The Times We Lived In: Goldsmith given a spruce-up at gates of Trinity

Published: August 2nd, 1978 Photograph: Tom Lawlor

Let’s face it, we all need a bit of a wash and brush-up every now and again. And if you’re standing, day after day, at the busy corner of Dame Street and Grafton Street, you’ve got more than the usual quota of city dust and grime and traffic fumes and pedestrians to contend with. As for the hordes of passing seagulls, don’t even get me started . . .

In the summer of 1978, a passing Irish Times photographer spotted a bit of TLC being lavished on the TCD statue of Oliver Goldsmith, author of the novel The Vicar of Wakefield, the pastoral poem The Deserted Village and a number of plays including the recently reinvigorated She Stoops to Conquer.

If you've ever stopped to take a close look at the poet on his plinth, at the right-hand side of the front gate of Trinity, you'll know that his is one of Dublin's more elegant effigies. The statue is the work of the master sculptor John Henry Foley, who also created the Daniel O'Connell monument on O'Connell Street.

In Goldsmith’s left hand, the pages of an open book rustle gently as if in a light breeze. His right hand holds a pencil, poised for poetic action. His clothing is skilfully rendered - especially his waistcoat, with its lifelike creases, and that frothy necktie. Despite his receding hairline he has a youthful look; as well he might, having died at the age of just 43.

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Ironically, Goldsmith’s cleaner-uppers don’t look nearly as dapper as he does. Their painterly white outfits are far from crisp and starched.

And look at the state of the buckets from which they are applying something - presumably soapy water - to the statue’s copper surface with a pair of well-used paintbrushes.

For the photographer, the fun is in the positioning of those brushes.

How long did Tom Lawlor wait to get precisely this shot, in which one man is “wiping” Goldsmith’s nose, while the other, hunched in concentration (or possibly trepidation) is preparing to apply his implement, with the greatest of delicacy, to the great writer’s nether regions? He stoops to conquer wouldn’t be in it.

Arminta Wallace