by The Blackstaff Press Limited
These extracts are copyright Martyn Turner 1995 and are included
on the CAIN site by permission of the author and the publishers. You may not edit, adapt,
or redistribute changed versions of this for other than your personal use
without the express written permission of the author or the publisher, The
Blackstaff Press Limited. Redistribution
for commercial purposes is not permitted.
Martyn Turner, widely travelled artist (he read Geography at Queen's),
once went to Montana to speak to the Ancient Order of Hibernians
in that state. So far were they from this island that some of
them were Protestants. At the end there were questions, one of
which was: 'In Britain, Mr Turner, is there much interest in the
On the other hand there was the Falls Road housewife. A Royal Marine from the west of England, an experienced and travelled sailor and soldier, had arrived in the Falls to help protect her from Protestants. This was in the early days and she handed him one of the famous cups of tea, the last, maybe, that she was to give to an English, Scottish or Welsh soldier for a quarter of a century.
'You must find us difficult to understand,' she said.
You can be too far away to understand or you can be too close. Montana's untravelled Ancient Hibernian was too far away. The untravelled Falls Road housewife was too close. Martyn's genius is that he stands at the right distance. He doesn't even have to screw up his eyes. I think he was born travelled.
For twenty-five years his drawings have been a comfort to Ulster men and women, particularly to the miserable ones. These are the ones who have travelled or have allowed their minds to travel. These are the travellers who never find anywhere more beautiful than Ulster or who would ever wish to live elsewhere. But they remember what the Yugoslavian said years ago, of his beautiful country: 'You are lucky in Ulster: you have only two factions; we have five? These miserable Ulster people are no more unionists or nationalists than they are cowboys or Indians. For them, there is no frontier dispute. These islands are part of Europe now and in any case both London and Dublin are democracies, of which there are only a couple of dozen among the 185 member states of the United Nations. It doesn't matter whether the pillar boxes are red or green or a European post-horn yellow. Don't march, these Ulstermen say. Don't wave flags! Don't paint the kerbstones! Change your mind if you think you're right to do so! And don't worry about your identity and traditions. Remember, it's a small planet now and there are photographs of it taken from the outside. Have a look at one of them and you'll see your identity, and your tradition, waving hopefully at you out of it, smiling even.
No wonder that Martyn's drawings comfort these people. He takes all the nails that bother people and hits them on the head. Lies are a good example, the exasperating fact that violence drives truth out of the window. The cartoon on page 54 shows two identical frames of Mr Gerry Adams talking about reconciliation, democracy and his Protestant brothers. The first is labelled: 'Before Ban . . .Voice of Actor'; the second: 'After Ban ... Also Voice of Actor?
Turner gives Adams the blank face of the leader who suppresses the thought that he might be wrong to deal in violence. He gives the same cold and vacuous face to Dr Paisley and others. But he does not give this face to the brutal henchmen, trapped as they often are in the horrid inequities of the two democracies, conned, you might argue, by all of us. He gives them human faces, childish, domesticated and endearing. Look at the baby provo on page 35, playing with his train set. Look at the two Ulster neo-Nazis in the centre of the cartoon on page 78 with their heavy clubs and covered faces. They are no more than dressed-up children, wondering how naughty they dare be - the one in front, the uncertain leader; the one behind, the little bothered follower.
The cartoon on page 61 shows us the cosy life of the post-ceasefire, retired terrorist. This one reminds me of Pont, the famous Punch artist of the thirties and forties. Like Turner, Pont could draw with exquisite sympathy and wild humour. As one can with Turner, one could gaze for minutes, taking in detail. in Turner's cartoon the retired terrorist is in his armchair, wearing his bedroom slippers. A spherical anarchist's bomb holds a single flower; the alarm clock is still wired to explosives; the gun shares the umbrella stand with the umbrella; and on the hat peg, hung up there like the whistle of a retired umpire, is the balaclava. He sits there, at peace with the world, his duty done, for Britain, or Ireland, or whatever, if anything, he thought he was killing for.
Martyn Turner never loses sight of the victims. The cartoon on
page 53 deals with the right of Sinn Féin/IRA to the airwaves
and the victims' right of reply; and page 5 has a mason inscribing
the tombstones of the victims of a dozen of the world's conflicts.
And he never loses sight of the planetary extent of the nightmare.
