What's the crack with the plaque?

Sat, May 13, 2006, 01:00

A fake bronze plaque commemorating 'Fr Pat Noise' has Dublin talking, writes Rosita Boland

Fr Pat Noise died in "suspicious circumstances" when his carriage plunged into the Liffey at O'Connell Bridge on August 10th, 1919. There's a small bronze plaque in his memory, complete with an image of his face, on the west side of O'Connell Bridge to prove it. There's just one little problem. It appears Fr Pat Noise is in fact Fr Nobody. The Invisible Man. The empty vessel that's making a lot of noise. The hoax that took Dubliners two years to notice, until the Sunday Tribune reported last week that the plaque might not be what it seems. (Incidentally, the plaque also states that it was placed there by an organisation called "the HSTI". It is but the work of a moment to re-arrange the four letters into a word that starts with "s" and ends with "t".)

It doesn't say much for our collective skills of observation that it took two years for someone to notice something new on what must be Ireland's busiest bridge for pedestrian traffic. However, once the public became aware of the mysterious plaque, which also featured on Wednesday's RTÉ Nine O'Clock News this week, by Thursday they were falling about with merriment as they queued up to have a good look at it, many of them taking pictures on camera phones.

As hoaxes go, this one really is pretty good. Not only is it elaborate - a professionally bronze-cast plaque, set into a very prominent public site - but it also required considerable patience on the part of the hoaxer. Two years is a long time to wait for your plaque to drop into the national consciousness.

"The materials and casting would have cost about €1,000," estimates sculptor John Coll, who casts in bronze. "Whoever put it in would have had to have a generator to operate a hammer-action drill to drill holes before they set it into the concrete," Coll explains. "It sounds like a two-man job, and it would have taken about half-an-hour to do it."

The mystery plaque has been sand-casted, a specialised method of working in bronze, which only a few foundries in Dublin offer.

One of the more convincing rumours currently doing the rounds about the origins of the plaque is that it was put there over Christmas 2004 by two brothers from a village near Blessington, and that the figure depicted in the profile is of their father.

The Irish Times received an e-mail on Thursday from someone purporting to be "a friend of the artist", the same person who has also been liaising with Today FM's Ray D'Arcy Show this week. It said:

"The artist at this stage feels that he has divulged as much about the mystery plaque itself that he is willing to and that it is preferable that some mystery remain. At the moment, the artist is in discussion with the Ray D'Arcy Show to look into the possibility of the plaque being put up for auction and the proceeds being given to the Barretstown children's charity."

The "artist" himself in the e-mail stated: "I am delighted to see that this piece has caught the imagination of the Irish public in such a positive way, a feat that most art pieces displayed in galleries rarely achieve. Its success reflects our famous sense of humour, and that unquantifiable Irish quality that sees us fight for the underdog every time, something that others never understand . . . Personally I could not find fault with Dublin City Council for not spotting the plaque for all this time. Along with the council, who have come in for some criticism, there are thousands of people who pass by daily, some of whom swore never to have seen it before last week. However, this quiet little piece has been sitting there for over two years now, occasionally informing those whose gaze happened to drift sideways.

"I hope that this experience has lifted people a little and added in some way to their lives and, until its removal, may it bring a smile to all who pass the location of this 'suspicious' crash."

Now that we've finally noticed it, it seems as if the plaque's days are numbered. Quite probably embarrassed and annoyed that they somehow failed to notice the plaque which was under their municipal noses for two years, Dublin City Council yesterday issued this curt statement:

"Dublin City Council is investigating the extent of damage to the bridge caused by the insertion of the plaque. This investigation will determine the best method to repair the damage to the bridge following the removal of the plaque. The City Council is anxious to contact the people who placed the plaque on O'Connell Bridge. Information can be given to 01-2222222."

If Dublin City Council does remove the plaque, perhaps the hoaxers will return to the spot with a sign that says "watch this space".