Hidden Stories, Slavery and Barnsley

The Irish and the English, Stereotypes and Racism

Use this page to explore stereotypes and the way an image can be created for political gain.


Look at the picture of the Irish character by H C Cook (without reading the text).  Write down some words to describe the man in the picture.

Now look at the information below.


The idea held by some English people that Irish people are inferior to themselves can be traced back to English attempts to invade Ireland between the 12th and 17th Centuries. Before then, Ireland was famous for its medical and religious schools. These schools attracted students from all over Europe, including England.

English rulers thought that if they could make people believe that the Irish were better off being ruled by them, no-one would protest about the wars with Ireland.

The English began to argue that Irish culture, religion, farming methods and laws were all ‘backward’. In 1749 the first book of ‘Irish Jokes’ was published. In it the Irish were shown as stupid, lazy and drunken.

By the early 1800s the English were arguing that the world was split into different groups of people which they called ‘races’. The English, they claimed, were the superior race. Irish and African people were seen by them as inferior, animal-like and unfit to rule themselves. This could be proved, they said, by comparing people’s skulls.

When Irish men and women campaigned for freedom for Ireland in the nineteenth century, they were portrayed by the English as idiots and monsters. The cartoon is from an Irish magazine of 1881. It makes fun of the way English cartoonists turn ordinary, respectable Irish men into monsters.


Look at the small image of three heads: Why has the person who drew this shown the Irish and African people as looking more like apes than the European person?


Look at the 'Pat' image: What is the Irish cartoonist’s view of the way the English show the Irish?


What would the Irish character in the main image say to H C Cook?

How truthful do you think the portrait is?

Document icon Learning article provided by: Barnsley Museums | 
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