The issue of unloved public monuments was one which troubled many of the European countries that got to run their own affairs in the wake of the Versailles agreement. That agreement unfortunately excluded Ireland, which was obliged to conduct a war of independence in order to achieve autonomy. A forthcoming drb essay will compare the Irish and Czech approaches to the problem of inherited public monuments which celebrated former overlords.
Quite a number of Dublin statues and monuments disappeared in the first half of the twentieth century. A tall equestrian monument to King William III which had stood in College Green since the eighteenth century was blown up in 1929. It was a focus for unionist political expression throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By the time it was blown up, however, such politics had all but vanished from Dublin. Another, of George II on horseback, which stood in St Stephen’s Green, was destroyed in 1938. Bombings of this sort usually coincided with Armistice Day or Remembrance Sunday.
A copper equestrian monument to George III showing the king in full military regalia once stood outside the Royal Exchange. It was removed by the state on the understandable grounds that you couldn’t have a British king sitting on a horse outside the chamber where the city’s elected councillors met.
The old equestrian Gough monument, the work of Irish sculptor John Foley, once so prominent in the Phoenix Park, was bombed in the 1950s, the last of a series of attacks over several decades. It was erected in the 1880s in the face of considerable nationalist opposition. Gough was a thoroughly imperial military figure. After serving as commander-in-chief of the British forces in China during the First Opium War he became commander-in-chief in India and led the British forces in action against the Marathas, defeating them decisively. He then commanded the troops that defeated the Sikhs during both Anglo- Sikh wars. In 1990 the pieces were transferred to Chillingham Castle in Northumberland. The massive statue of Queen Victoria on the lawn of Leinster House was finally removed in 1949; some decades later it was shipped to Australia. The bombing of Nelson Pillar in 1967 was a last hurrah for the iconoclasts. Since then ‑ if not before ‑ the bombing of statues has been seen as a futile and faintly ridiculous activity.
But not all Dublin monuments were removed for political reasons. Traffic movement was the other consideration. Avery impressive statue of George I was removed from Essex Bridge, but that was in 1798. It was taken away because it was interfering with the work of the wide streets commission. The statue was brought first to the garden of the Mansion House. In 1937 it was sold to the Barber Institute for Fine Arts in Birmingham, where it now stands.
The wonderful Crampton Memorial at the end of D’Olier Street, which some Dubliners thought resembled a pineapple and about which Leopold Bloom commented in his internal dialogue, was removed in the 1950s to facilitate the free flow of traffic from D’Olier Street into College Street. In the late nineteenth century there was a campaign to have Nelson Pillar removed because of the traffic delays it caused and more recently Molly Malone was shifted from Lower Grafton Street to facilitate Luas works. Father Mathew could be next!