ID Required: An old cartoon causes the Irishman’s Diarist to question his identity
An Irishman’s Diary
Detail from a cartoon in the ‘Dublin Opinion’ of 1930. Colleagues claim the resemblance with the incumbent diarist is uncanny.
This column has been the subject of online skittishness in recent days following the reemergence, via Twitter, of a vintage Dublin Opinion cartoon from 1930.
The cartoon affected to depict The Irish Times head-office of the period. And in general, it imagined the place as a bastion of the old ascendancy, populated by men in top hats, mortar-boarded academics, and Sir Bufton Tufton military types.
The exception was the Irishman’s Diarist, who is seen corralled in his own miniature reservation. By contrast with his superiors, he wears a peasant hat and bawneen jacket. Alongside him is a pig, presumably of the kind he would keep in his parlour.
Colleagues claim the resemblance with the incumbent diarist is uncanny. But that aside, I have to say the cartoonist may have been a bit premature in suggesting the ID had gone so far native as early as 1930. The column was still a miscellany of random items then, contributed by various unnamed journalists. But it remained dominated by the doings of high society, with hunt balls, yacht clubs, and the Shelbourne Hotel featuring regularly.
As late as the mid-1940s, the chief contributor was a minor aristocrat.
A son of Lord Glenavy, Patrick Campbell had been educated at English public school and (briefly) Oxford, before becoming this newspaper’s parliamentary sketch writer in the 1930s, where he specialised in sneering at Fianna Fáil. After a spell in London, he came home to avoid the war and got his old job back, this time as diarist, before again leaving for greater money and fame in England.
He was a very witty writer. But by his own account, he was only slumming it here. The title of his 1967 autobiography, My Life and Easy Times, was a twist on his fellow humorist James Thurber’s My Life and Hard Times. It was also all too accurate.
A running theme of the book is how his highly-connected father always set him up with money, introductions, jobs, etc, so that he never had to try. I read it some years ago with increasing exasperation, reflected now by scrawled notes in the margins, which include “ugh!”, “not again!”, and (after he suffered a rare setback) “serves you right, you lazy bastard”.
But I digress. To get back to the cartoon, the ID did in time follow the rest of the newspaper into something like the Irish mainstream: reinventing itself for the Free State in which, circa 1930, it had been a reluctant refugee.
The column may never have become quite as earthy as Dublin Opinion envisaged. But as the chief contributor since 2006, I have done my best to lower the tone.
All joking aside, however, the cartoon raises a serious question that has often nagged me during my time here. Why should a column in an Irish newspaper need to identify itself as Irish in the title? Was this overcompensation by the paper’s former management, who would also have considered themselves British? Or did they just think it needed an adjective?
Most such columns in the English language press were, and are still, called simply “Diary” or “The Diary”. Whereas, not only does this one advertise its ethnicity, it also appears to make a point of gender, something that has become very political of late.
In fact, having originated in an all-male world, the ID in time pioneered the use of female journalists.
According to our archive, it became “An Irishwoman’s Diary” for the first time in 1952, and has been on 3,500 occasions since. The late Eileen Battersby was a frequent contributor. Poignantly, copies of one of her columns were handed out at her funeral last month.
But it has been long practice that a chief contributor writes the column four days a week.
And the gender of that person naturally dominates the title. It might even seem to casual readers that we’re making a virtue of maleness, against the current fashion, although God knows we’re not.
So I in turn have a question for readers who care about this sort of thing. Is there any good reason why the title of this column should not be simply “The Diary”, regardless of who writes it (author’s names would still be attached)?
Your opinions are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Not that it would be up to me to make any such change: I’m just the latest in a long list of anchor tenants here.
But I’m curious to know what Irish Times loyalists would think of the suggestion, which would ultimately have to be referred upstairs, to people with a better class of hat.