Paula Murphy

A tour of inspection of Dublin statues in 1913, published in the Irish Times (29 April), drew attention to the presence of many ‘admirable statues’ in the city’s midst, as well as recognizing that some of them were ‘far from admirable’. Among the public statues discussed, more than a third are no longer in place. On the subject of the Monument to Queen Victoria (1908) in Kildare Street, the writer pointed out that public opinion at the time of writing was not ‘so favourable as the praises uttered on the occasion of the unveiling’, just five years earlier. As the controversy about imperial monuments in locations across Ireland grew in the aftermath of the gaining of Independence, many monuments would be strategically removed or blown up during the twentieth century.

Among the three most common causes that occasion the destruction and loss of sculptural work over time – politics, neglect, fashion – what has caught the attention of the media over the last two centuries has been the politically motivated vandalism. The newspapers are peppered with reports of efforts to destroy public monuments, often from the time of their unveiling. Reportage included such comments as: ‘one of the most contemptible pieces of mummery’ – the decoration in 1808 of the equestrian statue of William III [5] in College Green with a soiled silk cloak and a headband of orange lilies (Fr J, 13 July 1808); ‘a foolish impulse’ – the defacing of the Viscount Fitzgibbon monument in Limerick in 1873 (IT, 5 June 1873); an ‘extraordinary occurrence’ – the attempt to blow up the 1798 memorial in Market Square in Dundalk in 1901 (Kildare Observer, 14 September 1901); ‘Citizens startled by Terrific Explosion’ – the blowing up of the equestrian statue of George II [307] in St Stephen’s Green in 1937 (Evening Herald, 13 May 1937); a ‘dastardly action’ – the explosion at the Monument to Daniel O’Connell [2] in O’Connell Street in 1969, which dam- aged one of the Victory figures (I Ind, 25 December 1969). In response to an attack on the Monument to Viscount Fitzgibbon in 1873, the Irish Times journalist described it as a cowardly act that required ‘no skill and very little strength’ and from which no credit was to be gained.

Ireland was not unique in experiencing a war on monuments at some point in its history. Pliny, in his chapters on the History of Art (in Natural History (Naturalis Historiae, c. 77–79)), recorded the politically inspired destruction of public statues in ancient Greece. Towards the close of the eighteenth century, royal monuments were destroyed in France in the aftermath of the French Revolution, and the fall of communism in the late twentieth century similarly initiated a crusade to eliminate memorials of communist leaders from public spaces. The reaction of Irish nationalists to the presence of imperial statues in the country was always confrontational. Royal equestrian monuments in Dublin, columnar portraits in, for example, Birr, Caledon (Co. Tyrone), Derry and Dublin, and pedestrian statues associated with the British regime that are/were located across the country, have all been targeted in one way or another. Attacks have taken different forms, including the application of paint, mud, grease or tar; the hacking off of protruding portions, such as swords; the use of explosive material to destroy the work in question.

In 1955 Thomas MacGreevy, then director of the NGI, arguing in favour of the statues, recommended that those still extant should, ‘for their own safety, be removed to a place where they could be regarded as museum pieces’ (IT, 19 November 1955). In Dublin alone, the equestrian statues of William III, George I and George II, and the colossal Monument to Queen Victoria had already been blown up or placed elsewhere by that time. Statues of the Lords Lieutenant the Earl of Carlisle (Phoenix Park, where only the pedestal remains in place [392]) and the Earl of Eglinton and Winton (St Stephen’s Green), of Irish-born British Field Marshal Lord Gough (equestrian, Phoenix Park) [475] and British naval commander Viscount Nelson (on a column in O’Connell Street) [473], all of which were still in place in 1955, were all blown up within the following eleven years (see chapter 10, ‘The Politics of the Street Monument’ in Murphy, 2010, pp. 225–46). If MacGreevy sought to retain these controversial, but nonetheless artistic, public sculptures in a museum space, the Northern counties also had their eye on the ‘historic statues … in danger of destruction’ in the Republic. In 1958 a request was made in the Stormont Parliament of the then minister for Finance, Terence O’Neill, that he would make representation to the British government requesting them to approach their Irish counterpart with a view to handing over their discredited statues and thus preserving them (I Pr, 22 October 1958).

