When Dublin’s Queen Victoria statue was eliminated

The ending wasn’t particularly dignified for Victoria.

“As I watched, another worker appeared who would climb over her head, sometimes grabbing her nose, and occasionally sticking a finger in her contemptuous eye. Perhaps it was just the effect of the glittering rain on the bright green copper, but it seemed to me that the old lady – never exactly pleasant in the best of times – was staring around in disgust and disgust.

So reads a report in the Irish Times about the removal of the controversial statue of Britain’s Queen Victoria, which stood in Leinster House for more than 40 years.

The scenes are described in the Irishman’s Diary the following day, July 23, 1948. It’s also featured on the front page – hung on machines while people watch. “Ministers, ex-ministers and Dáil MPs stood around in the rain and waited. There were crowds on the steps of the museum and library and cameras everywhere. The workers were now working with the insanely measured, deliberate demeanor of men who know they are holding the stage.

STATUE REMOVED: The front page of the Irish Times on July 23, 1948

“Several times we thought the big moment had come – once she stumbled off her pedestal for a second or two and creaked back again – but when everything was set, it began to pour and everyone had to get to safety.”

In the end, Quidnunc missed the final. “I watched the men adjust and readjust the widths around Victoria’s center for a while, then I had to go to the Leinster Bowling Club to see the South African game. When I got back, Victoria was missing from her pedestal. ”The statue was later moved to Kilmainham.

The play – funny but dry and straightforward – describes an unflattering audience and a spectacle that differs from that on the day the statue was erected.


The search for clues to Dublin’s statue of Queen Victoria in the Irish Times’ archives raises some parallels. There is the statue of Victoria, which was erected in Menton, France, in 1939; forced into the sea during World War II and later relieved when the Italians arrived. Further back, in November 1908, there was “outrage” over the public gardens in the Indian city of Nagpur, where a statue of the queen was “mutilated; the face smeared with tar and the nose and fingers broken. “

In the years between Victoria’s visit to Ireland in 1900 and the unveiling of the statue of John Hughes in 1908, there is frequent mention of a public fund set up for his commission. In the days leading up to the unveiling, tickets for the ceremony were advertised – the entrance fee was one shilling, payable in the entrance hall of the Leinster House. The goal, according to a report, was to thin out the expected amount.

The day it was unveiled – February 15, 1908 -, like the day it came down, was punctuated by rain. “The ceremony was held to mark an imposing military performance, but the glitz of the parade was tarnished to some extent by a somewhat heavy rain that fell just before the formal part of the proceedings began,” reported The Irish Times.

Troop detachments arrived at 2 p.m. and the unveiling took place at 3 p.m. “About 1000 soldiers were on the parade, and when the various battalions, dressed in the order of the territories, arrived on the stage with their gangs, they took up their assigned positions with attached bayonets and formed a wide circle around the green area, in the middle of which it stood Monument with the beauty of its magnificently sculpted bronze figures, which have not yet been unveiled. “

“A noble addition”

The strings would be pulled, the Lord Lieutenant’s speech would be made, and applause would ring – as far as the report goes. The Irish Times praised the statue as “a noble addition” to Dublin’s monuments and praised the sculptor John Hughes.

Over the years, the piece’s praised aesthetics have been questioned time and again. As Randolph Churchill wrote in a front-page article in November 1945: “The largest and ugliest statue in Dublin stands outside the Dáil and is of Queen Victoria – who was denounced as the Hunger Queen throughout Ireland in the last century.”

A look at the military parade to unveil the statue, February 15, 1908. Photo: The Irish Times

A look at the military parade to unveil the statue, February 15, 1908. Photo: The Irish Times

The statue and the merit of keeping it in place quickly became a topic of discussion. In line with the struggle for Irish independence and the rejection of imperialist Britain, the controversy crept into coverage – especially after the conclusion of the War of Independence and the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921. The arguments for and against the removal of the Statue will be: familiar.

On the latter point, a letter writer said in 1933 – when the statue was 25 years old -: “Once a new dynasty arose in Egypt which defaced all the monuments of an earlier period and was universally condemned by all historians. Hopefully we’re more enlightened. ”Another – a decade later – wondered if, given its potential as a tourist attraction, it would be better to keep it in place.

The subject reappeared on the Irish Times pages in the second half of 1943 when the Dublin Corporation passed a resolution calling on the government to remove the statue. The story hit the front page the next morning, September 7th.

When proposing the resolution, Councilor Micheál Ó Maoláin said it was strange that “the portrait of a lady whose name stank in the nostrils of generations of Irishmen” should stand outside the Irish Parliament building while Lord Edward Fitzgerald had been forgotten. Every generation, he warned, would stand up and revolt at the sight of them.

On the same day, the Irish Times leader took a more moderate view of “the heat of the feelings of Mr. Ó Maoláin” but praised the council in two ways. “First of all, the city would not be poorer in terms of a memorial to Lord Edward, who was a patriot in a sense that is barely understood today. Second, if the Old Queen has to be removed, Mr. Ó Maoláin will have it done by law, not dynamite. ”The play mentions the 1937 Stephen’s Green explosion that brought down a large statue of George II and his horse .

A sculpture of George II lies destroyed by an explosion in Stephen's Green on May 13, 1937 (inset: the statue as it stood before).  Photo: The Irish Times

A sculpture of George II lies destroyed by an explosion in Stephen’s Green on May 13, 1937 (inset: the statue as it stood before). Photo: The Irish Times

To neglect

The article also suggested that it would be better to remove the statue than to endure further neglect. “If it is true that the statue has never been cleaned since the contract was signed – and its musty green hue certainly lives up to history – the joke is rather poor and reflects more distrust of the House of Windsor.”

The same “green shade” would be noticed by Myles na gCopaleen (Brian O’Nolan / Flann O’Brien) the following month – although he had a completely different attitude. By and large, the writer didn’t mind her distance too much – her statutes were more damaging than her statues, as he put it. “Besides, that’s how you see it,” he wrote on October 2nd. “Time has given vengeance to the bare Irish. The fact is that Victoria has turned green. In color it approaches our decent Irish mailbox. And it’s their price. “

In the days after the resolution was passed, cold water was poured over the project. A front page story on September 8th reported that Victoria would be removed, just not yet. Costs were charged.

On November 1, members of Ailtirí na hAiséirghe – a small fascist party then known as the Gaelic Awakening Organization – overthrew a Dublin Corporation meeting and shouted from the public stands, “Remove all symbols of slavery from the streets.” The episode made the front page of the newspaper and was reported in the British press.

It would take until July 22, 1948 for the statue to collapse. Reports of the memorial soon fell silent, save for one or two of potential Canadian buyers – the cities of London and Peterborough tried to buy the statue in 1949 when it was “lying on its back in a field in Kilmainham”. But that failed.

In the end it would be sent to Australia. The Irish Times reported ahead of time in a report dated October 2, 1986 with the headline: “Statue of Victoria to Sydney”. Not quite the end the Irish Times predicted in 1943 when it said the structure would “possibly be relocated to a new and friendly place, more likely to the junkyard”.

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