Commemoration, as the growing controversy about the statues of British and Irish slave-owners and traders of the 19th century reminds us, can be a double-edged sword.
Our own civil war will shortly pose similar problems. Some six decades ago, however, two young students at University College Cork, attempted to blaze a trail into this unexplored wilderness.
I was one of them. The other was Bryan Frost, a science student and a contemporary. We had learned that not only had our university once actually boasted a statue of the young Queen Victoria (Cork, Galway and Dublin were, of course, all originally 'Queen's Colleges'), but that it had been taken down some time after the triumph of Irish nationalism, and had been buried in the garden of the president's house, not far away from the college quadrangle.
Its historical significance was reportedly enhanced by the fact that it was not a representation of the elderly monarch, but of the young queen, forceful and energetic.
We equipped ourselves with a long metal rod, and sallied out in the dead of night to locate the burial place of the statue. It was a bright, moonlit night: and it says something that despite the fact that we spent the best part of an hour probing the lawn, nobody either saw or heard us.
Empty-handed, we eventually abandoned the search, our timetable probably governed by the fact that we knew that if we knocked off before closing time, we would be in time to take in a couple of pints at Starry Crowley's licenced premises on the Western road. There, we duly boasted about our exploit to any of our fellow students who could be induced to listen.
Many years later, I was intrigued to read a newspaper report which revealed that the statue had not only been remembered, but had been disinterred, and had been exported to an undoubtedly grateful Australian university where, as far as I am aware, it still stands. As far as I know, its historical value reflects the fact that it is one of the very few statues of its subject as a young woman.
Our student enterprise, like many of its kind, lacked one vital dimension. What were we to do with the statue if and when we found it? We had not the slightest notion of its size, or weight, of how we would transport it, where we might hide it, what we might subsequently do with it, and how we would face the criminal prosecution, or expulsion from the college, or both, that would inevitably be our fate.
We were like two puppies chasing a car down the road, barking furiously, but without any idea about what they might do with it if they actually caught it.
In retrospect, we at least could be grateful that the plainly relaxed security arrangements at UCC at that time enhanced our reputation among our peers without imperilling our academic progress, or endowing each of us with a criminal record.