Friday, August 16, 2019

Angels of Dublin: O'Connell's Monument & The Wingéd Victories

Monument to The Great Liberator with the Wingéd Victories (pigeon optional).
At the heart of Dublin City centre, at the head of what was in 1882 called Sackville Street — the name was changed to O’Connell Street in 1924 — stands the monument to the glory of ‘The Great Liberator’, Daniel O’Connell. It is a monument that was almost twenty years in the making, beginning in 1864, with the laying of the first stone. In 1866, John Henry Foley, the first major Irish sculptor, won the commission to create the monument, contracting for the tidy sum of £12,500. Although he completed the lion's share of the work, Foley died 27 August 1874, before entirely bringing the monument to fruition. Thus ensued much legal wrangling, and a long period in which nothing was done to complete the work. Finally on 13 July 1878 the Committee resolved to contract with Foley's student, the English sculptor Thomas Brock, who was paid £800 to put it all together.

The monument is replete with figures and symbols from Irish history. It is composed in three distinct sections of stone and bronze sculptures, with the statue of Daniel O’Connell standing at the very top. The middle section comprises a collection of nearly thirty individual figures in a three-dimensional frieze. Represented here are persons from all walks of life including the peasantry and the professions, the arts and the trades, and of course the Catholic Church.

At the forefront of the frieze is the Maid of Erin. Her left hand holds a parchment bearing the 1829 Act of Catholic Emancipation, while her right arm is poised above her head, with her finger pointing to the Great Liberator, Daniel O’Connell. If you look closely, you will notice that Erin’s hair is wreathed in shamrock, the three-leafed symbol long associated with St. Patrick. Beneath her right foot are pieces of broken chain, further symbolising Catholic Emancipation. At Erin's side is her Irish Harp, something she is never seen without, given that from antiquity traditional music was the social center of Ireland.

To the Maid of Erin's left (your right) you will notice a bishop, reaching to draw the attention of two students to the Act of Catholic Emancipation in her hand. Going around the frieze, immediately following the bishop is a poet, then an historian, an artist and a musician, followed by an artisan, a soldier and a sailor. Quite interestingly (perhaps scandalously) a farm labourer stands directly on Erin's right hand side in a position of significance, a nod to Ireland's then largely agrarian society. He is followed by the Lord Mayor of Dublin and other figures representing law, justice and philosophy. 

The Maid of Erin and some of the figures of the frieze.

Although the monument stands 12 metres tall (about 40ft), with the cloaked bronze figure of O’Connell taking up 3.65 of those 12 metres (about 12ft), it is the angels — wingéd victories, as they were called at their inception — to which I have always been most drawn. From their places seated around the base (called the drum) of Daniel O'Connell's statue, they have fascinated me since I first laid eyes on them on when I was a child. I feel a special sort of connection to them, because of the memories they evoke, the inspiration they have given me in my history work, and the fact that they have stood witness to landmark events in the lives of the Irish people.

Each one of the angels was crafted to represent a virtue most readily associated with the life and career of Daniel O’Connell — courage, eloquence, fidelity and patriotism — and are named accordingly. They are Victory By Fidelity, Victory By Eloquence, Victory By Courage and Victory By Patriotism. Also, each one represents an individual province in Ireland; the provinces are Munster, Leinster, Ulster, and Connaught.

Victory by Fidelity, my favourite, is portrayed as mistress of an Irish Wolfhound, a breed of dog that has existed in Ireland since the 4th century. Irish Wolfhounds often appear in nationalist images, likely because the breed is prized for its noble bearing, intelligence and keen ability to recognize the difference between good and evil. Also, in her hand Fidelity bears a compass, denoting that she is true to the cause of freedom, as true as the faithful needle of the compass is to the North Pole.

Victory by Courage is portrayed strangling a serpent with her right hand, while her left hand rests on a fasces — a bundle of rods with an axe head protruding — an ancient Roman symbol of power and authority. In this incarnation it is meant to symbolise power by unity. Victory by Patriotism was cast bearing a sword and a shield, symbolising her preparedness to defend her native Ireland. Victory by Eloquence represents the appeal to reason and judgement, as borne out in the documents that rest across her lap. She is the last of the bronzes to take her place around the drum, having been set in place on 21 May, 1883. Also, the victories bear bullet holes — Fidelity was shot in her left elbow and Courage is wounded in her right chest — markers of the 1916 Easter Rising. As well, there are numerous ricochet marks on the stone plinth and on O'Connell himself.

Victory By Fidelity

Victory By Eloquence

Victory By Courage

Victory By Patriotism

Great fanfare accompanied the unveiling of the monument on 15 August 1882. Thousands of Irish had already descended on the capital for various celebrations. Over 250,000 came to attend the Industrial and Agricultural Exhibition in the Rotunda Gardens, the principal focus of which was Irish products and industry, while others were in Dublin to mark the centenary of Grattan’s Parliament.

