Irish Political Allegory painting banned from exhibition in Cork School of Music

Banning art in Ireland

Joe McNicholas painted a picture called An Irish Political Allegory, much in the manner of Bruegel or Bosch. A nightmarish vision of post-crash Ireland, a confection of vignettes depicting assorted prominent figures from Cowen’s Thinker in the foreground, framed by rusty scaffold poles that look like nothing so much as the barrels of tank guns, to Jim Larkin far off in the distance, his arms still raised to the heavens in a futile gesture of hope. Larkin singing in the rain. In the middle distance lurks Da Bert, crouched in his cupboard and wearing his trademark potato-head grin amid the dystopian destruction of a modern Guernica, but what’s that tiny tableau at the window in the top left?

Joe McNicholas - Irish Political Allegory

Look closer. Is it Mr Haughey unclothed and conjobbling with a young lady? Perhaps, or perhaps not. Who can tell?

It’s only a minor detail, or perhaps it isn’t, if you happen to be the director of Cork School of Music, Dr Geoffrey Spratt, who decided that aspects of the painting would be too distressing for sensitive eyes, and pulled it from the exhibition Spring Notes, currently showing in CSM. Art, after all, should never be challenging or upsetting, but of course, it wasn’t Dr Spratt himself who made the decision.

No indeed.

He banned the painting following what he called a significant number of complaints from parents and staff members, though history does not record precisely how significant those numbers were, since Dr Spratt was disinclined to reveal the actual number of sensitive souls.

Now, what was it about the picture that the significant number of parents and staff members objected to and wished to shield from the eyes of their under-18 students?

Was it the obscene depiction of a starving Madonna and Child, desperately trying to warm themselves at a street brazier?  No.

Was it the sight of hollowed-out husks of empty houses? Not that either.

Joe McNicholas HaugheyApparently, the thing that was going to ruin the lives of the sub-18-year-olds for ever more was a small cartoon-like image of Mr Haughey with his shirt off in close proximity to a lady similarly unclad.


You could see how Cork School of Music was rocked to its foundations by the scandal and why Dr Spratt responded with such speed to the complaints of appalled staff and parents, especially when there was a significant number of them.

Down with that sort of thing.



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8 thoughts on “Irish Political Allegory painting banned from exhibition in Cork School of Music

  1. It’s the zipper (as a frame) I first saw, unzipped. An allegory for the underbelly of Ireland, maybe. Or: Ireland screwed.

    The perspective is interesting, as is the play with light.
    Larkin in the distance? Perhaps. Someone who tried to redeem Ireland but feels desperate how he failed. Probably Larkin after all.

    I love the bustling quality in it, a painting you could look at time and time again and always find something new. That’s art how it should be.

    Anyway, looking at a tiny figure top left that obviously screws an Irish redheaded colleen from behind and associating it with Haughey, says more about the mindset of the observer and why he is upset than about the painting as such.

    And did anyone see Eamon de Valera in the doorway beneath Haughey with a bare-breasted woman with a priest collar? Now that is an interesting detail.

    Is Mr Spratt upset about that? Obviously not. Or he needs reading glasses – or a brain in the first place. Never mind the “significant number” of complainants.

    I love that painting. I love the details – like Bruegel and Bosch.The more you look the more you see. I want a replica, now.

    Gosh, the small-mindedness of people never ceases to amaze me.

  2. Gosh. If you’re so shocked maybe you should approach a primary school and ask them to display it instead. The SCHOOL of Music has a huge attendance of young children, throughout the week. The age group is the main concern.

  3. Mr. Bock, Sir,

    Paintings and busts and statues, that type of thing often look bad if they are displayed in the wrong kind of setting and the Cork School of Music may not be a suitable location for it.
    May I suggest an alternative.

    On the eve of the 12th July up in the North, the Protestant Loyalists will be lighting huge bonfires all over Northern Ireland to celebrate King Billy at the Boyne and I just thought that that painting would look so nice sitting up high on top of one of those bonfires in full public view for everybody to see.

    I think that it would look REALLY nice up there, don’t you think?

    Maybe the School of Music could arrange for one of the Orange Lodges to take charge of it.

  4. everybody see details here but nobody see the message the artist want to send to the public, maybe that message is more problematic more important to audience than those small details, what Ireland become after Celtic Tiger boom – growing housing problem, homelessness, soaring rent prices, crime on the streets, useless politicians that cannot form government.

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