392.Plinth which held John Henry Foleys statue of Earl of Carlisle Peoples Garden Phoenix Park statue erected 1870 blown up 1958. © Denis Mortell Photography

Imperial statues outside the capital received the same treatment, either destroyed or removed, and few remain in place. In some cases, such as at Birr, Co. Offaly, the statue of the Duke of Cumberland (1747), the so-called Butcher of Culloden, by Henry and John Cheere, which originally topped the column in Emmet Square, was removed in 1915, while the column contin-ues to be a central feature of the town. In Galway John Henry Foley’s (qv) statue of local landlord and MP for the local borough Lord Dunkellin (1873) was pulled down in May 1922. Several thousand people gathered in Eyre Square for a ritualistic burying of Irish landlordism. Ropes, saws and brute force were employed to topple the statue, before the empty pedestal pre- sented the opportunity for fiery speeches (Cathair na Mart, Journal of the Westport Historical Society, 10, 1 (1990), 115). Several newspapers decried the attack, associating it with ‘Bolshevist [sic] Vandalism’ and, beyond politics, noted that the sculpture was ‘a fine work of art – one of Foley’s best’ (Tuam Herald, 10 June; 3 June 1922).

Assaults on statues in Ireland were not restricted to nationalists. Memorials to the Manchester Martyrs and to participants in the 1798 Rebellion were similarly targeted. The 1798 column at Bandon, Co. Cork, erected in 1901, was pulled down by local Loyalists and British troops in April 1921 [393], breaking in two the statue of the Maid of Erin. The monument had already suffered an incident, late the previous year, when, on the fifty-third anniversary of the death of the Manchester Martyrs, it was daubed with paint (FJ, 16 April 1921). In 1971, Edward Delaney’s (qv) statue of Wolfe Tone (1967), at the north-eastern corner of St Stephen’s Green, Dublin, was the target of an explosion, which shattered the figure into four pieces, leaving in place only the stumps of the legs [394] (IT, 9 February 1971).

393.  Maid of Erin, 1798 Memorial, Bandon, Co. Cork, erected 1901, destroyed 1921, Bandon Historical Journal No. 3, 1987, p.46, by Paddy Connolly. © Cumann Seanchais Na Banndan (Bandon local History Society)
394. Edward Delaney, Wolfe Tone Memorial, 1967, bronze, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin, damaged in an explosion 1971, Irish Times, 9 February 1971. Photo © Pat Langan.

The desecration of buildings necessarily incurred the destruction of sculptures both outside and inside. The bombardment of the Four Courts in Dublin in 1922 not only left the State bereft of its most important archive – the documents held in the Record Office there – but ‘the splendid specimens of the sculptor’s art which adorned the interior of the Central Hall’ were also destroyed (IT, 3 July 1922). Portraits of legal dignitaries Sir Michael O’Loghlen and William, Lord Plunket (Patrick MacDowell, qv), Chief Justice James Whiteside (Thomas Woolner), Thomas, Lord O’Hagan and Richard Lalor Shiel (Thomas Farrell, qv), Chief Baron Henry Joy (William Behnes), and the eight allegorical statues by Edward Smyth (qv), located in the lantern of the dome, were all destroyed or damaged.

The devastation of stately homes in Ireland, similarly politically motivated, also affected the longevity of sculptural work. Collections were destroyed when houses were attacked or occasionally dispersed if houses were abandoned. An exquisite statue of the poet Mary Tighe (1772–1810) by Lorenzo Bartolini (1820), seated in the manner of Canova’s Madame Mère, which was in the front hall of Woodstock, Inistioge, Co. Kilkenny [395], was destroyed, along with other sculptural works in the collection, when the house was burned to the ground in 1922.

395. Lorenzo Bartolini, Mary Tighe, Woodstock, Inistioge, Co. Kilkenny, 1820, destroyed by fire 1922. © National Library of Ireland.

