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  • Designing modern Ireland: the role of graphic design in the construction of modern Ireland at home and abroad (1949-1979)

Bolger, Mary Ann, 2016, Thesis, Designing modern Ireland: the role of graphic design in the construction of modern Ireland at home and abroad (1949-1979) PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

As the modernising Irish state sought to project a positive image of post-war Ireland, a paradox emerged: how could the symbolism of national distinctiveness (heretofore synonymous with the past) be reconciled with modernity? This thesis outlines the role which graphic design played in attempts to resolve tensions between the national and the modern.
The thesis examines how design was mobilised as a symbol and agent of modernisation in Ireland in the run-up to and immediate aftermath of the 1958 ‘Programme for Economic Expansion’, widely considered to be the manifestation of an explicit state-led programme of modernisation. It examines the gradual replacement of the outward symbols of Republican Nationalism with a pervasive symbolism of modern efficiency, suggesting that this was a visual manifestation of the drive towards ‘organisation’ and rational management that gripped the civil service.
It examines the paradoxical situation whereby designers in Ireland sought to present themselves and the nation as modern and professional, while the Irish Trade Board (charged with both design and export promotion) looked to professional designers abroad to present Ireland and her exports as traditional. Central to this discussion is the critique by designers (particularly those associated with Ireland’s first professional body, the Institute of Creative Advertising and Design) of so-called ‘Stage Irish’ versions of national image-making. An examination of their work and writings provides evidence for a series of alternative visual strategies for being Irish and modern —often quoting Celtic and early-Christian artefacts in otherwise modernist settings— which I have termed ‘Celtic modernism.’
From the early 1950s onwards, debates over ‘tradition’ and ‘modernisation’ were given visible form in the contentious issue of which letterform to use for the Irish language: ‘roman’ or ‘Gaelic’. This culminated in 1965 in the decommissioning of the Irish alphabet – at which point typography, that most everyday and habitually overlooked of visual material, became briefly visible and highly charged. The final section of the thesis focuses on the relationship between language, typography and identity. It argues that the debates about language reform in the mid twentieth- century led to a reconsideration of the variety of ways of ‘being Irish’ typographically and that the ‘Celtic’ associations of the uncial letter in particular offered potential for the negotiation of tradition and modernity.
The thesis concludes that design in Ireland was presented as a means and a metaphor of modernisation. It attempts through an examination of a range of design examples, to follow Roland Barthes’s injunction to ‘track down in the decorative display of what- goes-without-saying’ the ideological constructions hidden in plain sight.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W200 Design studies > W210 Graphic Design
School or Centre: School of Humanities
Funders: Dublin Institute of Technology, Dublin School of Creative Arts
Date Deposited: 05 Jul 2018 14:44
Last Modified: 05 Jul 2018 14:44
URI: http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/3543

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