His massively solid, skilled and inventive drawings make us laugh
but frighten us as well. Look at page 63. There's a global policy
for you. Above all, look at the cartoon on page 30, a vertiginous
monument to the gallant and exhausted peacemakers of the world.
What can we do, Martyn asks, but laugh at ourselves?
Taking the bus from the airport (£3 Student Standby return from London) was an equally grey experience. The streets reminded me of the seedier parts of northern England -Bradford or Leeds or Sheffield. Small houses, ramshackle shops and a general air of economic misery, with a bit of social deprivation thrown in for good measure. Just the sort of place in London from which I was trying to escape, courtesy of the 1944 Education Act. First person in the family to get to university ... first person in the family who could spell 'university'. Well, maybe not.
I knew nothing about Northern Ireland. Correspondents to the Irish Times maintain, occasionally, that I still know nothing about Northern Ireland. Sitting in the students' union at Queen's drinking a cup of coffee a couple of days later, I got my first lesson.
'I can tell the difference, you know: said the girl sitting next
'The difference, you know, which ones are Protestants and which ones are Catholics. I can tell you, soon as they walk through the door? She went on to do so, although, since no one was checking, I had no way of knowing if she was right.
Education proceeded apace. I learned that the dilapidated streets I passed through on the airport road were both Protestant and Catholic. I learned not to be stupid enough to suggest some sort of working-class revolt might be in the offing, because there was no working class. There was a Protestant working class and a Catholic working class, Protestant Boy Scouts and Catholic Boy Scouts, Protestant atheists and Catholic atheists, and rare the twain shall meet. I learned that if pressed I might call myself a Protestant atheist, since somewhere along the line I'd been baptised in an Anglican establishment. It seemed a good idea to be Protestant in Northern Ireland at the time - you never knew when you might want a local authority house.
Back in London for Christmas I visited my grandmother, a devoutly Cockney lady of seventy-odd years.
'How do you like Belfast?' she asked.
It was at this time that I became strictly neutral on the subject
of religion in Northern Ireland. If anyone asks, I tell them that
my grandmother (the other one) was Jewish.
It had always been my intention to be a cartoonist, I think. For as long as I can remember I have filled every available piece of scrap paper with doodles and notes and sketches. I had always been interested in politics; not in a political party sort of way but as exercises in human behaviour. Why people did things, said things, had fixed attitudes and so on. I'd done a bit of anthropology and psychology for the same reason. Curiosity about the foibles of human beans. And I loved drawing. Thus, I guess, political cartooning was an obvious outlet. Trouble is, there's only a handful of jobs for political cartoonists in the world and in Ireland, twenty years ago, there weren't any jobs for political cartoonists at all.
But just as, I hope, there will be a peace dividend if the ceasefires hold, then there was a Troubles dividend for the media in the early seventies. In America, thanks to Watergate, the number of political cartoonists doubled from one hundred to two hundred, as editors attempted to find ways to explain and enliven the political debate. In Ireland, for much the same reasons, newspapers and journals became more accessible to cartoonists and gradually things improved (for the cartoonists, though not for the world) and a few of us are able to make a living out of drawing them damn pictures, as cartoons were once described.
Rowel Friers was drafted in to the Belfast Telegraph to bring his humour to the grim news. I got to draw for the Sunday News, the Irish Times and, of course, Fortnight. I never had either Rowel's artistic ability, or his sense of humour. My wife once heard someone describing my cartoons to someone ... 'You know, he's the one that draws the cartoons that make you go aargh instead of laugh? Every now and then I make a joke but it's usually with black intent.
These days, politics, even Irish politics, are media driven. The political leaders exploit the need for news by creating sound bites, phrases, strategies, to manipulate public opinion. But the cartoonist's function today is changing. While we speak for ourselves, we do, I hope, speak for a wider audience who aren't entirely convinced that our political masters really have our best interests at heart.
A journalist on a Belfast paper rang me recently to ask me to
comment on a cartoon (not drawn by me) her paper had published,
which had, apparently, caused offence to supporters of the president
of Sinn Féin. 'To some of our readers she said, 'Gerry
Adams is a role model? She didn't print my comment, and I'm not
repeating it here. Suffice it to say that this book is for anyone
who thinks Gerry Adams, Andy Tyrie, Ian Paisley, Father Sean McManus,
the whole shooting match of them, are definitely not role
models and for the people who have been pursuing the peace process
in their daily lives for the last twenty-five years (not just
the last twenty-five minutes) by not joining in the nonsense we
call the Troubles.
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