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Iconic Chinaman’s tea-rrific rebirth

Team effort sees 'shook' statue from 1800s given new lease of life

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The restored Chinaman back on his perch on South Street

The restored Chinaman back on his perch on South Street

The statue recast brilliantly

The statue recast brilliantly

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The restored Chinaman back on his perch on South Street

A team effort from some talented local people has seen the China Tea Man restored to his place of honour on South Street.

'The Chinaman', as he is known locally, has been a permanent fixture in New Ross since the 1800s.

Known at the time as The Man Over Merry's this iconic piece of 19th century merchandising is reputed to have come from Armstrong's premises on Charles Street after they moved their retail outlet to 16 South Street.

The statue, complete with lantern, dates back to a time when China tea was the only tea imported and in big tea chests. It was then blended, packed and sold by each merchant/shopkeeper under their own brand name.

In 1896, Robert A Merry & Co. took over the business and for years Rossonians knew him as 'The Man Over Merry's', Myles Courtney of New Ross Street Focus said.

In turn that business became Jacob Brothers in the 1940s, Gorry's Chemists and, lastly, McCauley's.

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The much-loved statue before its restoration

The much-loved statue before its restoration

The much-loved statue before its restoration

In all, three family grocery businesses traded under the China Tea Man. The first were Armstrong's followed by Merrys and Jacobs and then a pharmacists, Sam McAuley's chemists prior to their relocation further north on South Street.

Following appeals to New Ross Municipal District, funding was sourced for the repair of the China Tea Man.

Pierce Handrick was charged with repairing the statue which had fallen into grave disrepair. Mr Handrick said: 'The main structure was in very bad condition. He was shook but then, he's 120 to 130 years old. His left arm was falling off and the feet were gone but we had to keep the original. I was contacted in July and I knew straight away that he had to be rebuilt.'

One woodworker said the statue would have to be built from scratch, but the place it has in the hearts of the people of the town meant that was never an option. 'I got Colm Kenny in Bannow to do it in his workshop. He brought it back as much as humanly possible to the original. It was painted by Baiba Zalcmane and looks much brighter now. She did a good job.'

Mr Handrick said to restore the China Tea Man properly a hat would have to be sourced for him.

'The hat went missing in a storm a long time ago.'

Noel Bennett made the hat having consulted with renowned craftsman Willie O'Connor at his Irishtown home.

Noel said: 'I made it out of copper and bet it into the shape of a round hat.'

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An addition to the original is the glass in the lantern meaning a candle or light can be placed inside or a symbol of tea.

Mr Handrick said: 'Joe Delaney came to the rescue for this. It was a team effort; 100 per cent. That is what it work. Local knowledge is a good thing. A lot of intricate work was involved.'

Mr Handrick said the focus was on returning the China Tea Man to South Street by Christmas and he managed just that.

'We thought it would be nice for people to see it over Christmas,' he said.

As for the longevity of the new improved China Tea Man, he is confident it will stand the test of time for several decades.

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