SOMEONE has complained about Prince Albert hanging around the grounds of Leinster House. They complained to the Petitions Committee, of which I’d never heard, but which is, no doubt, of constant relevance to the citizens of this great little country.
Relevant the Petitions Committee may be, but they were no use to the member of the public who wanted rid of Prince Al on the basis that he represented, in bronze, British colonialism in Ireland. Same as statues of Robert E Lee in the southern states of America represent a slave culture and economy. The committee didn’t seem to have a moral view on Prince Al. They just said he’d been there a long time. (Implication: He’s kind of faded into the surrounding vegetation, so don’t be getting your patriotic knickers knotted about him.) They also said he was sculpted by a great sculptor. (So were a whole rake of statues that bit the dust when their moral relevance ran out of rope.)
But the big thing they said was that they weren’t sure that they own him. Not the committee. The Oireachtas in its entirety may not own Al. They didn’t specify who does own him, but suggested that it might be the RDS. One way or the other, ownership is one of the reasons they decided not to abolish or shift him to Collins Barracks, where Mannix Flynn wants him to live, although why he’d be more at home there than in the grounds of Leinster House escapes me. If they don’t own him they can’t shift him. Right? Well, I beg leave to wonder. Because here’s the thing. Albert’s statue had a mate. In all senses. Once upon a time, his wife, Victoria, Queen of England, occupied another bit of the same grounds, but you know what? She got uprooted. In 1987, they dug up her statue — a partner of the Prince Albert one — and gifted her to the city of Sydney. How could they do that, if they didn’t know who owned her? And why can’t someone call up Sydney and see if they wouldn’t like a free gift and a chance to reunite these two royals?
The ever-positive Jerry Buttimer has opined that we should leave Al where he stands because he wasn’t a bad oul yoke, as princes go. “Prince Albert was a progressive social reformer,” says Senator Buttimer. “He was against slavery, against child labour and he wanted to increase the working age.”
Pity about the wife-beating, then. Although — not that this could be considered mitigation of Prince Albert knocking hell out of the much smaller queen, which he did, regularly — the fact is that she seems to have given as good as she got, to such an extent that he eventually issued an ultimatum to the effect that the next time she belted him, he was out of the marriage. The records don’t make clear what happened as a result of this threat, but a load of TV series would have been killed off if they hadn’t stayed together, so we have to figure the threat worked.
While the Taoiseach, with characteristic sense of proportion and matching impatience, has indicated he’s not getting dragged into any fuss about Prince Al, reflecting a general view that if nobody pays a blind bit of attention to him where he currently stands — and nobody does — then nobody can claim to have their republican values affronted by his presence.
All of which makes sense. But I’d go at this another way. Think plinth.
Al stands on a grand plinth that could be re-used. Just as William Smith O’Brien, the paedophile of whom I have written in this column before, stands on a smashing re-cyclable plinth. In short, we have two good locations in which to start the revision of the sculptural presentation of women in our capital city. Which is three notches beyond outrageous.
Nobody can say that we do not have statues of women in Dublin. We do have such statues, varying in artistic merit between lousy and reasonable. Mostly lousy. But it’s not the artistic merit of the sculptures that needs addressing. It’s how, individually and severally, they mis-characterise the women of the nation and of the city. First of all, arguably the best known and most easily recognized statue is that of Molly Malone. The tart with the cart, all overflowing bosom and piscatorial offerings. A sculpture representing a figure who never existed. For a while there, we had the Floozie in the Jacuzzi, also representing a figure who never existed, Anna Livia. Admittedly, someone eventually saw sense and shifted her. In the best sense. Maybe even to Collins Barracks, because I’ll tell you something for nothing, Sydney wouldn’t take her even if you threw in a Euromillions ticket with her.
It does look, though, as if Dublin prefers statues representing no woman in particular, as if the city is threatened by individual women and happier with mythological yellow packs.
Or anonymous nonentities, like the utterly pointless one of two women sitting down after doing their shopping which supposedly references ordinary females. Right. America had Rosie the Riveter to hammer home how strong and contributory crafts women were in war time, and we have a statue of two blobs blithering to each other after the weekly shop.
This ignores Daniel O’Connell’s angels. Daniel O’Connell has four angels at his feet, each of them as well endowed as Molly Malone, with the added attraction (or so I felt as a kid on the smoky upper deck of a bus with my father) that several of them have been “shot through the bosoms” (to quote O’Casey) and still bear the bullet holes. They were shot during the civil war. Still hanging in, though, fair dues to them. The point about them, however, is that they are anonymous and subservient. O’Connell’s the main man and they’re just his punctured PAs.
Every city tends to have a wealth of female statues personifying Justice, Prosperity, Patriotism or some other civic aspiration, and we have plenty of those, mostly up on top of buildings like the Custom House. But what’s infuriating is that other than personifications, representations of mythical figures and angels, and a couple of starving emigrants on the quays, women do not figure in state-sponsored statuary in our capital city, other than Countess Marcievicz.
Given Ireland’s self-belief as an open, liberal nation, why don’t we replace Prince Albert with Dr James Barry, the tiny woman who “passed” as a male surgeon for 30 years in the British army, outed only upon her death? This was some operator. Expert. Fearless. Fierce. If we put her up there in the grounds of Leinster House, it would instantly double the number of sculpted woman in our capital city, register the importance of our global contribution to medicine, and demonstrate pride in our transgender people.
And then, if we freed up the pedophile’s plinth in the city centre, we might consider replacing him with that greatly under-rated force in Irish theatre, Lady Gregory.
Instead of individual women we have a statue of two blobs blithering to each other after the weekly shop