Whipping the herring

The following was added to the tail end of a wine and beer tasting post before Easter this year. I think the subject deserves more attention, so I’m reposting a slightly expanded version on its own. For this weekend’s post about Elbow Lane Angel Stout, click here http://blakecreedon.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/cheers-for-a-cracking-new-stout/.


“Whipping The Herring…” at the Crawford gallery.

ONCE upon a time, the butchers’ apprentices of Cork used to mark Easter Sunday — and the end of a slack month of Lenten no-meat misery — with music, mirth and wild celebrations. The centrepiece involved attaching a herring to a long pole which was paraded around the city walls, affording the town’s urchins an opportunity to flake the bejaysus out of it like some piscine piñata.

The traditional Easter celebration used to take place in various parts of Ireland. It’s depicted in this small but delightful painting, Whipping The Herring Out of Town  (c1760) by Nathanial Grogan, in the collection of the Crawford Art Gallery on Emmet Place in Cork. The painting was featured in the exhibition at the Crawford, A Question of Attribution: The Arcadian Landscapes of Nathaniel Grogan and John Butts which ended on April 7, 2012.

The picture is so vivid you can almost hear the racket. I love the detail. One lad is drawing back his cudgel to take a swipe at the fish. I imagine the child staring at the spectacle is about to burst into tears, terrified by the mad procession bearing down on him. The woman at the lower left who seems to have been upended by a runaway dog (and is that a pig running alongside?) is pure Beryl Cook.

By the way, the arched building you see in the background is an accurate representation of the city’s south gate, which survives only in the name of South Gate Bridge. The first picture of the bridge on that Cork City Library link is Nat Grogan’s more sober daytime illustration, complete with one of his signature flourishes, a romantic John Hinde-style overhanging tree, on the right hand side.

Apart from the river and the bridge, it doesn’t look much like today’s view. To orient yourself in that picture, you’re looking East from the intersection of Proby’s Quay, Crosse’s Green and French’s Quay — with St Fin Barre’s Cathedral behind you, and the Quay Co-Op on the right, further along the river. Yes, I will post a pic.

The Irish tradition depicted by Grogan reminds me of a Spanish custom which still takes place each year at the start of Lent. Around 1810, Goya recorded on canvas the Burial Of The Sardine parade in Madrid. The Wikipedia entry here includes a photo of the painting.  Well worth a look.

And for good measure you can find out more about Grogan and his picture of Cork’s whipping the herring tradition here on www.crawfordartgallery.ie. ♦

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One Response

  1. That Goya is a total cracker! Further investigation threw up his ‘Black Paintings’ series – and all I can say about them is whoah. Nice wan!

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