If politics can play a significant part in the disappearance of sculptures, so too does the change in taste from one period to another. This is evident in some Irish churches in the second half of the twentieth century, where substantial alterations were made in line with the new liturgical demands of Vatican II (see ‘Ecclesiastical Sculpture’). The requirement that there be a more integrated relationship between the clergy and the congregation in many cases resulted in the altar rails and pulpits being removed and new altars being constructed so that the celebrants could face the people. Monuments by Thomas Farrell in the Church of the Star of the Sea, Sandymount, Dublin, which were positioned on the wall above the altar rail, were removed when the church was refurbished in the 1960s. The monuments, which included portrait medallions, commemorated former priests of the parish, Fr Thomas Leahy (d. 1880) and Fr Andrew O’Connell (d. 1876, monument erected 1884), the latter of whom was instrumental in the building of the church.

So-called progress and its manifestation in the demolition and reconstruction of buildings inevitably entails loss of sculptural work. Only random sculptures are saved and often subsequently displayed in a less than harmonious manner, devoid of their original context. Developments on O’Connell Street, Dublin, in the 1970s included the demolition of Gilbey & Sons (1866), the Victorian wine merchants building, the entrance porch of which incorporated two portrait heads in the spandrels. The portraits of British prime ministers Gladstone and Palmerston by Samuel Ferris Lynn (qv) are now in the NGI. Similarly, when the Irish House, 1870 [58], on Wood Quay was demolished in 1968, the Celtic Revival sculptures on the façade were saved for later display as independent art works (see ‘Celtic Revival Sculpture’).

The neglect and subsequent rejection of casts of ancient sculptures, which were abundant, particularly in Dublin in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, also reflect changes in taste. These casts, considered to show evidence of learning and good taste, proliferated in private collections in the eighteenth century and, with the advent of public collections in the following century, served educational purposes for artists and public alike. The RDS and the NGI in Dublin and the CAG in Cork held the most significant collections of casts, only the last of which remains intact [375]. A combination of the advent of Modernism in the early twentieth century and the inherent vulnerability of the casts, which were made in plaster, resulted in their disappearance without trace during the twentieth century. The fragility of the casts is evident from the records of meetings in the RDS, where payments for repair to the sculptures were frequently minuted. As early as 1799, it is recorded that students at the Society Schools, who had damaged the casts, were obliged to pay for their repair (Turpin, 1995, pp. 30–31). The casts in the collection of the RDS subsequently passed to the NCA, where, in the course of the student occupation of the college in 1969, most of them were smashed (IT, 7 June 1969). This was both a symbolic and a functional act. The students were demanding changes to the curriculum in the college and the antique casts served as a symbol of the conservative nature of the institution’s curriculum.

The casts that remained in the possession of the RDS – mostly contemporary rather than antique – fared little better. When John Henry Foley died in London in 1874, he willed his plaster models to the RDS, where he had undergone his initial training; these were a hugely significant addition to the collection. The Foley models, along with casts of work by other Irish sculptors of the period, were displayed for the use of students and eventually were exhibited for the public in the nineteenth century. The majority of these casts are no longer extant. Among them was the plaster model for Foley’s renowned Youth at a Stream [112], which was photographed in the members’ entrance lobby in the Ballsbridge premises in the 1970s. This work is no longer in situ.

That few examples of plaster sculptures, either preparatory or finished pieces, remain extant from sculptors’ studios confirms the fragility and ultimately the ephemeral nature of the material. Plaster, being relatively inexpensive in comparison with other materials, easy to model, readily adaptable to compositional changes and reusable, was widely employed for exploratory and model work on all scales, and particularly for sketch work, for competition maquettes (see ‘Competition’) and for exhibiting subject pieces in order to attract patronage. RHA exhibition catalogues list many works shown in plaster, few of which survive. In 1852 Joseph Farrell (qv) had the misfortune of having two of his plaster sculptures destroyed in transit before they reached their destination, the Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures in Cork (Nation, 5 June 1852).

Yet not all plaster works have been lost through damage. Charles Bell Birch’s bronzed plaster statue of Lieutenant Walter Richard Pollock Hamilton (c. 1880), which also formed part of the RDS collection, where it was prominently displayed, was given to the National Army Museum in London in 1985. The RDS stated at the time that the work had been decommissioned because of lack of space and for health and safety reasons; it appears that one of the members had been injured by an encounter with the statue. As if to express disapproval at its removal from the country, the statue was badly broken in transit between Dublin and London (IT, 10 December 1985), but has since been restored. Several imperial works have made their way from Ireland to England over the twentieth century, notably the equestrian George I (van Nost the elder), formerly on Essex Bridge and subsequently in the Mansion House, Dawson Street, but which now stands in front of the Barber Institute in Birmingham, and the equestrian Lord Gough and pedestrian Earl of Carlisle (both by Foley), formerly in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, and both now in private collections in Britain. John Hughes’s (qv) statue of William Gladstone, intended for Dublin in the early years of the century, was not in the end accepted by the Irish government and was erected instead at his former home in Hawarden, Flintshire, Wales, [157], in 1925.

