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Clare Keaveny
Travelling Statues

Could Molly be the next to emigrate?

Molly Malone could be following thousands of her fellow citizens to Australia shortly.

EMIGRATION HAS BEEN a consistent blight on modern-day Ireland but numbers leaving the island have fluctuated greatly depending on the economic situation.

The 1980s saw thousands of people leave in search of work and the affliction of unemployment has returned this decade. There are few families that haven’t been impacted by the flight of a loved one…and now Dublin might lose its sweetheart as well.

Last weekend, the Sunday Times reported that talks are underway to allow Molly Malone follow thousands of her fellow citizens to Australia. Don’t worry though, it wouldn’t be for good. The newspaper said that any move would be temporary while works on a new Luas interconnector are carried out. Plans for the Luas Broombridge (line BXD) will impact the famous fishmonger and she would have to be removed from her current site at College Green anyway.

Initial proposals would have seen the part-time prostitute put in storage for up to two years but tourism boards and Emirates Ireland are said to be keen to get her working again (not like that).

Molly has been a tourist attraction in the Fair City since her, em, unveiling in 1988 when she divided the public, some of whom did not appreciate her low-cut dress. If she goes, she will be sorely missed. However, she won’t be Dublin’s first statue to settle in countries new. has taken a look at where some of Dublin’s emigrants have ended up.

The Auld Bitch*

Now, outside the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney (Image: jerine/Flickr)

If Molly goes, she won’t be the first Irish statue to make the trip Down Under…Victoria has already blazed that trail before.

Back in 1904, a statue Queen Victoria was erected outside Leinster House in Dublin but she wasn’t to last long. Her presence at the seat of the Irish Government received much criticism with the issue being raised numerous times in the Dáil. One TD described the bronze figure as neither valuable nor attractive but not “so debasing as to necessitate the expenditure of public funds on its removal”. Ouch. Despite that 1930 response, finally in1948 the monument was dismantled and replaced with parking facilities for 64 cars and a pavement featuring flowering shrubs. The redevelopment cost the State £6,500.

The City of London had showed interest in buying the piece of art for display in one of its parks, while other offers to buy it for scrap were also received. Another suggestion from Noel Lemass, TD, was to display her along with all the other unwanted and controversial monuments held by the State:

I think we all agree it is one of the most ugly statues of that royal lady, but what we can do with these various statues of controversy is to put them into the beautiful grounds of the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham as part of an historical exhibition.

Despite the various options mooted, the figure remained in storage at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham until the 1980s when Australia embarked on a worldwide search for a statue for the newly-refurbished Queen Victoria building in Sydney.

Speaking in the Dáil on 21 October 1987, Prime Minister of Australia Robert Hawke said that “in none of the many former British colonies of the Victorian era could a town hall or city plaza or private royalist be found who was willing to part with a suitable statue…until the search came to Ireland”.

The monument, originally sculpted by John Hughes, was transported to Sydney, where it remains on public display to this day. The Irish people gave Victoria to the Australians in the spirit of “goodwill” (read: we got paid nothing for it).

*Not our words. James Joyce famously referred to the bronze likeness as the Auld Bitch.

The Gough Equestrian Statue

(Image: Come Here to Me!)

This one we seem to have regretted. Artist John Henry Foley, who also created the Daniel O’Connell monument for the top of Dublin’s main thoroughfare, sculpted the work from bronze in 1878.

Foley had pushed for the commission himself as he was a friend of the Limerick-born war hero Lord Hugh Gough. But not everyone welcomed the addition to Phoenix Park, seeing it as a symbol of the empire despite the Field Marshal’s Irish roots. According to historian Donal O Fallúin**, Winston Churchill himself wrote about the Phoenix Park unveiling in his autobiography, claiming it as his first earliest memory.

The monument was eventually banished – well, sold – to England in 1986 “on the grounds that it was unlikely to be re-erected in a public place in Ireland”. In fairness, during its time in Ireland its head was chopped off (to be later found in the Liffey), a leg amputated, the sword stolen and finally blown up before being placed in storage.

As wounds started to heal in Ireland, people started to appreciate the work for what it was – and not what it may have symbolised in the 19th and early 20th century. The piece itself was deemed to be one of the best equestrian statues in Europe and, according to Ruairi Quinn in 1988, “a fine example of Irish bronze sculpture”. In hindsight, politicians wanted to overturn an earlier decision to rid Ireland of one of its only equestions for less than £1,000.

Over the years, various public representatives have asked the powers-that-be to retrieve the horse and soldier, head-and-all, from Chillingham Castle in Northumberland where it now sits. In 1990, Finance Minister Albert Reynolds dismissed any suggestion that negotiations would lead to its re-erection in Ireland.

**O Fallúin blogs about the capital at Come Here to Me!. More in-depth information about the Gough Equestrian can be found here.

Tales of travelling statues aren’t confined to Ireland, either.

Monument of Lihula, Western Estonia

(Image: DJ_Sturm/Wikimedia Commons)

There is one sure-fire way of getting yourself kicked out of somewhere and that’s dressing up as a Nazi (just ask Prince Harry). The Monument of Lihula had just that problem in Estonia in 2002.

The commemorative sculpture was erected in Parnu in 2002 but was removed nine days later after being condemned by then-Prime Minister Siim Kallas. His problem? The monument depicted a soldier in military uniform – that of the German SS division – and was dedicated to the “Estonian men who fought in 1940-1945 against Bolshevism and for the restoration of Estonian independence”.

