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.
The monument is replete with figures and symbols of Irish history, and is composed is 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 ring of figures in the frieze is the Maid of Erin. Her left hand holds a parchment bearing the 1829 Act of Catholic Emancipation, and her right arm is poised above her head with her finger pointing to the Great Liberator, Daniel O’Connell.
Although the monument stands 40 feet tall, with the cloaked bronze figure of O’Connell taking up 12 of those 40 feet, 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 of Daniel O'Connell's statue, they have fascinated me since I first laid eyes on them on my first trip to Dublin when I was a child. I feel a special sort of connection to them, because of the memories they evoke in my mind, and because they have stood witness to landmark events in Irish history.
Each one of the angels was crafted to represent a virtue most readily associated with Daniel O’Connell — courage, eloquence, fidelity and patriotism. It is said that each one also represents an individual province in Ireland, the provinces being Munster, Leinster, Ulster, and Connaught.
Three of the angels bear bullet holes — one in its left arm, two with a wound in the chest — markers of the 1916 Easter Rising and the Irish War of Independence. The figure of fidelity has an Irish Wolfhound at her feet, a breed of dog which has existed in Ireland since at least the 4th century. Irish Wolfhounds often appear in nationalist images, possibly because the breed is prized for its noble bearing, intelligence and keen ability to recognize the difference between good and evil.
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 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 winged victories bronzes was 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 1886, 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 in the Report of the O'Connell Monument Committee is a marvellous document to peruse. Especially striking are those donations made by children, with a donation of one penny being 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 Campaign for Catholic Emancipation, 1823-1829, University College Cork Multitext History Project, University College Cork.
The Freeman's Journal, 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 the Open Library)
Thanks to Postcardy for suggesting the theme of statues and monuments for this Sepia Saturday #220. Be sure to stop by the Sepia Saturday blog to see how others have interpreted today's theme, and perhaps you'll be inspired too.
Click on images to view larger versions.