The loss of sculptural work can also be the result of weathering, ignorance, wanton vandalism and sheer neglect, of all of which there are many examples. A poignant sculptural group by English sculptor Joseph Wilton, considered to be among his finest works (Roscoe, p. 1387), was to suffer the consequences of neglect over a long period. The mausoleum on the estate at Dartrey, Co. Monaghan, which housed the Wilton statue, served to commemorate Lady Anne Dawson [367], who died in 1769, aged thirty-six. The statue group, which was completed in 1774, depicts Thomas Dawson and his son approaching a large urn, while a hovering angel appears to terrify the child, who turns to grasp his father. Since the mausoleum fell into a state of disrepair and eventually lost its roof, the sculpture was badly affected. Any damage that resulted from weathering was augmented by vandalism, with pieces of the marble hacked off. (The mausoleum and the sculpture underwent restoration in the twentieth-first century.)

If the poor state of repair of the mausoleum and its sculptural work might have appeared to invite vandalism in the case of the Dawson sculpture, this was not the case with Albert Power’s statue of writer Pádraic Ó Conaire (Eyre Square, Galway) [261], which was decapitated by a group of youths in 1999. Evidence of similarly unprovoked vandalism was seen four years earlier when an entire exhibition was wrecked. In 1995 the annual Sculpture in Context (qv) exhibition was held in Malahide, Co. Dublin. A month after the opening of the open air exhibition, what was thought to be a ‘local gang’ ran riot through the show, destroying many of the works on display, several of them irreparably (IT, 7 July 1995).

While sculptures may fall into disrepair as a result of weathering or neglect, it is rare that monuments have collapsed with- out the aid of human intervention. However, this was the case with Joseph Kirk’s (qv) ill-fated commemorative work in Pearse Street, Dublin, in February 1959. The bizarre monument to surgeon-general Sir Philip Crampton [177], which was largely an object of derision from the time of its erection in 1862, began to shed sections of the bronze, injuring one person and eliciting the comment that ‘this week a monument fell down in Dublin’ (I Pr, 12 February 1959). The monument was subsequently dismantled, after which it disappeared. In the early twenty-first century the disappearance of public monuments in Ireland has taken the form of theft. In 2011, several works were removed from roadside locations – less, it was recognized at the time, for the purpose of acquiring art and more in order to redeploy the material (I Ind, 19 April 2011).

According to artist Sean Lynch, ‘public space is not about consensus, but contestation: complete resolution of an artwork is always challenged by everyday friction and usage’ (‘Everyday Friction’, VAN, May/June 2011). In conjunction with his artwork Me Jewel & Darlin’, 2011, Lynch published a booklet, The Use and Abuse of Monuments, which details public reaction to a series of monuments in Dublin, the last of which is the Millennium Countdown Clock. Designed by Dublin-based architects Gráinne Hassett and Vincent Ducatez in 1996, the digital ‘clock’, positioned in the River Liffey, was intended to count down the minutes to the new millennium and break free to float down the river at midnight on 31 December 1999. However the clock, which intermittently malfunctioned, did not survive even its first year, and was removed in 1997 to ‘be broken up’ (IT, 28 February 1997). The digits of what came to be known as the Chime in the Slime became invisible in the river water, resulting in the clock counting down imperceptibly towards its own untimely demise.

SELECTED READING Murphy 2010; Sean Lynch, The Use and Abuse of Monuments, Dublin 2011.

The Royal Irish Academy has kindly granted permission to Sculpture Dublin to reproduce a number of texts from Sculpture 1600-2000, Volume 3 in the Royal Irish Academy’s 5-volume publication Art and Architecture of Ireland (Yale, 2014). The book, edited by Paula Murphy, comprises introductory essays, biographies and thematic essays.