There was something strangely satisfying about the controversy surrounding the Shelbourne statues last week. Two equally powerful, right-on forces, Black Lives Matter hysteria and the custodians of Irish conservation, fought it out for the precious moral high ground.
The sculptures had been removed by the hotel "in light of recent world events" and the statues' alleged association with slavery. They perhaps braced themselves for a social media round of applause, but instead they were met with a chorus of tutting.
The Irish Times was appalled. An art historian said the statues didn't depict slaves; they were well-heeled Egyptian women. The council said that the whole thing is the subject of a planning enforcement investigation. The Irish Georgian Society said it was never consulted. The hotel was said to have fallen under the spell of cancel culture. An attempt to anticipate the demands of the liberal mob - for literally nobody had called for the removal of the statues - had horribly backfired.
And yet in a sense the row revealed the silliness of all sides. From the uproar, you might get the impression the statues were as integral a part of the unique look of Dublin as the Molly Malone statue or Trinity College. In fact, it was confirmed that they were "mass produced" from a "catalogue" and "sold on to those who could not afford an original work".
They were relics of an era when Egyptian iconography was all the rage amongst the bourgeoisie. If this had been the reason given, that the hotel didn't feel these knock-offs chimed with its look, that might have been something. But instead it tried to turn the whole thing into BLM posturing.
Perhaps what the controversy really reveals is not disquiet about the racial politics of the past, but guilt about the art of old Dublin that we didn't mourn loudly enough: the beautiful Georgian facade that became a brutally ugly ESB building, the Harry Clarke windows in a Bewley's that became a Starbucks, a whole generation of pieces that were part of the fabric of the capital. Now when something is taken away, we are determined to take a stand.