Wednesday, June 06, 2012


Ink-Slinger Profiles: Billy Ireland

William Addison "Billy" Ireland was born in Chillicothe, Ohio on January 8, 1880, according to the Ohio, Births and Christenings Index, 1800-1962 at In the 1880 U.S. Federal Census, he was the youngest of two sons born to William and Lizzie. They lived in Chillicothe on Paint Street. His father was a traveling salesman. According to Ohio Cartoonists, Ireland "...was hired by the Columbus Dispatch shortly after his high school graduation in 1898. A self-taught cartoonist, he worked for the Dispatch until his death…"

In the 1900 census Ireland was a cartoonist and the middle son. The family remained in Chillicothe but at another address, 174 South Paint Street. His father and older brother were a wholesale merchants. According to the New York Times, May 30, 1935, he married Florence Sayre of Marion, Indiana, in 1906. The Sunday full-page version of The Passing Show began on February 9, 1908.

In 1910 the couple lived in Columbus, Ohio at 316 Linwood Avenue. He was a newspaper cartoonist. The Washington Herald (District of Columbia), October 24, 1914, published O.O. McIntyre's column which included a piece about Ireland.

Billy Ireland, the cartoonist, has been in New York taking in a few of the new shows and loafing with the newspaper boys along the Great White Way hangouts. Ireland has a summer home outside of Columbus, and has a neighbor who has the habit of feigning deafness when he wants to avoid answering an awkward question. Ireland went over to him and said: "I'd like to borrow your cart this morning for an hour or so. Mine is having a spring mended."

"You'll have to speak louder," the old farmer answered, I don't hear very well, and I don't like to lend my cart, anyhow."

A World War I draft card for Ireland has not been found. The 1920 census recorded him in Columbus at 264 Woodland Avenue. The couple had two daughters. His occupation was a newspaper cartoonist.

The Portsmouth Daily Times (Ohio), May 6, 1924, carried the Associate Press news that Ireland, "…who has been incapacitated for two months, was operated upon at his home…for thyroid trouble. He rallied well and his physicians expect a speedy recovery." The Lima News (Ohio), September 20, 1925, noted his interest in oddities.

…William A. ("Billy") Ireland, cartoonist of the Columbus Dispatch, got the opportunity a few days ago to draw a two-headed snake from a natural model.

Ireland devotes considerable of his pen and ink space to depicting freaks of nature that are found in the gardens, fields, and forests of Ohio. He draws triple-eared corn; mangoes, potatoes and other vegetables shaped like animals and persons; and all kinds of poly-formed herbs, but the two-headed snake opened up a new field in his experience.

His father passed away June 22, 1926 according to The Times Recorder (Ohio). The Newark Advocate (Ohio) reported Robert F. Wolfe, publisher of the Columbus Dispatch and Ohio State Journal, fell from The Dispatch roof to his death, after visiting Ireland a few minutes earlier. Wolfe had not been feeling well for several days. Ireland was an honorary pallbearer at the funeral service for Wolfe.

Evidently, he was a train enthusiast. In 1928 several newspapers, including the Newark Advocate, announced his upcoming February 17 ride in the cab of a railroad engine from Columbus to Indianapolis. Sadly, less than two months later, his mother passed away on April 11 in Chillicothe. The Canton Repository (Ohio), November 16, 1928, covered the ceremony, in Newark, Ohio, where Ireland and John T. McCutheon planted trees in an arboretum.

The family remained the same size and at the same address in 1930. Newspaper cartoonist was his occupation. Ireland passed away May 29, 1935, according to the Canton Repository article of the same day.

'Billy' Ireland Dies After Heart Attack
Famous Ohio Cartoonist Found Dead in Bed.
By United Press

Columbus, May 29.—William "Billy" Ireland, 55, widely known cartoonist for the Columbus Dispatch and a member of that newspaper's staff for 36 years, was found dead in bed today. He was believed to have suffered a heart attack.

Mr. Ireland, whose cartoons frequently appeared in magazines, was born in Chillicothe. He started to work for the Chillicothe Daily News in 1897 and later worked for the Chillicothe News-Advertiser.

