Gardaí appeal for information after statue of Thurles archbishop decapitated

Locals shocked over ‘wanton act of vandalism’ of 19th-century sculpture outside cathedral

The damaged statue of Dr Patrick Leahy in Thurles, Co Tipperary, covered over on Friday. The head appears to have been knocked off violently rather than carefully removed

The damaged statue of Dr Patrick Leahy in Thurles, Co Tipperary, covered over on Friday. The head appears to have been knocked off violently rather than carefully removed

 

Residents of Thurles, Co Tipperary, have been left dumbfounded by a “wanton act of vandalism” on a 19th-century statue of the town’s celebrated former archbishop, whose head has mysteriously disappeared.

The sculpture of Dr Patrick Leahy had stood for more than 100 years outside the doors of Thurles cathedral, gazing out over the archdiocese.

That was until sometime between the late Wednesday night and Thursday morning when its head was knocked clean off, spreading fragments of stone around the base.

“The statue is part of the fabric of Thurles, it’s been there for so long,” said Supt Pat Murphy, now overseeing an investigation into the decapitation of the archbishop, famed for overseeing the construction of the cathedral.

“The locals are shocked. They are horrified that something which has been there for so long has been damaged in such a fashion.

“What I am looking for is any member of the public who saw, heard or knows anything about the damage to the statue, or the present whereabouts of the head of the statue – we would love the public’s assistance on that.”

Kieran O’Reilly, Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, issued a statement, lamenting the vandalism and noting the statue had been a tribute to Dr Leahy’s work “on the cathedral and for the Church in Ireland, as well as his popularity as a pastor”.

Restored

“I have been moved by the reaction of the people of the town of Thurles, and throughout the diocese, arising from this act of vandalism. It is my hope that the statue can be restored as soon as possible,” he said.

The incident was only reported to gardaí on Friday, who then began to piece together a timeline. Officers investigated photographs of an event at the cathedral at about 10.30am on Thursday morning in which the head could be seen to be missing.

It appears to have been knocked off violently rather than carefully removed. Gardaí have begun to examine local CCTV footage for any sign of foul play in the early hours.

Archbishop Leahy was a central figure in local history having overseen the construction of the imposing cathedral between 1865 and 1879. A statue of him was placed in the front concourse in 1911 in honour of his achievement.

According to the official church history, he felt the pre-existing church structure, known as the Big Chapel, was “not worthy of this great diocese much less to be the metropolitan church of Munster”.

He opted for a more “grandiose” cathedral, fashioned in his favoured Romanesque style. It was ultimately modelled on the Cathedral of Pisa in northern Italy at a reported cost of £30,000 – the Archbishop was regarded as a skilful fundraiser.

Appropriate

“Dr Leahy visited every church in the dioceses seeking support for the cathedral and he also sent collectors abroad to Canada, America and England to tap the Irish in these countries,” the parish website explains, perhaps showing why a statue was deemed so appropriate and one that remained loved by Thurles residents.

Local Fianna Fáil councillor Sean Ryan said the missing head was the dominant conversation topic in the town on Friday, where there was a sense of “pure disgust”.

“People just can’t understand how somebody could do this to a beautiful statue that has been there for so long,” he said. “Please God it will turn up and be restored to its formal glory.”