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Working-Class Racism NINA

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 8 months ago


Working Class Racism -NINA 







NO IRISH NEED APPLY. Written by JOHN F. POOLE, and sung,

with immense success, by the great Comic-Vocalist of the age,



I'm a dacint boy, just landed from the town of Ballyfad;

I want a situation: yis, I want it mighty bad.

I saw a place advartised. It's the thing for me, says I;

But the dirty spalpeen ended with: No Irish need apply.

Whoo! says I; but that's an insult -- though to get the place I'll try.

So, I wint to see the blaggar with: No Irish need apply.


I started off to find the house, I got it mighty soon;

There I found the ould chap saited: he was reading the TRIBUNE.

I tould him what I came for, whin he in a rage did fly:

No! says he, you are a Paddy, and no Irish need apply!

Thin I felt my dandher rising, and I'd like to black his eye--

To tell an Irish Gintleman: No Irish need apply!


I couldn't stand it longer: so, a hoult of him I took,

And I gave him such a welting as he'd get at Donnybrook.

He hollered: Millia murther! and to get away did try,

And swore he'd never write again: No Irish need apply.

He made a big apology; I bid him thin good-bye,

Saying: Whin next you want a bating, add: No Irish need apply!


Sure, I've heard that in America it always is the plan

That an Irishman is just as good as any other man;

A home and hospitality they never will deny

The stranger here, or ever say: No Irish need apply.

But some black sheep are in the flock: a dirty lot, say I;

A dacint man will never write: No Irish need apply!


Sure, Paddy's heart is in his hand, as all the world does know,

His praties and his whiskey he will share with friend or foe;

His door is always open to the stranger passing by;

He never thinks of saying: None but Irish may apply.

And, in Columbia's history, his name is ranking high;

Thin, the Divil take the knaves that write: No Irish need apply!


Ould Ireland on the battle-field a lasting fame has made;

We all have heard of Meagher's men, and Corcoran's brigade.*

Though fools may flout and bigots rave, and fanatics may cry,

Yet when they want good fighting-men, the Irish may apply,

And when for freedom and the right they raise the battle-cry,

Then the Rebel ranks begin to think: No Irish need apply


H. DE MARSAN, Publisher,

54 Chatham Street, New York.




In 1800 the Act of Union was passed, abolishing the independent Irish Parliament and bringing Ireland under the control of the British Parliament. For the next forty years and beyond, there would be conflicts regarding in politics, religion, and economics between the two countries. Ireland itself was a poor country with little cash economy and a large gap between classes, the bulk of which had no landownership. Farmers made up the vast majority of the population, and they farmed lands they rented from landlords. The social system was held together in large part by the potato. The potato was easy to cultivate and cheap to procure. The Irish diet consisted almost entirely of this one vegetable. 

In 1845 a potato blight caused widespread crop failure throughout Europe. Ireland’s dependency on the potato made this especially catastrophic. The rest of Europe, while affected, had other crops to fall back on as well as a drought in 1846 which killed the blight. For Ireland, this was not the case. Initial reactions to the famine in Ireland were not treated with an especial levity. The general opinion was that the famine would not last long, and in the meantime may be beneficial to the Irish. On November 4, 1845 The Times remarked: “It looks as if Irishmen required some great and terrible calamity to remind them of their common duties and to restore them to common sense” (Fegan).

The prejudice towards the Irish showed itself through newspapers and magazines during this period in many ways. A common belief was that Ireland’s staple food, the potato, reflectecd the inferiority of the Irish people. It was believed that the reason the Irish grew potatoes was because they were lazy and dependent. Common depictions of drunken and violent Irishmen did nothing to help improve prejudice.

While the famine received widespread attention from the British press, eventually evoking sympathy for the starving Irish citizens the years began to pay a toll on British compassion. Leslie Williams gives an example: “British citizens, having given generously early in 1847 to Queen Victoria’s first appeal for Irish aid, failed to respond to the second ‘Queen’s letter’ in October of 1847.” Williams cited this as an example of “donor fatigue.” The famine’s length and the failure to bring Ireland back into balance caused some British citizens to become tired of the situation and Ireland’s people in general.

After 1850 more than a million Irish had died, and another million had immigrated to other countries. While the Great Famine was recorded as occurring from 1845 to 1850, the effects of the famine lasted much longer. Public opinion towards the Irish in Britain did not increase significantly in favor. Many were still of the opinion that the Irish should have been able to help themselves in the tradition of a laissez-faire economy theory which was the dominant economic theory in the mid-19th century. Still others harbored a shame towards what they saw as Britain’s duty to her lesser subjects gone awry.