The unveiling of the monument created a massive controversy in the country with critics stating that the 20th Estonian SS Division essentially fought for Nazi Germany – and not freedom. Russia wade in on the debate, calling the monument “a shameful act that insults the memory of victims of fascism all over the world”.

After SS references were removed from the soldier’s uniform, the work was erected once more in Lihula, where it obtained its colloquial name, in August 2004. As the soldier wore a WW II German helmet, politicians were still answering questions about the commemorative plaque the following month. Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland said that Estonia would not, in its approach to the past, rely on the memories of those who link the past to World War II German uniforms, which the democratic world identifies with Naziism.

In today’s global environment, Estonia must not isolate itself from the international community and damage its reputation. We must take this into account when considering what actions to take. Local inappropriate actions can often result in very serious and far reaching international consequences.

International pressure mounted on the Government to take action and on 3 September 2004, orders were given to take down the controversial commemoration.

A spokeswoman for the government said the government ordered the Regional Affairs and Interior Ministers to have the monument removed, because it was an illegal structure erected on state-owned land in Lihula cemetery without the owner’s permission and harmed the country’s reputation regardless of the intentions of its initiators.

The government said it holds in high esteem the valour of the people who fought for Estonia’s independence and freedom under different occupation regimes and considers it important to commemorate them.

“The government’s position is that the memory of those who fought for Estonia’s freedom has to be perpetuated in a dignified way honouring the real objectives and motives of those people, not the uniform they were forced to wear,” the statement said. “The government is prepared to co-operate with the local self-government to erect a monument to fighters for Estonia’s freedom.”

The statue now lies on the grounds of a private musuem in Lagedi near Tallinn.

The Little Mermaid, Denmark

(Image: Eugene Hoshiko/AP/Press Association Images)

Sometimes, statues travel for more friendly reasons. In 2010, the Copenhagen City Council decided to employ its famous Little Mermaid statue as an official representative at the Danish Pavilion in the Shanghai Expo in order to entice visitors to her country.

The trip to China was the first time the fairytale character left her hometown since she was sculpted in 1913. To make her feel more comfortable, organisers built her a lake resembling the sights of the Copenhagen harbour where she usually resides.

In her absence, the family of the sculptor Edvard Eriksen loaned a copy of the bronze statue to the Tivoli Gardens for exhibition.

(Image: DIGE JENS/AP/Press Association Images)

The 5-foot sitting figure was originally commissioned to honour Danish writer Hans Christian Anderson. The artist modelled the face of the statue on prima ballerina Ellen Price but she would not comfortable posing nude so the body was created with his wife Eline Eriksen in mind. The Little Mermaid is now back on her perch at Lengelinje Pier, ready to celebrate her 100th birthday next August.

Despite her fairytale beginnings, the Little Mermaid hasn’t been exempt from nightmare episodes and has been the victim of several acts of vandalism. She has lost her head twice and her arm has been amputated with a saw. Paint has been thrown over her body on more than one occasion.

Mona Lisa

President Kennedy, Mrs. Malraux, her husband French Minister of Cultural Affairs Andre Malraux, Mrs. Kennedy, and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. (Image: AP/Press Association Images)

So, she’s not technically a statue but Mona Lisa’s visit to the States was a pretty momentous move for an inanimate object.

An off-the-cuff promise by France’s minister of culture André Malraux to then-First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in May 1962 set the wheels in motion for the unprecedented loan of da Vinci’s masterpiece.

Margaret Leslie Davis*** published a book Mona Lisa in Camelot in 2008 detailing how Kennedy realised her wish to bring the painting to Washington. She had previously promised to make the White House a showcase for great art and artists.

According to Paris Match, at some time during Malraux’s US tour of 1962, Kennedy in her usual flirtatious style suggested that France lend the US some of its artworks. “I would love to see the Mona Lisa again and show her to the Americans,” she reportedly said, to which Malraux replied, “I’ll see what I can do.” He later said that France does not feel that she has copyright over such masterpieces that “belong to mankind”.

Fast forward seven months and the Louvre was packing up the painting and getting ready to ship it to America. “During the 400 years this masterpiece has been in France,” wrote Le Figaro on 3 December, “it has never crossed our borders except when a thief took it to Italy in 1911. Five years ago, a maniac stoned the Mona Lisa and damaged part of the panel. A third aggression is now planned.”

The captain of the ship – which would later be known as the Mona Lisa Cruise – was forced to tell passengers about their famous fellow traveller after rumours circulated that the vessel was carrying a secret, and possibly nuclear, Cold War device. Extra security and cordoned off areas had aroused suspicions during a perilous era in American/European history.

Mona Lisa touched down in New York Harbour on 19 December 1962 and made her official American debut on 8 January 1963. She was exhibited until 3 February at Washington’s National Gallery of Art which extended its opening hours by four hours each day. More than half a million visitors queued for up to two hours to view the painting that was installed on a baffle draped in red velvet in the centre of the West Sculpture Hall.

The painting was also shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York from 7 February to 4 March.

Mona Lisa was guarded around the clock by United States Marines.

Eleven years later, Mona was on the move again – this time to Tokyo in Japan.

(Image: Sadayuki Mikami/AP/Press Association Images)

However, that marked the end of her travelling days and she has remained in the Louvre ever since. She is still kept in the 157×98-inch triplex glass box that was gifted to Paris by the Japanese authorities following her visit there.

***Read an excerpt from Davis’s book at Vanity Fair.

More: Now it’s Molly Malone’s turn to be yarnbombed>

Puzzling Picture of the Day>

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