Updated: Dec 8, 2022
As my daughter completed her studies at Trinity College – Dublin, I returned to explore new tours created by Failte Ireland, the country’s major tourism authority. We’d learned that the rivalry between posh Dublin 2 and traditionally working-class Dublin 1 runs deep, much like other North-South conflicts, but the tour of famous statues in town, supplemented by QR codes that can be scanned to hear the “famous” speak ensures enjoyment on both sides of the River Liffey.
Guest Blogger: Gail Clifford from ABLE Travel and Photo
Table of Content: "Talking Statues: A New Way to See Old Dublin"
1. Oscar Wilde
3. Wolfe Tone
4. Molly Malone
8. James Larkin
9. Cú Chulainn
10. James Joyce
11. James Connolly
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As we’ve explored our surroundings, we’ve found that anyone with an interest in historical events or with Irish heritage, would be interested in seeing all that is available. It’s also fun to do in the midst of a pub crawl.
To listen to ten of the city’s most famous statues newly granted the gift of gab, all you’ll need is a working telephone (ProTip: take an old phone and get a sim card from Ireland’s telecommunications services “3’" for €20 it gave me 60 minutes of telephone time but, more importantly, free WiFi that I could connect my American cell phone to), and a little shoe leather.
First stop, Oscar Wilde. I’ve visited his statue in Merrion Square more than any other in the city. The emerald coat, the expression on his face, and the writer’s lounge as he stares out across the street to his childhood home all fit so well with what you read of his quips and more literary efforts.
Scan the QR code, and press the green button that says “Go!” Your phone rings… answer it and the statue will be “speaking” to you via some very talented actors.
You can listen to this witty and flamboyant gent here!
George Bernard Shaw
Next, I crossed the street to the National Gallery of Ireland. They require a reservation for entry but it’s free. George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (1912) became the movie My Fair Lady (1964). He had close ties to the Gallery and felt he had received most of his education here. Shaw bequeathed a third of his royalties to the museum upon his death. It’s been sufficient to fund programs for disadvantaged youths and society at large.
At the Clare Street entrance, you’ll see his statue in the grand hall.
On to St. Stephen’s Green, Wolfe Tone, a lesser-known figure from the 18th century, played an important role as the revolutionary who fought to overthrow English rule and was killed for the trouble, leaving a young wife and children behind.
I was most impressed, I think, at his offhand comments about Napoleon. It helps to bring the timeline into a better perspective.
Down to Suffolk Street to meet Ireland’s most famous (and fictional) fishmonger, Molly Malone. Her eponymous song has become the city’s unofficial anthem. Her statue even acknowledges it.
While she was fictional, the song references historically accurate expressions like “Dublin’s fair city” and street vendors’ shouts of “alive, alive O.” I find it interesting that an American exchange student, Michaela Mcmahon won the public writing competition that created Molly’s script.
Trinity College - Dublin
Next in order would be the two statues within the walls of Trinity College -Dublin. The pandemic kept me out, though I’ve seen these statues so many times as my daughter attended graduate school here.
Katie Byrne from Estate Facilities was kind enough to share the information with me.
George Salmon was a 19th-century mathematician who spent his academic career at TCD. From a student to the provost, he wasn’t one to keep his opinions to himself. “Women will enter Trinity College over my dead body!” more than one tour guide has told me he said. Well, he was right. While women were granted the right to attend Trinity, none actually matriculated, it is said, until the actual day of his death.
You can spend days exploring Trinity’s campus. The Book of Kells. The Long Hall (one of my favorite places on campus). The pitch all the way to the east. Spend time at the Campanile and, if you walk under it, realize no Trinity student is likely to do so. It’s bad luck to walk under it before graduation.
You’ll be surprised by the sculpture spread throughout the campus. Many are award-winning, like the second entry for the Talking Statues.
Crossing the River Liffey via Ha’Penny Bridge leads you right to Meeting Place aka “The Hags with the Bags.” Despite best efforts, none of us could find a QR code, so I found the site on www.talkingstatuesdublin.ie.
Here’s what they say: “Just across the Ha’penny Bridge, two women have sat down for a chat in the middle of a busy day’s shopping, their bags at their feet. Situated in one of Dublin’s most popular shopping areas – one bag is from Arnotts on nearby Henry Street – Jackie McKenna’s 1988 bronze sculpture Meeting Place was designed to reflect everyday city life. Shortly after the sculpture’s installation, one of the bags was stolen – no small feat, given that it was made from bronze and extremely heavy. The bags are now secured firmly to the ground.”
I hope they restore the QR code soon.
It’s an easy walk from Meeting Place over to O’Connell Street.
Right by the River Liffey, you’ll see the Daniel O’Connell monument “the Great Liberator” with four women sitting below. Fidelity is the winged one on the front right with the dog.
The others represent Patriotism, Courage, and Eloquence. The map tells us that “Dublin poet Paula Meehan imagines Fidelity as a wise, compassionate figure ‘rest[ing] in the stillness / between one human heartbeat and the next.’ As you hear the walking meter bleat in the background, it's easy to imagine each beat.
You can listen to her thoughts here.
The statue of James Larkin on O’Connell Street is right in front of the Spire, just before the GPO.
“Big Jim,” imposing physically as well as mentally, fought for the rights of unskilled workers to unionize. He coined the phrase “A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.” He’s best known now for his role in the 1913 Dublin Lockout.
You can listen to him here.
Inside the General Post Office (GPO), you’ll find Cú Chulainn. You can see the QR code from the outside, but the best view is from the inside (through the marble high ceilings make the recording sound spectacularly loud, garnering more than a few stares).
“The son of the warrior god Lugh and the mortal woman Deichtine, young Cú Chulainn
(the hound of Culainn) won his name after killing the smith Culann’s fierce hound in self-defense, and offering his services as a guard dog in its place.”
Killed in battle by his enemy Lugaid, Eamon de Valera chose this statue to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising. He found the sculpture to “symboliz[e] the dauntless courage and abiding consistency of our people.”
It’s about a block to reach James Joyce on Earl Street North. Ulysses, Finnegan’s Wake, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Dubliners are amongst his works.
A favorite resting place for weary shoppers or revelers, Mr. Joyce contemplates his permanent return to Dublin, the city he considered central to his writing, though he lived abroad most of his life.
You can listen to his musings here https://youtu.be/nrEn4V0qy00
Finally, we turn towards the River Liffey to find the James Connolly statue at Beresford Place.
He moved to Dublin from Edinburgh at 14 and following his time as a trade union leader, political theorist, author and revolutionary socialist became a leader of the 1916 Easter Rising.
The execution of Mr. Connolly and the other Easter Rising Leaders deeply angered the Irish, arousing sympathy in America and Britain which led to Irish independence.
Touring Dublin following these statues and visiting the city around them gave me a new perspective on this city I’m loving more intently, more profoundly as I immerse myself in its history. It’s more than 1300 years old, and so much of its history is lost. But I remain grateful to the historians that came before me to help me understand this land of my ancestors. And look forward to the next new way I can take around my adopted home to share it with you.
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Gail Clifford, MD, a physician for more than 25 years, has traveled to five continents and all 50 United States. An avid traveler, despite meager means in school, she has enjoyed trips with her parents, her siblings, and her daughter. She happily goes on new adventures, and blogs about her discoveries as a Travel Writer and photographer at ABLE Travel and Photo.