Tuesday 22 October 2019

The statue of Queen Victoria

Rory Egan

WHEN great English historians talked about "an Irish solution to an Irish problem" they really didn't fully grasp the cunning of the Irish psyche. An ideal example of this is the tale of the statue of Queen Victoria that stood in the grounds of our own Leinster House for many years.

The statue was a magnificent edifice in neo-baroque style, in bronze with a granite plinth. Queen Victoria sat regaled in her full colonial best and below her were some allegorical figures, the most prominent being Erin (Ireland depicted as a woman, not the soup), presenting a laurel crown to a soldier. This was to represent the contribution Irish soldiers had made in the Boer War.

Seven thousand euro was raised through public funding and the statue was the creation of one of Ireland's most important sculptors John Hughes (1865-1941). Unveiled on February 5, 1908 the monument dominated the the front garden of Leinster House that, at the time, was owned by the Royal Dublin Society.

In 1922, the State rented Leinster House to use as the Oireachtas, and then two years later bought the mansion outright. The thought of the statue looking down on the nascent Irish parliamentarians was too much for some to bear and in 1929, Thomas Esmonde lobbied to get the statue removed. Unfortunately, this was going to cost the Corporation more than it did to commission it.

Eventually, a full 14 years later, Dublin Corporation passed a resolution to have "The Auld Bitch" as she had been christened, unceremoniously relocated to the Royal Hospital Kilmainham where she stayed like an embarrassing relative until the Eighties.

Then it was discovered that the good burghers of Sydney, Australia had restored one of their finest buildings for their bicentennial. Know affectionately as the QVB, the historic Queen Victoria Building needed something to set it off.

They decided that a statue of the aforementioned monarch might be just the touch.

It took but a moment for the Irish nation to wrench themselves from their beloved statue and transport it (sorry), ship it to our distant cousins in the Antipodes.

On December 20, 1987 after 43 years of being in storage and with the blessings of our own Charles J Haughey and his Government, Queen Victoria was unveiled to a much more appreciative audience.

An Irish solution to an Australian problem.

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