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 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. Now, I know when you throw an “-est” on the end of the adjective, you’re just begging to be argued with (as opposed to when you throw it on the end of a verb, in which case it’ll just be politely pointed out to you that you’re speaking a horribly outdated version of English), but I hope to whittle the definition of “oddest” down to such an extreme degree that I’ve left no room for objectivity.
You see, when I say “oddest” in this one instance, I don’t mean abstractly weird, like, say, modern art. Dublin has a Museum of Modern Art, and none of the odd statues on display there made it into this article. That’s probably more because I didn’t visit that museum, but I’ll hold out on making that judgment. The four statues that I am including in this series all make sense from one angle, but don’t from another. Like a funhouse mirror or Lara Flynn Boyle. Basically, all the statues in this series fall into what I call the “Cool. Wait. What?” category, which I’m hoping is self-explanatory because I’ve got an article to get to and I’ve already wasted two paragraphs on introduction.
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 to stone, but just by dint of sheer number, it makes sense that two out of the four statues I found to be the oddest in Ireland are located in Dublin.
In the corner of one of those aforementioned parks, Archbishop Ryan Park by name, 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 (London does have one of Shakespeare, right?). That part makes sense. 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 kind of just splayed out on a rock with a flower in his hand and a disconcerting smirk marring 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 like some cheap plastic toy from China. Stranger still, while the sculptor took pains to make sure Wilde’s jacket cuffs and finger rings were a different color, they left his hair the same dirty-Styrofoam-white as his face, making Wilde appear like an incomplete summer camp ceramics project.
Nevertheless, I do dig the concept. Well, at least the fact that they had a 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 dandy...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.
So it’s a good thing that the statue’s creators actually awarded 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. It was a token ingestion on my part, as I'm not a fan of beer. A few feet across the path from the statue are two short pedestals that usually feature small nude sculptures atop them. When I went the nude female was missing, but the headless and limbless male torso was still there.
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, meant to memorialize war dead but which are mostly just successful at being spooky, and an oversized chair meant to memorialize some Irish comedian who is apparently beloved enough to merit a giant chair.
The second 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 one of the funnier scenes 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 only reason that 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 up. I’m sure a lot of people do. But I’m not sure that makes anybody in the band statue-worthy, frontman or no. 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.
I do understand that there exists a phenomenon that any band that’s had a modicum of fame will have a hardcore group of fans somewhere on this planet. I firmly believe that it’s a mystery that if we’d ever get to its bottom would go far in our understanding of the nature of humanity. But in this case, maybe that group of fans was just good at getting statues erected. It’s an enviable talent.
Originally, I included the picture of me and Lynott in my personal collection of Ireland photos to show my family and friend and a quarter, half a score or so of which actually lived through the short era of Thin Lizzy’s greatest fame. When I’d proudly show them this image, though, they just looked at me blankly. When I explained it, the blank look remained, tinged by just a hint of “why did you just waste my time.” After that, instead of kicking it out of the photo album, I just tell people it’s a Jimi Hendrix statue. They think it’s cool then. Their loss. Where else are they going to learn that if the boys want to fight, you’d better let ’em?
Four Oddest Statues in Ireland, Part II: We leave Dublin for the western coast of Ireland, the second part of this article, and the last two statues. Do not try to guess or Google in advance. Ha. Guess or Google. Sounds like a game show.