For many years he has drawn "The Passing Show" in the Sunday Dispatch. During his career, Mr. Ireland rejected many offers to go to New York to work.

The next day the Repository published the following:

Ohio Joins Columbus In Paying Tribute To Cartoonist Ireland
Creator Of Passing Show Dies Suddenly At His Home; Famous Throughout State.
By The Associated Press.

Columbus, May 29.—W.A. (Billy) Ireland, genial cartoonist for the Columbus Dispatch, died unexpectedly at his home today. He was 55.

His sketches, which were reproduced in numerous newspapers and magazines, brought him nationwide renown.

As the "janitor" of a full page in the Sunday Dispatch, Mr. Ireland gave full play to his unusual humor. He signed the page with a shamrock and drew a remarkable resemblance of his own stocky, white haired figure, as the "janitor" of the page, known as "The Passing Show."

Notables Send Condolences.

His annual "gypsy tours" to various parts of the nation were illustrated in detail in the page. Born in Chillicothe, he often brought persons from that city into his drawings. Always he gave emphasis to his love of the out-of-doors.

The suddenness of his death shocked the community. He had been in his usual haunts early in the week, joking and discussing fishing trips with friends.

Consequently, funeral arrangements were uncertain.

City and state officials expressed amazement when informed of Mr. Ireland's sudden death. Tribute was paid to him by Mayor Henry W. Worley, Bishop James J. Hartley, and L.W. St. John, athletic director of Ohio State University, among others.

Native of Chillicothe.

Born in Chillicothe, Jan. 8, 1880, Mr. Ireland launched upon his career as an artist as a schoolboy, making chalk plate sketches. With the exception of a short period in Chillicothe, his entire professional career as a cartoonist and newspaper artist was given to the Dispatch here.

An optimist and a humorist, Mr. Ireland inserted his very spirit into his drawings, especially "The Passing Show," where items of human interest dominated.

His Passing Show characters "Jerry and the Judge" were as real to his readers as though they lived in the flesh. He was intensely proud of his country and his state. Many of his cartoons pictured "Old Man Ohio"—an embodiment of what he felt represented the Buckeye state's best citizenship.

Mr. Ireland played just as hard as he worked. His vacation trips were devoted to gathering ideas for "The Passing Show." The Atlantic coast fishing villages knew him, as did the mountains of Kentucky, Tennessee and the Carolinas. His summer home was on Cape Cod. Golf was his hobby, with motoring, fishing and camping close seconds.

Was Found Dead In Bed.

Mr. Ireland was a member of the Scioto Country club here; the Columbus Athletic club and the Elks. He was a Mason and a Rotarian. He was a member of the St. Paul's Episcopal church.

The widow, Mrs. Florence Sayre Ireland, and two daughters, Ruth and Betty, survive.

Mrs. Ireland found the cartoonist dead in bed late this morning. He had died during the night of heart disease from which he had suffered minor attacks for some time.

He had been connected with the Dispatch for 36 years, rejecting repeated offers to go to other newspapers

On May 31, the Repository said Ireland's body was taken to Chillicothe for burial. Ireland's last Passing Show was published on June 2, 1935; it was continued by Harry Keys. The Toledo Blade (Ohio), November 8, 1941, reported Ireland's name was added to the Ohio journalism hall of fame at Ohio State University.

Ireland was mentor to several cartoonists including Milton Caniff, Noel Sickles, and Dudley Fisher. Frank Spangler got his start by substituting for Ireland. Columbus Dispatch cartoonist Ray Evans paid tribute to Ireland.

The Portsmouth Daily Times, September 26, 1984, published "State To Honor Artist" which said:

Gov. Richard Celeste and Lt. Gov. Myrl Shoemaker are to dedicate a shelter house at Great Seal Park today in honor of Billy Ireland, a cartoonist who sketched his vision of the park shortly before he died in 1936 [sic].

The park offers visitors a view of the hills and pasture that are pictured on the state seal.

The comics collection at Ohio State University was renamed the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum in 2009. The original art for a few of his editorial cartoons is at Heritage Auctions.


Ireland's output was tremendous, and his drawings just beautiful.
OSU published an oversized collection a couple years ago, and it can still be found at
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