Odd Statues of Ireland, Part II: I William Butler Yeats and Charlie Chaplin

For Part I of this article, click here.  Just kidding.  Click here.

April 29, 2008 — Unfortunately, I have absolutely no prior experience with or really knowledge of the subjects of the two statues in this entry. But they're odd, which is why I visited them.  That, and they were on the way to wherever I was going and I had time to kill.  You know, the exact reason you’re here.

Ireland is not a square, but in the upper west corner of it is a town with the insult-sounding name of Sligo.  In that town stands a singular statue:  an effigy of William “The Butler” Yeats, Nobel Prize-winning poet and native son of Sligo and, consequently, Ireland.  It’s the usual story.  Local writes poetry.  Makes good.  Becomes famous.  Wins Nobel Prize for Literature.  Has happened a million times.  Well, 17 so far.

Anyway, you know what that means.  Somebody’s statue-worthy.  And Yeats’ hometown of Sligo jumped on that bronco, putting a bronze statue of him right in the middle of town, complete with a flaring, flattened chest three times the width of the rest of his body and a suit covered in raised text like somebody might wear in an Eighties music video.

Cool.  Wait.  What?

I don’t have much to say about Sligo itself, other than the fact that I was accosted in the parking lot by what I’m pretty sure was a street urchin.  I could tell this by the way he pissed mid-walk and tried to hustle me out of money.  He couldn’t have been more than six.  Behind him, and taking up most of the parking lot, were a couple of small camper-type mobile homes on blocks where his mother and others sorted through recyclables.

After simultaneously dealing with the child, the automatic ticket system, the alien Euro coins that I had to use, and the guilt of having just hid some of our more valuable possession out of sight in the car, we headed off to the statue, which was only a block away.

Yeats stands on a sidewalk corner in front of a large bank at a busy intersection both for cars and for pedestrians.  It’s not bad real estate if you’re the statue of a dead man who wants to be remembered (although it has been hit by an errant car before), but it’s not the most ideal place to commune with the statue.  Normally, that wouldn’t matter too much because you don’t have to spend much time with a statue of a person to get it.  You just look it in the face, read its plaque, take a picture, and you’re done. 

However, in the case of Yeats, the statue is distorted enough to merit more attention than that.  Even though his head, arms, and legs are accurate to the usual standards of humandom, his chest looks like the path of least resistance on a large road kill.  On top of that, every square and round inch of his clothes, including the almost heart-shaped flattened bit, is covered with his poetry.  I didn’t read the whole statue, although the idea of walking in circles to read text that wraps around something is funny.  It makes me imagine what the world would be like if all our books were cylindrical.  My wrists are tingling strangely thinking about it.

So what should be a boring statue becomes as interesting as it can be.  And I’m for it, and not merely because it’s odd.  I don’t want to rehash what I wrote about in the Oscar Wilde statue part of this post, but the Yeats statue avoids the pitfall of honoring an artist with a mere standing statue.  It actually communicates something about its subject.  Yeats is known for his words.  It’s why he’s famous, why he has a statue, and why we had to read him in literature classes.  Representing him as a page of his own work tells me immediately why this otherwise nondescript, half-bespectacled (they were broken when I visited) man is being honored in carbonite. 

Granted, it might not be the most aesthetically interesting statue (he looks like he is in costume to deliver a singing Valentine), and you could technically honor any writer this way, but at least they aspired.  It got me to visit it, which I probably wouldn’t have done had it been a mere life-accurate representation of him.

Back at the parking lot, I didn’t see the boy, but I do wish I’d of given him some spare change. All of it, actually. I'm not tenderhearted, I was just tired of carrying around all those clanky one-dollar Euros in my pockets.

I also wish I was more familiar with Yeats' work, because not only did I find myself at his statue, I also saw his grave. 

Just outside of Sligo is the town of Drumcliff, where Yeats is buried in a small church that looks like it’s straight out of a Caspar David Friedrich painting.  Behind the church and graveyard, Benbulben looms, a mountain that Yeats took inspiration from in his poetry.

In front of this church is a sculpture honoring Yeats’ work by physically illustrating his poem “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.”  It depicts a bald, shirtless man crouching above a blanket engraven with the words of the poem.

All right.  One to go.  My experience with the location of the last statue in this series was the exact opposite of Sligo.  That’s not surprising, considering it’s located on the Ring of Kerry, a loop of scenic drive that circuits the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry and takes you through gorgeous and varied scenery, including mountains, coasts, country towns, and little herds of sheep with spray-painted arses.

We passed by a few statues and monuments here and there on our course around the ring, but nothing really worth mentioning that I saw.  That is, until about the midpoint, in a nice little town called Waterville at the tip of the peninsula itself.  There at the edge of a town, set against a beautiful backdrop of ocean, we saw a statue of a short man with a bowler hat, a cane, and a weird little stance.  Charlie Chaplin.

Cool.  Wait.  What?

Yes, Charlie Chaplain, silent film comedian and Hollywood (and thus American) legend.  Charlie Chaplin was not Irish.  He never played an Irish character.  As far as I know, he never even filmed in Ireland.  Charlie Chaplin’s honored with a statue in Waterville for one reason...he vacationed there regularly.  Your timeshare owes you at least a commemorative plaque.

Like I said, I don’t know anything about Chaplin.  I did a little research on him but only found out that had he been born a generation or two later, he’d of probably been arrested for pedophilia.  But Chaplin’s movies, or probably more accurately, Chaplin himself, is so universally acclaimed that his work has always been on my list to check out.  Unfortunately, that list is longer than I have a lifespan for and I haven’t gotten to Chaplin yet.  And that’s tragic because my list is alphabetized. 

I consider this photograph of me with his statue to be a future-thinking picture.  If I ever do get to his work and dig it, I’ll be glad I stood with his statue. Actually, I'm glad I stood with all these statues, whether I got them or not. I don't have very many pictures of me hanging with friends, so these are what I frame and hang on my walls.