It is said that not only did a great roar rise up from ‘ten thousand throats’ as the veil was pulled revealing the monument, but that the rain ceased and the sun broke through the clouds to light the monument and reveal it in all of its splendour. Interestingly, none of the bronzes of the wingéd victories were present at the time of the unveiling of the monument. Two had already been cast, but the decision was made not to add them until all four were complete. Finally in 1883, the four angels took their rightful place around the base of the plinth.

Those who donated money in order that the monument might come to fruition ranged from the requisite Esquires and Very Reverends to ‘a true Irishman’ and ‘a Liberal Protestant’, as well as a number of benefactors who wished to remain ‘anonymous’. The subscription list, parts of which can be found in the Report of the O'Connell Monument Committee, is a marvellous document to peruse. Although many entries fall under 'miscellaneous', quite a number include, not only the amount donated, but also the name and address of the donor.

Especially striking are those pledges made by children, such as one penny given by ‘a widow’s mite’, and a donation of six pence made by “a little boy, it being his Patrick’s Day contribution”. Members of the Chimney Cleaners’ Association and the Pawnbrokers Assistants’ Association of Dublin are among those who gave monies, along with Bootmakers, Cabinet Makers, school boys and those in the Silk Trade. The subscriptions listed cross all social classes and income levels, and were drawn from all over Ireland, from townlands and counties near and far, and even from beyond Ireland’s shores.

The Great Liberator Daniel O'Connell

References for further reading:

The Campaign for Catholic Emancipation, 1823-1829, University College Cork Multitext History Project, University College Cork, 2014.

The Freeman's Journal Newspaper, Dublin, 16 August 1882.

The Very Rev. John Canon O'Hanlon, P.P., The Report of the O'Connell Monument Committee,
J. Duffy and Co. Ltd., Dublin, 1888. (via


All images ©jgg. All Rights Reserved. All text ©ÉireHistorian

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Friday, April 5, 2019

In the little grey cottage, a portrait trimmed in black crepe...

When you think about relatives whose homes you visited when you were a child, what do you recollect about those visits? What sorts of things struck you about those family members? Is it names or faces you recall? Maybe something else stands out for you, perhaps a piece of furniture or a portrait hanging on the wall in a reception room?

Such was the case for my mother. Mam recalled that when she was a very young child, her father Patrick would take all his children on visits to a family whose surname she believed was Pells. These jaunts to the home of the Pells were something my mam and her siblings excitedly anticipated. Although she did not know the exact nature of the relationship between the two families, my mother did recall some details about the family and the home in which they lived.

Visiting the Pells usually meant spending tea time with them, as they lived a long walk away from Ringsend. In fine weather the family would travel along the Liffey quays, delighting in all the sights of busy Dublin City. When they arrived at the Pells, there would be warm embraces from the mother and father of the household, greeting each child as they passed through the doorway of the little dove grey cottage on Liffey Street. When the tea was presented, it was with thick slices of warm bread slathered in creamy butter. There was the tiny table laid out especially for the children by the Pells' beautiful adult daughter, Rosanna, a girl with perfect posture who wore her mass of auburn hair piled high upon her head.

At the forefront of my mother's recollections of these wonderful visits was a photograph that enthralled her. In a beautiful dark wood frame, trimmed with a ribbon of black crepe, the picture hung above a side board in the front room. It was a portrait of a handsome young man in the uniform of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, a tender looking man with an open face and bright clear eyes, a young man with the same perfect posture as Rosanna, a young man about whom no one ever uttered a word. 

When my mother was still very young, the family visits to the little dove grey cottage inexplicably ended, and the family, together their name, was forgotten for a long time. Their name re-emerged during a conversation I had with my mother a few months before she died. Mam recollected those lovely childhood visits and that intriguing portrait of the handsome young soldier. She felt sure their surname was Pells, spelled P-E-L-L-S.

While following a thread in the line of my maternal great-grandmother Jane Early, I discovered the surname is Pell, not Pells. The error is an understandable one, given that a visit to the family was probably preceded by the explanation, 'We're going to the Pells'; one Pell becomes all Pells. Also, I learned that Mrs. Teresa Pell had died in 1939 and Mr. John Pell had passed in 1943, thus the probable reason for the end of my mam's childhood visits. Better still, I uncovered the likely identity of the young man in the photograph.


William Francis Pell was born in Dublin Ireland on 8 September, 1891. He was the second born child, and first born son, of Teresa Early and John Pell. Teresa Early Pell was the youngest sister of my maternal great-grandmother, Jane Early Ball. At various times in the late 19th and early 20th century, the two sisters and their respective families lived together. William's first cousin, my grandfather Patrick Ball, was six years old when William was born.

The Pell family in toto appears on the 1901 Irish Census; William is notably absent from the 1911 Irish Census. He may have already been serving with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers (RDF); however, I have not yet found evidence to support such a conclusion.

