Ireland’s geographical position is an important factor to consider when taking into account the animation practices and techniques that were developing in both North America and Europe during the early-twentieth-century. Irish artists and filmmakers traveled widely for education and exhibition of their artworks. The films created by Irish artists were only distributed in Ireland under strict censorship laws. Irish society in the early twentieth century was a place of social and political upheaval. The struggle for independence from British rule and the establishment of an Irish government with its own Constitution succeeded in doing two things: it established a Constitution in which the Irish state was sovereign and it embedded discrimination against women into the socio-political fabric of the country. As discussed in much critical literature of the latter half of the century (e.g., see Hopkinson, 2004; Ferriter, 2004; Corcoran, 2013), the Constitution was mired in patriarchal and religious sanctimony In Europe and North America, animation practices and techniques by painters, illustrators, and craft workers were included in Modernist movements and used by artists seeking an “unending canvas”, as Mary Ellen Bute (in Anon., 1965) described. Irish artists moved in these same circles. Yet, the experimental animations that were created have not been archived.
I propose that, due to Ireland’s prevailing culture of emigration, Irish Modernist artists pursued animation as an extension of their artistic practice, a fact that has thus far been ignored in Irish heritage and animation scholarship. This has led to a considerable amount of undocumented Irish animation history spanning the twentieth century when animation was flourishing globally both as an industry and artistic practice.
Irish women artists have only in recent years been included in the long list of Irish modernist painters while male artists have always sat at the top of archival catalogs. Irish female artists were victims of a critical occlusion in comparison to their male counterparts. Irish Modernist arts practice occurred as a reaction to the wider European movement. In her book Modern Art in Ireland, Dorothy Walker (1997) says that Irish Modernism worked at a tangent to international movements. Leading proponents include Irish modernist Mainie Jellett, who pioneered the technique of academic Cubism but whose work remained largely ignored until 1992. Abstraction did not assimilate with the print media in the 1920s and 1930s and it may be that other practices, including animation, were overlooked in a similar way in Ireland.
Ironically, the conservative political developments in Ireland coincided with the global developments of the moving image. The enactment of the Irish Constitution was directly responsible for the removal of important female advocates from their creative roles when it was favored that working outside of the home was a male venture. Despite holding subordinate status to men in Irish society, women did, in fact, play significant roles in the early development of animation practice in Ireland. For instance, under-researched playwright, painter and co-founder of the Irish Film Society, Mary Manning (1905-1999), features very sparsely in Irish film documentation. Film historians and authors Denis Condon, Kevin Rockett, Ruth Barton, John Hill and Luke Gibbons have written extensively on filmmaking in Ireland but none of their texts detail the work of pioneering Irish women. Manning had been instrumental in the formation of the Irish Film Society in Dublin which helped to promote cinema in Ireland as an intellectual pastime (Anon., 1930). The Irish Film Society screened European “arthouse” films, experimental, modernist and animated films. The work of artist Marion King (1897-1963) also helped to promote cartooning for children’s entertainment in the 1930s and later paved the way for animation education in Irish colleges. However, her films are not addressed in texts on Irish cinema nor cataloged in Irish archives. These vital details of Irish animation history remain undocumented.
The culture of neglect surrounding women animation artists in Ireland can be identified by investigating gender inequality and the lacuna that exists concerning animation as a Modernist artistic practice and the lack of documentation concerning women in film in Ireland. My current research seeks to remedy this occlusion and situate Irish animation at the vanguard of Irish women’s Modernist artistic practice.
Irish women were involved in the production of experimental and animated film practices. The ignored contribution of women to Irish animation history has left a 50-year gap in knowledge, a lack of documentation and incorrect cataloging in Irish archives. While animated cartoons were popular in Irish cinemas and played regularly with the main film feature, much of the cinema listings from Irish national newspapers from as early as 1917 reveal that the animations shown were from commercial American and European studios and independent overseas filmmakers (e.g., see Anon., 1917). In particular, to be projected were titles such as the American comedies Mutt and Jeff and Down on Phoney Farm or Lotte Reiniger films, which were dubbed into the Irish language.
Irish animation critics have not considered the undocumented and uncatalogued materials of Irish history when writing about animation in Ireland, with some critics referring to the amateur developments of the 1910s as a “false dawn” after which the field of Irish animation took the rest of the century to develop (Woods, 2003). The gendered segregation of histories and exclusion of artwork on grounds of gender has led to a considerable tranche of undocumented Irish animation history, particularly omitting the role of women artists. Both men and women were working across all types and styles of animation practice, pioneering and developing a multitude of techniques. By the 1960s there was a global catalog of animations and artists using moving images in their work (Stephenson, 1967), yet in Ireland,
Despite the expanding volume of research [in women’s history in Ireland], many historians still consider women’s history to be a distinct area of study which has little relevance for mainstream history (MacCurtain, et al., 1992).
This “false dawn” is an erroneous sweeping statement that ignores the fact that there has never been a comprehensive research project to investigate Irish film archives and to properly catalog the animations that are known to exist. The composition of the archive collections does not produce a comprehensive picture of Irish animation practice. It is an under-researched field in terms of Irish art history with archives that tend to file their animation repositories in fragmented and disparately indexed categories.
Anon. (1917), “Bohemian Picture Theatre”, Freemans Journal, 13 November, p. 4.
Anon. (1930), “Irish Amateur Films: A New Venture in Dublin”, The Irish Times, 26 August, p. 6.
Anon. (1965), “Seeing Sound”, Irish Independent, 11 June, pp. 13, 16.
Corcoran, D. (2013), Freedom to achieve freedom: The Irish Free State 1922-1932. Dublin: Gill & MacMillan Limited.
Ferriter, D. (2004), The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000, London: Profile.
Hopkinson, M. (2004), Green Against Green. Dublin: Gill.
MacCurtain, M., O’Dowd, M. & Luddy, M. (1992), “An Agenda for Women’s History in Ireland, 1500-1900”, Irish Historical Studies, 28(109), pp. 1-37.
Stephenson, R. (1967), Animation in the Cinema, London: A. Zwemmer Ltd.
Walker, D. (1997), Modern Art in Ireland. Dublin: Lilliput Press.
Woods, S. (2003), Overview of History of Irish animation. [Online]
Available at: http://www.ifi.ie/wp-content/uploads/Overview-of-History-of-Irish-Animation-Copy.pdf [Accessed 19 June 2017].
Yvonne Hennessy is an animation practitioner and lecturer. She is researching a Ph.D. titled Women, Animation Practice and Irish Modernism 1920-1970: Aesthetic, Historical and Cultural Heritage Perspectives. Hennessy has 17 years’ animation industry experience, working on international television series and feature films.