More Parnell (that’s PAR-nell not Par-NELL)

I’m still adjusting to this blogging malarkey and am conscious my posts to date just seem to relate to my walk to work, giving them a ‘what I did on my summer holidays’ essay feel. I will try and branch out after this one, promise.

I find Parnell endlessly fascinating. My walk to work (bear with me) takes me past his monument on O’Connell Street most mornings. Some of my interest is genuinely prompted by the fact that we all seem to pronounce his name wrong (he put the emphasis on the first not the second syllable apparently), while much of it is because of his association with the Chamber of Commerce in Cork where I once worked.

In 1880 Parnell won three constituency seats in Parliament and chooses to represent Cork City. He was President of the city’s Chamber of Commerce from 1881 to 1890. However the controversy that surrounded Parnell meant that in 1883 the Chamber membership split (long before Behan it was the first item on the agenda it seems) and a section established the Cork Incorporated Chamber of Commerce and Shipping. The split lasted for 70 years.

On 21st January 1885, from a window of what is now the Victoria Hotel where the Chamber of Commerce had its rooms, he delivered what is probably his most famous and most widely quoted speech. A phrase from which now adorns his monument in Dublin.

It was first proposed to place the monument on the site of the Thomas Moore statue at Westmoreland Street (the Parnell Society was willing to pay to move the existing Moore memorial) but the Corporation refused to grant this site and directed that the monument be erected on the site near the Rotunda Hospital where it stands today.

Its erection was spurred by the setting up of a Gladstone national memorial fund in 1898 which met resistance when Parnell was yet to be so honoured.  The Gladstone proposal was subsequently dropped and the statue planned for Dublin was later erected in Hawarden, Wales, in 1925. It was driven by Parnell’s successor, John Redmond, with funds raised by a Parnell Monument Committee. However, the foundation-laying ceremony was boycotted by some who saw the beginning of a Parnell monument while one to Wolfe Tone was yet to be completed as an insult to Tone.

The Parnell monument was unveiled on 1st October 1911, the twentieth anniversary of his’s death. It was designed by in demand Irish American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens with an inscription (chosen by Redmond) from the Cork speech

“No man has a right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation. No man has a right to say to his country-thus far shall thou go and no further. We have never attempted to fix the ne plus ultra to the progress of Ireland’s nationhood and we never shall”.

Saint-Gaudens himself is now acknowledged by a plaque in front of the statue. Apparently for the Parnell monument, he made a scale replica of the buildings and square in Dublin and also a full scale model of the monument in wood in a field near his studio. In 1904 there was a disastrous fire in his studio and only the head was saved.

Architect Henry Bacon, best known for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, was probably responsible for the design of the obelisk of the Parnell monument.

Elements of the statue, metalwork and Cork speech inscription were included on the 100 punt note back in the day, something marked with the Chamber of Commerce link in the Chamber’s offices today.

Design wise I like it – it was intended to be more understated and approachable that the Daniel-O’Connell-on-pedestal at the other end of the street – though I think it gets a bit forgotten. That said the ox skulls and swags motif on the pedestal (like the frieze of the theatre behind) is a bit creepy today. Some of my appreciation is certainly coloured by the man, rather than the design though I know.

Now he’s also to be remembered with the naming of the nearby ‘Parnell’ luas stop though concerns have been expressed about the impacts wires etc associated with the luas will have on the streetscape and views to the monument.

For a man credited with introducing the discipline of the parliamentary whip system, it’s impressive that he can still divide opinions even in bronze and granite.

Let me know what monument stands out for you in the comments.

Parnell sometimes wears a jaunty hat.

Parnell sometimes wears a jaunty hat.


Popular Myths

This article by the curators of this year’s British pavilion exhibition at the Venice Biennale seeks to challenge what they call the ‘popular myth’ that UK has a less than illustrious history of planning.  I would have thought the UK’s influence on planning in terms of concepts and practice was very well known at home as well as abroad. Maybe it’s a case of not being able to see wood from the trees. It certainly has had a profound impact on planning here. Before and after independence Ireland was visited by leading figures in Anglo-American planning with the country “an essential stopping-off point for many planning advocates, apostles and gurus” according to Kincaid. It can be seen in the garden suburb of Marino and maybe most notably in the significant influence of 1940s UK legislation on the 1963 Act.

It also got me thinking of another popular myth: that Ireland doesn’t do planning very well, just today David McWilliams is writing ‘we Irish have a bizarre psychological relationship with land and houses’.  I don’t quite buy that. Though there can be a certain antipathy towards planning and land use management in Ireland it has deep roots and has seen many innovations. The Dublin Wide Streets Commissioners was one of the earliest town planning authorities in Europe and the independent third party planning appeals system operated by An Bord Pleanála is unique in Europe. The 1934 Irish planning legislation was considered far better than its UK equivalent. The Office of the Planning Regulator falling out of the Mahon Report offers an opportunity to put in place a world class planning oversight system that learns from best practice elsewhere but vitally reflects local circumstances and aspirations.  In the past the failure to ‘localise’ legislative measures and policies from elsewhere seems to have damaged their effectiveness when applied here, with a knock on reduction in respect for planning more widely. Or is David McWilliams right?


Dublin Wide Streets Commission map showing its first undertaking, the creation of Parliament Street. Conserved by Dublin City Library and Archive.