William Pell served in the 2nd Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, as part of the 10th Brigade, 4th Division; his regimental number was 8328. Thankfully, over the years, I have been able to find some military records for young William, including the diaries of his battalion, William's medal card, the casualty list for his battalion, the Personal Effects Registry in which he is mentioned, and his entry in Ireland's Memorial Records, and I have been fortunate to visit his grave in Belgium.

Upon enlisting, William served in the rank of Private; however, both the casualty list and William's gravestone attest to the fact that he held the rank of Lance Corporal when he was killed. Other casualties among the ranks may have led to this 'promotion' or appointment. No matter the reason for this promotion, it meant that less than 3 months before his death, this young man was in command of a section of his battalion.

The war diaries of the 2nd Battalion, RDF, composed by their commander Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Loveband tell us that everyday from 9 October 1914 — the date William officially entered the theatre of war — as the battalion marched from Pisseleux to Hazebrouck, Sylvestre, Fontaine, Meteren, to Armentieres, on to Frelinghein, and on into Belgium, they faced heavy shelling, reverse fire and sniper fire. Every single day soldiers were killed or wounded 1.

On 24 Oct the brigade waited all day for a general attack by the 6th army, an attack that never came. It was on this day that William chose to write out his last will and testament on a page in his 'Small Book'.2 After all he and his comrades had been through, perhaps William had a presentiment that he was not long for this world. The rest of October saw a couple of quiet days. On 29 October the diarist Loveband noted it was a fairly cold and wet, but quiet day. The decision was made to build another trench.

November was marked by bitter cold, snow and icy rain, along with shelling and heavy sniper fire. On 22 November they marched to Nieppe where they were billeted. The only bright spot in these difficult months emerged at Nieppe, where the men were finally allowed to bathe. In a local brewery, the huge vats were filled with hot water so they could bathe. The soldiers were allowed to strip down and jump in en masse. While they bathed, local women repaired any uniforms in need of new seams or a stitch or two. Afterward they were issued clean underwear, and feeling refreshed, they happily marched to their billets on the outskirts of Armentieres.3

December brought more of the terror that November had brought, and with little respite.

7 January 1915 was a miserable day. It had snowed the day before and was bitter cold. On the 7th it rained all day long in trenches that were already in very poor condition. The enemy shelled the left trench rather more than usual on that particular day, and engaged in significant sniper fire. It was on this day that young William was killed; he was the only casualty in his brigade.

In an extraordinary coincidence, William Francis Pell is interred in Prowse Point Military Cemetery in Belgium, the same cemetery in which my paternal great-grandmother's brother William Dunne is interred. They are two among a total of only two hundred and twenty-five interred, and their graves are only a few metres away from one another. I do not know how well William Pell and William Dunne knew each other, if at all. Their families were not yet connected, and would not be for some forty years to come. (See ...Following the road of my two Williams)

William Pell's grave marker, caressed by a rose.
According to his medal card, William Pell was awarded the 1914 Star, the Victory Medal, and the British War Medal. The card bears the telling phrase 'K. in A.', the benign way of noting that he was killed in action. The medals card also states his qualification date as 9 October 1914. As I noted earlier, this is the date on which William first entered the theatre of war, just three months before his death. The medals would have been sent to his family.

At the time of William's death, the Pell family was living in the little dove grey cottage on Liffey Street, the home my mam visited when she was a child. Although there is no slip of paper bearing the signature of his mother or his father for receipt of those medals at their door, I wonder what that day was like when those medals arrived, and just when it was that the Pell family added the ribbon of black crepe to the portrait of their handsome young man.

In July of 1915, William’s mother Teresa was sent his personal effects comprising £5. 1s. 6d (read 5 pounds, 1 shilling and 6 pence). In June of 1919, Teresa was sent a war gratuity of £3.4 Less than £10 for the life of her beautiful boy, William, lost to her when he was only 23 years old.

Some of records that helped to fill out William's story.


1. National Archives UK (NAUK); Kew, London, England: reference WO 95/1481/4: War Diaries 2nd Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, August 1914 - Oct 1916. (Accessed Sept. 2012)

2. Each man who served in the British Forces during the First World War was given what was referred to as a Small Book. All of the regulations of the branch in which these men served were laid out, chapter and verse, on the pages of this little book. There were also blank pages on which the soldiers could record information about the details of their training. Among these blank pages was the one entitled ‘Will’. When a soldier was called to active duty, this completed page usually would be given to his local army office. Sometimes the will page was not removed from his book until after his death, and some of these pages no longer exist at all. Although over 35,000 Irishmen were killed during the First World War, only 9,000 of their wills are extant.

3. National Archives UK (NAUK); Kew, London, England: reference WO 95/1481/4: War Diaries 2nd Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, August 1914 - Oct 1916. (Accessed Sept. 2012)

4. National Army Museum; Chelsea, London, England; Soldiers' Effects Records, 1915; Pell, William/ Personal Effects, entry #153041. (Accessed Sept. 2012).

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Unless otherwise credited, all photographs ©jgg.
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