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Ireland's donation of 'the Auld B***h' led to 'threatening and abusive' phonecalls - and a bomb threat

It was finally removed in 1948 and the area in front of Leinster House turned into car parking around the plinth.

The statue outside Queen Victoria Building in Sydney (Image: jerine/Flickr)

THE IRISH EMBASSY in Canberra received “threatening and abusive” phonecalls when the country donated a statue of Queen Victoria to Australia.

The statue, once dubbed the Auld Bitch by James Joyce, was erected outside Leinster House in Dublin but proved controversial.

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.”

It was finally removed in 1948 and the area in front of Leinster House turned into car parking around the plinth.

Papers released today under the 30-year rule show that officials in Canberra alerted the Department of Foreign Affairs to some bad sentiment when the statue was donated to the newly-refurbished Queen Victoria building in Sydney.

The statue was unveiled on 20 December 1987 and a telex back to Iveagh House outlined the anger against the move.

“In the days preceding the unveiling, you should be aware that the embassy received a number of threatening and abusive phone calls about the propriety of an Irish government giving a statue of Victoria as a gift. The callers demanded to know who was going to represent the government at the ceremony and warn them to stay away.

“I understand that a telephone call was made to the Sydney tabloid paper, the Daily Telegraph, from someone claiming to represent the Irish Defence Force – a group unknown to the embassy or indeed the police – warning the people of Sydney to stay away from the unveiling ceremony.

“The embassy was made aware of the threats also by Sydney Special Branch. (An embassy official) was escorted in Sydney by members of that force.”

In the end, the weather on the day featured heavy rain and the event was moved indoors. The city of Sydney thanked Ireland for the gift.

Requests

shutterstock_775728274 Source: Shutterstock/Jaroonlug Janpetch

The statue had been subject to numerous requests after being put in storage. The Irish government had told any Commonwealth city that if they wanted it – and providing they paid the shipping costs – it was theirs.

The papers show that in 1964, Ottawa made a concerted effort to have the statue sent to Canada. However, the cost of shipping the massive likeness was prohibitive, due to the statue being 13.5 tonnes. Another Canadian attempt in 1981 came from the Royal Victoria Hospital.

Then in the 1980s, Australia embarked on a worldwide search for a statue for the refurbished 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.

Read: ‘I was disgusted’: Complaints over ‘Vulgar Victoria’ posters placed around Cork

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