In 1859, the ghosts of the famine not yet gone, Charles Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species. Darwin’s theory stated that humans are a product of evolution and have evolved over time from a common ancestor. This theory was taken in hand and used as an explanation for the differences in human beings. A common belief of Victorian racism was that less civilized and more degenerate people could be the missing link between apes and ‘civilized’ man. These ‘less civilized’ people were commonly the natives of British colonies, including the Irish. Even before Darwin’s theory was published, the Irish were depicted in the press with long, apelike jaws. Phrenologists, who studied the shape and features of the skull in order to read a person’s character and place in evolution, had deemed this feature to be one of an inferior evolutionary trait. Charles Kingsley described the Irish in the following manner: “ I am haunted by the human chimpanzees I saw [in Ireland]. . . I don’t believe they are our fault . . . but to see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black, one would not feel it so much” (Victorian Web).

The effects of the Great Famine and the belief that Irish were of an inf evolutionary hierarchy continued throughout the 19th century. The newspapers and popular magazines of the period showed evidence of anti-Irish sentiment not only in political cartoons, but in the employment advertisements as well. In February 1862 an ad for a housekeeper appeared in The Times: “Wanted – A smart active girl to do the general housework of a large family, one who can cook, clean plates, and get up fine linen, preferred. N.B. – No Irish need apply.” This slogan, commonly referred to as NINA, was frequently found in employment advertisements and shop windows to discourage the Irish workers. The song, “No Irish Need Apply”, was written by John Poole about this precise circumstance. (See above song.)

By the end of the 19th century the negative feelings towards the Irish were on a decline but would still resurface occasionally in the press and in private opinions. The above cartoon, printed in Harper’s Weekly in 1898, compares the facial features of an ‘Irish Iberian’, ‘Anglo-Teutonic’, and a ‘Negro’. The simian facial features on the Negro and Irish Iberian were a common depiction used to back the phrenologist’s claims of evidence of an inferior race. The effects of the famine, immigration, and a rapidly changing scientific environment all had a hand in the widespread anti-Irish sentiment in the 19th century in Britain. It would take at least an entire century for these prejudices to drop out of popular favor.  



                Works Cited



Fegan, Melissa.  Literature and the Irish Famine. Oxford: Clarendon, 2002.




Litton, Helen.  The Irish Famine: An Illustrated History. Minneapolis: Wolfhound, 1994.




Williams, Leslie.  Daniel O’Connell, The British Press and The Irish Famine. Cornwall: Ashgate, 2003.




Wohl, Anthony.  “Racism and Anti-Irish Prejudice in Victorian EnglandVictorian Web. University Scholars Program.  Jan. 2000. National University of Singapore. 10 Feb. 2008 <http://www.victorianweb.org/>.






                For Additional Reading


Altick, Richard D. “The Irish Question: Rint, Repale, and Rebellion”. Punch: The Lively

     Youth of a British Institution, 1841-1851. Columbus: Ohio State University Press,   





De Vere, Aubrey. English Misrule and Irish Misdeeds. London, 1848.




Gray, Peter. Famine, Land and Politics: British Government and Irish Society, 1843-1850.

     Portland: Irish Academic Press, 1999.




Van Wyke, John. “The History of Phrenology”. Victorian Web.





Darwin and Evolution”. Victorian Web.          





                Project Group Members


Member Name



 Courtney Kendall  Western Washington University  ENG 310
 Shannon McDonald  Western Washington University  ENG 310
 Donna McInyre  Western Washington University  ENG 310






     Project Completed: Winter 2008





Lindsey R, 18 March 2008


It is still hard for me to believe that this type of blatant racism occured not so long ago and within segments of people that are generally grouped together, especially now under the "white" box.  Until reading this project i was never quite sure why the Irish never recieved help from the British and i didn't realize that the potatoe blight was so detrimental to the whole of the Irish population.  I really learned a lot from the commentary provided here; it covers a wide range of all the hardships that were incurred by the Irish during this period.  I have seen movies about the plight they faced in America, but didn't realize the hardship was equal if not greater in their home country.  This song is a great example of retaliation against the widespread, racist media portrayals that were being circulated about them (as shown above).  Having both of these media portrayals as examples for this project to show this contrast really strengths this project.  I also think that it really strengthened their arguement bringing in Darwin and phrenology which were major "scientific" justifications for this type of behavior against the "other."  It seems very important to note how wide spread the prejudice aginast this group of people was and how it has "evolved" especially after St. Patty's Day.  One thing I was unsure of was how this falls under working class racism.  Were the wealthier Irish seen differently?  How?


