The origins of “The” Che Guevara poster, and its roots in Ireland.
Art historian Prof Martin Kemp ranked this image of Che Guevara at number six in the 10 most iconic images of all time (the Mona Lisa is number one), so how do it origins lie in the seaside town of Kilkee on the west coast of Ireland?
The year was 1962, and 16 year old Jim Fitzpatrick was working behind the bar in the Marine Hotel in Kilkee, a tiny coastal village on the West Coast of Ireland with a population of a few hundred. Fitzpatrick describes three men who walked through the doors of the bar as looking like “desperados entering a saloon”. He recognised one of them immediately as the revolutionary Che Guevara. Fitzpatrick chatted to the men, and recommended a glass of Powers whiskey with a water mixer. Guevara and his two cohorts were en route from Moscow to Havana and their plane had been grounded in nearby Shannon Airport due to fog. They wanted to see the Irish coast so they hired a car from the airport, and subsequently ended up sat on a bar stool in Kilkee.
Guevara had minimal English but explained that his ancestors were Irish, from Cork and his great grandmother was from Galway. “He seemed to have great admiration for the fact that we were one of the first countries to shake off the shackles of empire.” The three men retreated to the corner of the pub where they chatted for a while before departing quietly.
Some years later, when Fitzpatrick learned of Guevaras execution in Bolivia, he came across a photo of the revolutionary that had been taken by Korda, the official photographer of Fidel Castro. Using a process known as “line drop”, he outlined Guevara in black, and placed the image over a red background.
Korda never copyrighted the photograph as Castro didnt believe in copyright, and so Fitzpatrick wanted to honour this sentiment by doing the same. He had alot of adulation for Guevara and never wanted money for the poster – “it would be like taking blood money. I just wanted to make sure he was not forgotten.”
And now more than half a century later, to say the image is iconic would be an understatement. It was used as a banner in the recent Egyptian protests, and just last year the Irish government even recognised Guevaras roots by having the image made into a national stamp.
With the image becoming so widespread, so too came its association with pop culture. Fitzpatrick eventually became tired of the image being used for what he called “crass” commercial purposes and filed for copyright of the image. And after several long years of litigation, ownership was finally won. At which point Fitzpatrick valiantly handed over all proceeds of the image to the family of Guevara so that the money could be restored to the people of Cuba.
So seals the history of a monumental image that became a symbol of rebellion against the status quo, and of its serendipitous origins in a pub in West Clare.
If you’re keen to steep yourself in a little bit more Cuban revolutionary history, Global Village have two tours running to Cuba this year in May and November. We pride ourselves on showing you a side of Cuba that hasnt been white-washed by tourism yet. Quiet beaches, honest history, hand picked local restaurants and the worlds best mojitos. This is the real Cuba!
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