Statues and a troubled past

 

Sir, – Diarmaid Ferriter is surely right to urge caution against pulling down statues and memorials to those who profited from slavery (“Once you start pulling down statues, where do you stop?”, Opinion & Analysis, June 12th).

Given the current discomfort over our island’s patchy record on slavery, it is encouraging to note that one of the founders of the United Irishman, Thomas McCabe, persuaded his fellow businessmen in Belfast to abandon any thoughts of involvement in that vile trade.

Perhaps now is the time to honour McCabe’s efforts along the lines suggested by Newton Emerson (“The North’s approach to difficult statues is adding rather than removing”, Opinion & Analysis, June 11th).

Your columnist refers to the removal, by the IRA in 1970, of a memorial to the Rev “Roaring” Hugh Hanna.

As it happens, the vacant plinth in Carlisle Circus is just a stone’s throw from McCabe’s old home. Surely an opportunity to honour a true patriot by “addition rather than subtraction”? – Yours, etc,

BRENDAN FOX,

(Emeritus Professor,

Queen’s University),

Belfast.

Sir, – Diarmaid Ferriter’s article on history’s complexities is well made.

Yet it neglects the current controversy’s chief concern – that statues in our streets are political statements in the present.

On the side of history are school curriculums, university departments and, indeed, thoughtful commentators such as Prof Ferriter. These are resources so often unavailable to the marginalised people and communities most harmed by long-standing icons of oppression.

I suspect history will do just fine if some of its bronzes are confined to the museums best equipped to unravelling their complex place in the world, both past and present. – Yours, etc,

CIAN O’DONOVAN,

Department of Science

and Technology Studies,

University College

London.

Sir, – The St Paul’s church building on Arran Quay in Dublin includes a statue of St Paul himself above the portico. St Paul wrote repeatedly in favour of slavery.

For example, Ephesians 6:5 admonishes: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ.”

The words of St Paul were used to justify slavery for centuries.

When Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States from 1861 to 1865, said that slavery “is sanctioned in the Bible in both Testaments”, he had clearly been inspired by the words of St Paul.

Is there any other statue in the country more deserving of removal than that of St Paul? – Yours, etc,

JOHN HAMILL,

Castleblayney,

Co Monaghan.

Sir, – In addition to carrying out massacres here, Oliver Cromwell’s administration sent many Irish people into slavery in the Barbados.

If this is drawn to the British government’s attention, I am sure it will wish to remove the statue of Cromwell from outside its parliament, an institution that Cromwell dissolved whenever it disagreed with him. – Yours, etc,

SEÁN McDONAGH,

Raheny,

Dublin 5.

Sir, – Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that there were some statues in Ireland “that we need to talk about”.

Can we assume one of them is the memorial to the English pirate and slave trader Sir Francis Drake which was erected in Carrigaline, Co Cork, in 2005? In what can only be described as a bizarre event, a government minister and a detachment of the Naval Service were in attendance to honour a man who had been responsible for the slaughter of hundreds of Catholics on Rathlin Island off the Co Antrim coast in 1575 and who enslaved thousands of Africans between 1562 and 1567. – Yours, etc,

TOM COOPER,

Templeogue,

Dublin 6W.

Sir, – If the current destruction of statues continues, where will the poor pigeons do their business? – Yours, etc,

JOHN MacINERNEY,

Swords,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – In all the present discussion about statues, it might be timely to remember Shelley’s point in the sonnet Ozymandias.

Every statue is a memorial to two people – the subject (“the heart that fed“) and the artisan creator (“the hand that mocked”). – Yours, etc,

JIM BYRNE,

Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Amid the current controversy about the rights and wrongs of taking down statues in public places dedicated to historic figures with links to racial discrimination, perhaps the most reasoned proposal has come from the Bishop of Dover, Rose Hudson-Wilkin. Rather than destroying these statues or relocating them to museums, the first black woman to become a Church of England bishop has called for plaques to be erected on their plinths, clearly explaining the person’s actions and deeds and putting in context the reason why the monument was erected in the first place.

Retaining links with our past – even where it means keeping public figures known to be responsible for heinous actions against humanity on pedestals – is a sign of a mature society and can help remind generations to come of the need to avoid some of history’s more serious wrongdoings. – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL CULLEN,

Sandycove,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – A solution for everyone who wants to remove statues of Confederate soldiers. Leave the horses. – Yours, etc,

KEVIN DEVITTE,

Westport,

Co Mayo.