Sunday 17 December 2017

Poetry: Statue that inspired Churchill's daughter

Hidden away: The Christ the King statue in its current home in Dún Laoghaire
Hidden away: The Christ the King statue in its current home in Dún Laoghaire

It had been a long ­journey before the ­magnificent statue of Christ the King by Andrew O'Connor was erected in Dún Laoghaire.

It is, in fact, a huge monument depicting the Desolation, Consolation and Resurrection of Jesus that could be seen as you passed by on the train. The piece was selected by commission in 1932, but it was 10 years before it would be completed. Then the fighting started. Parish priests, monsignors and mad laity wouldn't have the statue.

They said it was blasphemous and unsuitable in every way. For a while it was in the back garden of a solicitor in Military Road, Killiney, to where it had been shunted, lying on its side. I saw it myself there, stealing out in the dark of night, and creeping into the place where it was parked, its huge weight digging into the ground as if it would sink and never come back.

I brought the actress Sarah Churchill, Winston's daughter no less, who was acting in a play of mine at the time, out to see it. I was ashamed at what I saw. Sarah was astonished that such blasphemy should occur without a public outcry.

In 1978, after extraordinary persistence and wise action by a lay group, the sculpture was removed from the garden and brought to Haigh Terrace in Dún Laoghaire. Its final destination is on a promontory adjoining the Dún Laoghaire LexIcon library where you can see it today.

Do go along and spend some time there with the statue. Remember how it and the artist were treated. Also you may recall you are looking at one of the great religious statues of the 20th century, the work of whom is revered throughout the world.

By the way Sarah Churchill was so moved by the statue when she first saw it in the garden that she wrote a fine poem about it for her next volume of verse. So there!

A three dimensioned Christ

Cast aside

In an untended back garden.

Once Christ dying

Lies on its face

One Christ dead sleeps

With closed eyes

Though ligaments of one arm are torn and strained.

… … ... ... … …

The third Christ lifts his body to the skies

With outstretched arms

The face bewildered, compassionate and pained.

A solicitor minds it

Custodian of the Unwanted Christ

That lies among the grasses and the weeds

And the small animals that stroke the dying face

So close to the breathing ground.

Sarah Churchill 1914-1982

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