Visual culture and visuality in the politics of the Irish Free State, 1921-1939

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis examines, in depth, the significance of visual culture and visuality in the
political culture of the Irish Free State between 1922-39. Previous accounts of the political
history of interwar Ireland have paid very little attention to the significance of the visual
culture, and conversely, histories of visual culture in the same period have given little
attention to the visual representation of political subjects, that is to say, of politicians,
voters, political movements, soldiers, governors-general and churchmen. This thesis, by
contrast, uses an innovative methodology of discourse analysis to analyse both political
discourse in visual culture and the language of visuality in political discourse. It argues
that visual culture and visuality played a deeply significant role in the political culture of
the Irish Free State, at a time when visual culture played an increasingly important role
in political life internationally. Visual culture accomplished numerous practical purposes for the National Army, Free State politicians and political parties. More importantly,
however, visibility was regarded as a political end in itself, as it signified legitimacy,
respectability and morality. Supporters of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, for instance,
constructed their republican opponents as sinister, shadowy and invisible figures.
Conversely, de Valera’s government used invisibility as a means of delegitimising and
weakening the office of Governor-General. By examining visual culture and visuality this
thesis explores the deepest anxieties of the political culture of the Irish Free State, around
legitimacy, respectability, morality, and indeed, the question of Irish freedom itself.
Date of Award1 Apr 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • SSSHL Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
SupervisorRoisin Higgins (Supervisor), Nigel Copsey (Supervisor) & Lindsey Robb (Supervisor)

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