Nelson and Company: The Moving Statues of Dublin

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Anna LiviaView 'Nelson and Company: The Moving Statues of Dublin' Image Gallery.

Monuments and statues are a significant feature of the cityscape of Dublin; some make an appearance for a short period of time, while others become more permanent fixtures.  This collection of images represents some of those statues that have spent time in the capital city, as well as some that are soon to move.  Certain monuments that no longer adorn the streets and parks of Dublin reflect the nation’s indefatigable struggle to regain independence, such as those that were notably connected to the British Monarchy, which unfortunately included the only three equestrian statues in Ireland. Over the years monuments were destroyed, but not always beyond repair; and there are those that can now be found in new surroundings in other parts of the world, such as the monument to Queen Victoria, once to be seen in the grounds of Leinster House on Kildare Street but now stands proudly outside the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney, Australia.

One of the most prominent monuments from the past was Nelson’s Pillar, erected in memory of Horatio Nelson, England’s great naval hero.  This monument was among the first and grandest monuments of its day.  Standing approximately 40 meters tall, the pillar dominated O’Connell Street (formally Sackville Street) from 1809 until it was blown up in 1966.  Having paid an entry fee, locals and visitors could climb its 168 steps to be offered an unprecedented perspective of Dublin city.  After the monument was demolished, Nelson’s ‘head’ was stolen by NCAD students, and used in various fund-raising pranks.  It then spent some time in the Civic Museum, but now rests in the Reading Room of the Dublin City Library and Archive, Pearse Street.

Dublin was once famed for its high quality equestrian statues, including the Lord Gough Monument in the Phoenix Park, the William of Orange (William III) statue in College Green, and the George II statue that towered on its high pedestal in St Stephen's Green, enabling it to be seen from as far away as Nassau Street and Aungier Street.  These statues are no longer to be seen in Ireland, but the Gough, which was hailed as one of the finest equestrian statues in Europe, has been relocated to the private grounds of Chillingham Castle, Northumberland, in sight of the road.  A traffic bollard stands in its place in Phoenix Park.

Works on Dublin’s Light Rail System (Luas) have made it necessary to move some statues, either temporarily or more permanently.  The Father Mathew statue on O’Connell Street and the Lady Grattan Fountain outside St. Stephen’s Green are due to be put into secure storage between 2014 and 2015, to be returned to the streets of Dublin following the upgrade of the Luas.  To date it is unclear whether they will once again occupy their original positions.  One monument that moved to make way for the building of a bridge over the river Liffey, the Sheahan Memorial, ended up a few metres from where it originally stood.  The statue of the Sacred Heart on Dublin’s O’Connell Street disappeared from sight for some time during an upgrade of the area, but returned to its new granite plinth and glass case.  

There have been temporary monuments in Dublin too.  Gulliver, while not strictly a statue, was floated down the Liffey to commemorate the Millennium year of 1988.  Barry Flanagan’s ‘Hare’ statues temporarily adorned the streets in 2006, to mark the re-opening of the Hugh Lane Gallery in Parnell Square.  Thom McGinty, who described himself as a “moving statue”, was the only ‘living’ statue of his time and was often seen doing his very, very slow-motion walk on Grafton Street.  McGinty appeared as a statue at corporate events from time to time, at one point imitating the renowned “Floozie in the Jacuzzi”, the Anna Livia Fountain that was a feature of O’Connell Street from 1988 to 2001.  The Anna Livia Fountain now rests in a kidney-shaped pond in Croppy Acres Park, free from the granite she had been encased in, looking serene, stately, and appropriately mythical.

View 'Nelson and Company: The Moving Statues of Dublin' Image Gallery.

About the Gallery Creator

This gallery was created by Maeve L'Estrange, who carried out an internship at the Dublin City Library and Archive in 2014 while completing an MPhil. in Public History and Cultural Heritage in Trinity College Dublin.  She also gave an illustrated presentation entitled "Nelson and Company: The Moving Statues of Dublin" in the Central Library, ILAC Centre. Maeve is a graduate of UCD, having obtained a BA in Archaeology and History of Art. Maeve would like to acknowledge her thanks to Dr. Ciaran O'Neill of TCD and Eithne Massey of Dublin City Public Libraries & Archive.

The images used in the gallery are mainly from the Dublin City Council Photographic Collection, but also include postcards held in the Dublin and Irish Collection.

Further Reading

Nineteenth-Century Irish Sculpture: Native Genius Reaffirmed (London, 2010), Paula Murphy.

Reinventing modern Dublin: streetscape, iconography and the politics of identity (Dublin, 2003), Yvonne Whelan.

Statues and Stories, Dublin Monuments Unveiled (Dublin, 2006), Muriel Bolger

The Wolfhound Guide to the Dublin Monuments and Sculpture Trail (Dublin, 1998), Elizabeth Healy

Useful newspaper articles include

‘Dublin’s vanishing statues 1’, Irish Times, 26 November, 1969

‘On the Move: new home for Nelson’s head’ Irish Times, 8 September, 2005

‘Gough Monument wrecked by explosion’ Irish Times, 23 July, 1957

‘Gough statue sale confirmed’, Irish Times, 15 August, 1986

‘Horseman blown up’, Irish Times, 10 January, 1966

‘Attempts to blow up statues’, Irish Times, 17 November, 1928

‘Hare-raising triumph of art over life’, Irish Independent, 24 June, 2006

‘He was the most iconic Dubliner of the ’80s – but he wasn’t even Irish’ Irish Independent, 6 October, 2012

‘Declamatory bronze’, Ulster Herald, 25 April, 2002

‘Statues by any other name’, Irish Press, 1 January, 1988

The newspapers listed above may be accessed online free of charge in the Reading Room, Dublin City Library and Archive, or in your local library.

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