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.









15 comments:

  1. Thank you for confirming why the rest of the World hates America so much.

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  2. Chaplin was in fact British and never had American citizenship much to the annoyance of many American's at the time. Chaplin is greatly loved by the Irish as he should be and I think it a beautiful gesture to remember his time spent here.

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  3. Just got back from an Irish vacation with husband and was trying to journal before memory fades and couldn't remember where we saw the Chaplin statue- thanks to google and your blog I can finish! It seems the Irish love statues and make fun of themselves about it. We found a plaque in Killarney honoring an Irish missionary for his selfless service to the people of Death Valley California.

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    1. Hi I saw your post and have a question. I too got back from Ireland and was trying to remember the name of the town that we say Charlie Chaplin s statue in. Do you know the name of the town?

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  4. It seems that you probably have NPD. And you are clearly also an idiot. Who, precisely, have you written this ignorant rant for? Poorly-written, appallingly-researched and self-absorbed nonsense.

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    1. Agree - a two second Google search would have revealed his family spent much time on the beautiful Bay in County Kerry...not to mention his charm and talent in an innocent time was loved the world over. You are truly a boob and NOT reflective of Americans in general!! Pssshaw

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  5. A former lover of Chaplin's was irish and he went to Ireland to find her, staying in the Slieve Donard Hotel in County Down to search for her/or her family to find out what happened to her. I think she had died from the Influenze virus/Spanish flu years before his trip. The bar at the Hotel is named after his stay there - the Chaplin Bar.

    And also he spent vacations where that statue is with his large family - the Waterville seaside resort. Poorly researched by friend, google would have given you all these answers in the first 'hit'.

    The Yeats sculpture depicts the words in, "He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” - A poor man, wishing you not to tread on his dreams because he is poor and they are all he has in the world.

    It stems from that idea of oppressors taking everything from you, your livelihood, your land, your food but they can never take away your thoughts and dreams, they are what make us human, not the clothes on our backs, the expensive wristwatch or the cars in your driveway.

    The 'tread on my dreams' line often appears in films and tv, generally dsytopian films in which civili liberties have disappeared and censorship is rife.

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  6. Would it have killed you to do a little research on Chaplin before you embarassed yourself? He was and is much loved and fondly remembered in Waterville. There are so many mistakes here I am not going to bother any more.

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  7. I loved seeing Ireland's statues, especially the eccentric ones. Am surprised you appear to hate them. A strange article, but nevertheless I have learned of two statues I was not aware of and shall enjoy seeing them on a future trip. Do try and enjoy travel rather than concentrating too much on trying to write a "different" type of piece and selling it on to the highest bidder. Life is just too short....

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  8. Awful descriptions, poorly researched - superficial writing by someone who is infatuated by his own sense of cleverness. His smugness blinded him to providing a description of the hinterland of Sligo which is absolutely stunning - Glencar, Mullaghmore, Strandhill, Benbulben, Swiss Valley, Lough Gill, Queen Maeve's grave etc - yet all this genius has to report on is his own personal encounter with an itinerant family!!! This would be the equivalent of me writing as follows: "So I looked at the Grand Canyon - a deep cleft in the earth - my first reaction was eh, yawn!! Maybe someone should fill it in as it would make some great real estate. The locals in the insipid roadside diner told me they just love real estate. Like all Americans, they seem to know the price of everything and the value of nothing. A local hobo straight out of a train car pestered me for a couple of dollars and a bottle of hooch - told me he was living the American dream as he peed all over his jeans. Didn't look like it to me. Oh well, off now to see the funny faces on the side of Mount Rushmore."

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  9. Does anyone know the name of the town in Irelend that the Charlie Chaplin statue is in?

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    1. We travelled through the area in late August. Our bus stopped there for our lunch break. It is Waterville.

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  10. Euro dollar coins?!! Probably the reason you had so many was because for some unknown reason Americans don't tip when in Ireland!! Your articles on Ireland disappointing and poorly researched and you've cheesed me off greatly

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  11. Agreed, not to mention offensive - if the 'author' had educated himself on it he'd have known that the "Street Urchin" was a member of the nearby traveller community, one of the minorities in Irish society.

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