Diarmaid Ferriter: Begin with pulling down statues, but then what?

A protest can do violence to historical context, messy, layered indentities and inheritances

Anti-racism protesters have toppled the bronze statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol city centre. Video: Reuters

‘Begob, Éamon, there’s great changes around here!” So said a departing Queen Victoria to Éamon de Valera in July 1948, shortly after his 16 unbroken years in office came to an end. As she spoke, Victoria’s statue was being removed from its position in the grounds of Leinster House and her imaginary comments were contained in a memorable cartoon in the satirical magazine Dublin Opinion.

Getting rid of the relics of British imperialism became quite an enterprise over the decades, most famously with the blowing up of British navy hero Horatio Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin in 1966; a measure of the popularity of that event was that the song “Up went Nelson” topped the charts for weeks.

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