Monument men – An Irishman’s Diary on the Earl of Carlisle, Goldsmith and Burke
Statue of Oliver Goldsmith at Trinity College Dublin. Photograph: iStock
When the statue of Lord Carlisle was blown from its plinth in the People’s Garden in the Phoenix Park on July 28th, 1958, the incident was news for only a few days. He was a largely forgotten figure and nobody had been injured. Denials by the Irish Republican Publicity Bureau that members of the republican movement were responsible were reported without comment.
George Frederick Howard, the seventh Earl of Carlisle, was the chief secretary from 1835 to 1841 and the lord lieutenant from 1855 to 1858 and from 1859 to 1864 when the Whigs were in power. He was the only Irish viceroy honoured with a statue and the award was, arguably, appropriate because he had been responsible for two of Dublin’s best-known monuments, the statues of Oliver Goldsmith and Edmund Burke outside the entrance to Trinity College, and he had been associated with two others.
In 1857, he presided at the inauguration of the statue of Thomas Moore by the bard’s friend, the Earl of Charlemont, in College Street, and in 1864 he unveiled the statue of William Dargan outside the National Gallery.
Speaking at the ceremony in College Street, he asked why a monument to another consummate Irish minstrel, Oliver Goldsmith, should not be nestled within the shadows of his own university.
The suggestion had a certain novelty. There were only five other open air statues in Dublin and all of them, apart from Admiral Nelson’s, were of kings.
A committee was established and funds were raised at home and abroad, including £100 from Queen Victoria. John Henry Foley, the outstanding sculptor of the time, was commissioned, Trinity provided the site on the right-hand space outside the entrance, the statue was erected, and Carlisle unveiled it on January 5th, 1864.
During his speech he suggested that the vacant space at the left-hand side should be occupied by a statue of another of the university’s famous graduates, Edmund Burke, and afterwards a meeting was held in the provost’s house where a decision was taken to reconstitute the Goldsmith committee to forward the project.
At the time, Trinity didn’t give degrees, honorary or otherwise, to women, even royal women, but Napier offered the princess 'the homage and chivalrous devotion of true Irish hearts'
When Burke died in 1797, there had been talk of a statue for the statesman but it came to nothing, and 20 years earlier he had rejected a proposal from the speaker of the Irish House of Commons, Edward Pery, with the comment that honours belong exclusively to the tomb.
Once again, the commission was given to Foley, and he based his creation on a portrait of Burke by Sir Joshua Reynolds, and a death mask.
The work was completed early in April 1868 and Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, was invited to inaugurate it during his visit to Ireland. The university also decided to confer doctorates on the prince, on George the Duke of Cambridge who accompanied him, and on Carlisle.
At 1 pm on April 21st, the 26-year-old prince, accompanied by his 23-year-old wife Alexandra and their entourage, left Dublin Castle in an open carriage, a move designed to indicate that he had no worries about an attack by Fenians while among the loyal Dubliners, and proceeded down Dame Street as the crowds cheered and an army band played Irish airs. For the occasion, he wore a black frock coat and light trousers, and she wore a pale blue dress with a matching bonnet trimmed with white lace. The national anthem was played when they reached the college and they then proceeded to the Examination Hall for the conferrings by the vice- chancellor, Sir Joseph Napier.
Now, 150 years later, a casual passerby might be forgiven for thinking that Trinity’s two statues on their granite plinths are almost identical but in fact they are quite different
At the time, Trinity didn’t give degrees, honorary or otherwise, to women, even royal women, but Napier offered the princess “the homage and chivalrous devotion of true Irish hearts”. The party then returned to the entrance and the prince’s command that the statue be uncovered was greeted with deafening cheers.
Later, the royal couple visited the Royal Irish Academy on Dawson Street where Edward was made an honorary member, the Catholic University, which the rector Bartholomew Woodlock called the youngest seat of learning in the Empire, and the Royal Dublin Society’s Cattle Show in Kildare Street, while Alexandra also visited a female orphanage on the North Circular Road.
Now, 150 years later, a casual passerby might be forgiven for thinking that Trinity’s two statues on their granite plinths are almost identical but in fact they are quite different, as were their subjects. Goldsmith is presented as a burly, somewhat ungainly, figure, mouth clamped, reading a book and, pencil in hand, perhaps about to write in it. Burke, on the other hand, stands tall and confident, almost striding, his hair in a fashionable braid, dressed in gentlemanly attire.
Carlisle isn’t entirely forgotten. His plinth remains in the Phoenix Park and his name still adheres to the “new” pier built in Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire) in the 1850s.