April 22, 2008 — If Europe’s a giant toy store, then Ireland is its action figure isle. And that's just a bad way of saying that the island is thronged with public statues. Naturally, I was drawn to the oddest of them in my trek around the country, and now I’m going to rationalize my visits to them to you. I think of them as, "Cool. Wait. What?" statues.
Ireland’s capital city in particular loves statues. Dublin seems to have more statues crowding its sidewalks and parks than it has pedestrians. I’m not sure what random gorgon turned its populace into stone, but just by dint of sheer number, it makes sense that most of the odd Irish statues I found are in Dublin.
In the corner of one of those aforementioned parks, Archbishop Ryan Park, just peeking over the wall at passersby on Merrion Square is a strange, sprightly, gaudily colored stone statue perched jauntily on a rock the size of a Volkswagen Bug. That, apparently, is how you enshrine the greatest writer Ireland has ever wombed, and one of the great writers of the English language in general.
Cool. Wait. What?
Of course, Dublin would have a statue of Oscar Wilde. It’s about as given as London having one of Shakespeare and D.C. having one of Jefferson. However, unlike these other luminaries, Wilde was given neither dignity of posture nor dignity of composition in his stone tribute. He isn’t standing proudly like most statues that honor notable men, nor is he seated regally, which is the usual alternative. He’s splayed out on a rock with a flower in his hand and a smirk on his features like some photog caught him in a split-second facial contortion that was never meant to be captured for posterity instead of it being carefully planned and painstakingly chiseled out of rock for months.
In addition, although he’s carved from stone, the statue was created from stones with odd hues. It's garishly colored in pink, green, and white. Wilde looks a little like an incomplete summer camp ceramics project.
Nevertheless, I do dig the concept. Although I think they’re fine for statesmen, standing statues are boring and communicate nothing about artists. This at least tells us he was a quirky...which is important, I guess. Much more important than that he was the author of The Picture of Dorian Gray, which to me is one of those stories, like Frankenstein and A Christmas Carol, the mere conception of the idea of which is so great that had it been poorly written, it’d of still been worth accolading. It’s just bonus that Dorian Gray was written by one of our best wordsmiths.
The statue’s creators did award him the dignity of elevation. The head of the statue is about nine feet off the ground, thanks to the huge hunk of rock that serves as both his seat and pedestal.
The statue faces Wilde’s boyhood home at No. 1 Merrion St., which is now a pub connected to a hotel where I happened to reside for the duration of my stay in Dublin. I had my first and last officially Irish Guinness at this pub, as well.
If you could care less about Oscar Wilde, I would first question how you made it this far into the article, but then I would let you know that even without this notable statue, Archbishop Ryan Park’s a great place to visit. Statues and monuments are tucked everywhere in the gardeniary of this little maze of a park in City Centre.
Other than the Wilde statue, my two favorite discoveries there were a statue group called The Victims that memorializes war dead, and which does so quite spookily, and an oversized chair memorializing some Irish comedian who is apparently beloved enough to merit a giant chair.
The next major statue in this O.T.I.S. series commemorates another writer whose most famous line is, “If that chick don’t want to know, forget her.”
Yup. You could name that tune in two notes. Or at least during the chorus when the song’s title is repeated like eight times. Philip Lynott, lead singer, bassist, and songwriter for the band Thin Lizzy, is immortalized in bronze in one of the more heavily trafficked areas of Dublin.
Cool. Wait. What?
If you’re in Dublin, you’re probably going to find yourself at some point on the pedestrian-only shopping walk known as Grafton Street. Just off Grafton is Harry Street, a short byway the entire length of which is visible from Grafton. Except that you won’t be looking down its entire length. You’ll be staring at the statue of a tall, gloriously afro’d man with a guitar eternally posing for a Rolling Stone cover that never was.
I was turned on to this statue by the movie Once, where it’s featured in a funny scene where Glen Hanserd is looking for a band to back him up to record some songs in a studio and goes to a ragtag group of buskers set up right in front of the statue. When Glen asks the group if they’ll play with him, the lead guitarist looks up almost plaintively and says, “We only do Lizzy, really. It’s one of our things.”
And that’s pretty much the reason I wanted to see the statue. I mean, anytime one of the three Thin Lizzy songs I know are on classic rock radio, I turn the volume way up. But it surprised me the guy is beloved enough to be statue-worthy. I mean, Ireland isn’t hurting for bankable music talent. Maybe they’re just hurting for dead bankable music talent. And Lynott definitely does fit that criterion, having died in 1986. Which is sad because he never got to see Adventures in Babysitting, Robocop, or The Lost Boys.
Then again, maybe the Irish know something about Thin Lizzy that the rest of us just don’t. I’m willing to believe that. After all, 5,000 people showed up for the unveiling of this statue in 2005. Of course, according to the well-proven and complicated theorems of crowd dynamics, that means somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 of them were actually Thin Lizzy fans, and the rest were just there for a party.
Odd Statues of Ireland, Part II: We leave Dublin for the western coast of Ireland, the second part of this article, and some more statues. Do not try to guess or Google in advance. Guess or Google. Sounds like a game show.