Matt Frey, April 3rd 2008


    To start I would like to say that you did a great job with researching your project.  Your commentary was very informative and let me know quite a few things that I hadn’t known or thought about before.  Whenever I hear the term ‘No Irish Need Apply’ I can’t help but wonder what made them so different from other people.  Pointing out that there were characteristics in Irish folk that likened them to primates helped me understand a bit why they were discriminated against.  I don’t think that this was as large a part for the contempt of the Irish folk, rather just another bit of fuel for the fire, an excuse to get more people on the ‘NINA’ bandwagon.

In the song above, it states that in America, that saying wasn’t used very often, stating that there are however some black sheep in the culture.  I think that this is still true in today’s culture, there are people that bad mouth certain organizations, or religions, or races, and they give a bad name to the whole of America.

The biggest example that I can recall in recent events, of a black sheep in the culture, is the Westboro Baptist Church.  They are the bunch of crazy folk who went around protesting soldiers’ funerals because they felt that this country was going to hell because of the things that it supported.  They did many other things but that stuck out in my mind.  I am not committed to any religion at this point in my life, but I was raised in church all my life.  My parents attend a Baptist church and believe strongly, and I Truly believe that some of the best people you could meet are Christian.  This group of people stand out so much that it puts a blight on Christianity everywhere, and it stings it so much.  I don’t believe that a group of people should be thought of in any way, based upon the ideas and beliefs of a small portion of that group.


                Group Chat


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No Irish Need Apply, Poole, John F. 1862




Comments (2)

Patrick Manning said

at 7:02 pm on Mar 11, 2009

This song highlighting British racism toward the Irish is a great find. It seems to suggest a talking back to the British, but through the tropes of racism. For example, the Irish man “gave [the Englishman] such a welting as he'd get at Donnybrook” and talks about sharing “his whiskey… with friend or foe.” The “talking-back” or challenging the dominant ideology of Irish racial inferiority uses the same signifiers of the racist discourse—the drunk, hot-headed Irish.
The final stanza of the poem is truly insightful: the Irish are good enough to fight for the British crown and are certainly encouraged to apply for the armed services. This is a fascinating because it draws on the history of Irish soldiers in the British army, but also I wonder if it in some way is part of that larger discourse of what an “Irish” person is: ie, a violent person. Really only a conjecture, it seems possible that a stereotype is played out in the British imagination about the Irish as violent because of the Irish conscripted service in the British army. A more thorough look into the history of Irish in the British army would need to take place in order to answer that question, but this poem is an interesting beginning point. It may be a similar construction of the working class women as sexually immoral because of the effects of a class system which may force many into prostitution and/or the exploitation of working class women by upper class men.

To be continued....

Patrick Manning said

at 7:02 pm on Mar 11, 2009

I am thinking of Rochester’s possession of Jane in Jane Eyre or even Lizzie in Elizabeth Gaskell’s “Lizzie Leigh” – both women are forced to become sexualized, albeit in different ways, because of class structure leaves both women without recourse. In other words, the powerful (the British or men) force the disenfranchised (the Irish or women) to perform a certain identity (violent or sexualized), and then marginalize that group because of that very identity they’ve been forced into (the Irish are all drunk, violent fools; working class women are sexually loose).
The discussion as it links racism with Social Darwinism, phrenology, etc. offers an interesting look into the “naturalization” of difference. In many ways, I think the poem’s use of dialect as an unstandard form of English also demonstrates that “natural” difference between people. And, of course the image of the facial features certainly highlights the codification of difference into facial types. I wonder if there might not be a way to expand upon this and look at British concepts and ideals of beauty in contrast to their colonial subjects. How does the identification of British as necessarily different from the Irish effect the ways the British create themselves as beautiful: what clothes, make-up, hairstyles, etc. do British men and women create in distinction to the Irish? The naturalization of difference may, paradoxically, lead to the commodification and, for lack of a better word, thing-ification of what is beauty. So that even as the difference between races is conceptualized largely as a natural, necessary distinction, the rise of cosmetics and fashion point to the performative quality of British beauty. Again, a more detailed study of the history of cosmetics and beauty in British culture would be necessary, but the poem, cartoon and discussion certainly begin that discussion and puts these issues into dialogue.

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