Famous figures dance to Ian Knox's tune at new Irish News HQ

With the Irish News moving from its historic home at Donegall Street to a vibrant new city centre location, it was important to pay homage to the paper's central role in chronicling the events and personalities who have helped shape the Ireland of today, while also looking forward to an exciting future which sees three brands – The Irish News, Interpress and Q Radio – brought under the new IntoMedia banner. Who better to make famous figures from the past dance into 2023 and beyond than Ian Knox? Paul Ainsworth spoke to the great cartoonist

Paul Ainsworth


Irish News cartoonist Ian Knox views his work on display in the new IntoMedia offices in Belfast's College Street, where the newspaper, Q Radio and Interpress are headquartered. Picture by Mal McCann


AN eclectic mix of figures from Ireland’s storied past greet guests to the new home of the Irish News, thanks to legendary cartoonist Ian Knox.

The artist, who has been contributing satirical cartoons to the Irish News for over three decades, has created a montage of famous Irish personalities that is now on display at the Fountain Centre in the very heart of Belfast, following this newspaper’s move to College Street from its Donegall Street offices after almost 120 years.

Ian’s instantly recognisable style, which has entertained a generation of readers while also ruffling the feathers of the great and the good, is synonymous with the Irish News, and so it was decided to feature his work prominently in its new city centre home.

Read More


Initial discussions were had on displaying some of Ian’s previously published cartoons, which cover landmark events such as the Good Friday Agreement and Stormont’s many stalemates since.

However, the artist himself decided on something original to mark the new chapter for the Irish News, and delved into Ireland’s rich political and literary history for inspiration.

He opted for a montage of figures, from poets to politicians, writers to revolutionaries, with a cheeky reference to the genesis of the Irish News itself thrown in for good measure.

The personalities, including Michael Collins, Henry Joy McCracken, Brendan Behan and Martin McGuinness among others, are depicted dancing, playing music and even partaking in a spot of cricket, though artistic licence has been taken in the partnerships Ian has created for the piece.

“I liked the idea of putting a few people together who wouldn’t normally be linked with each other, though some of them certainly were in person, of course,” he said.

“You have Nobel Prize winners David Trimble and John Hume playing music together, but their bandmates include Edward Carson and Seamus Heaney.

“The late Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin is playing keep-ups with a cricket bat alongside novelist and playwright Samuel Beckett.”

These are possibly peculiar pairings at first glance, but Ian explains that there are links among the famous faces he has put together, such as a dancing Michael Collins and his boogie buddy, Bernadette Devlin, who share a revolutionary fighting spirit despite the decades separating their heydays.

Then there are those depicted who may well have shared a dance or two in real life – and much more besides – such as Countess Constance Markievicz and James Connolly, and Charles Parnell and his lover Kathrine ‘Kitty’ O’Shea.

Parnell, depicted jiving while O’Shea swings her hips and spins, is a direct reference to the founding of the Irish News as an anti-Parnell newspaper in 1891, at the height of the devastating scandal sparked when the Irish Parliamentary Party leader and home rule advocate’s tumultuous affair with O’Shea became public.

“Parnell is often portrayed as a very serious, sombre Victorian man, so it’s fun to have him dancing away in this image,” Ian adds.


Cartoonist Ian Knox's distinctive work is synonymous with the Irish News. Picture by Mal McCann

“That goes for others in the montage. When I draw someone from the past, I don’t want them to just be these static, brooding figures. I want to show that they too were real people with real personalities and lives beyond their public image.”

Another pair of real-life lovers on the wall is Easter Rising leader Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford – herself a political cartoonist – who married in Kilmainham Gaol on the night before Plunkett was executed by firing squad.

Meanwhile, in Ian’s ‘supergroup’ portrayed providing the musical soundtrack to the montage, John Hume and David Trimble team up on the piano, as Seamus Heaney rattles the spoons, the father of Ulster unionism Edward Carson jams on a saxophone, while Belfast poet Louis MacNeice charms a tune from a set of uilleann pipes.

MacNeice’s choice of instrument is a reference to his famous 1938 comical poem Bagpipe Music.

“The work of Heaney and MacNeice was often political, so they were the ideal poets to include alongside political giants,” said Ian, who created the entire montage by first sketching the caricatures on sheets of A3 paper before they were blown up for the final display.

“I was taken aback when I saw the final result – I think it looks fantastic and I’m very proud to be contributing something that visitors to the new offices will enjoy,” he said.