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First person

Standing still: Tara Flynn on statues

Our guest contributor this week is Irish writer and actor, Tara Flynn.

I’ve never met a statue I trusted, and I’m not just talking about the way their cold eyes seem
to follow you.


They played a big part in my teens. I remember getting a lift straight from Siamsa Cois Laoi ’85 to see the moving statue in Ballinspittle. We all saw the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) move, though it was hard to say which had us more captivated: herself or Kris Kristofferson. (Few acts stopped by Ireland at all. We took what we got back then and we were grateful).


Having a grotto to go to post-gig was exciting. In this remote location, they’d installed a car park and floodlights, takeaway vans; it was almost like being back up at Parc Uí Chaoimh. The local newsagents carried cassettes of Ballinspittle By Night, a recording of 10,000 people saying the rosary on a muddy hill. It was a very faithful recording: you could actually hear the mud. No shade to believers. I admired their dedication. I envied their faith. But even though I saw the statue shimmy – I did see it – I was more suspicious about what was causing the illusion than inclined to unlapse my Catholicism.

Then, at school, a massive scandal erupted when some of the boys put a motorbike helmet and gloves on the BVM by the prefabs, and no one would give up the perps. We all got detention.

I didn’t trust statues then. I don’t now.

I was recently in London. (Psych! Like you, I’ve been in my flat for over 90 days. Two Lents. That’d be an awful lot of chocolate to give up, if I’d given up chocolate. I’m trying to be a responsible citizen, doing my bit for the economy by making sure to buy coffees, burritos and 80% cocoa products locally. If the whole thing sinks post-pandemic, it’s not on me.)

I think it was actually two years ago, this London trip I’m thinking of. One of those over-and-backs for filming, the kind of thing we’re not likely be doing any time soon, if ever again. I had time to kill between rehearsal and recording in the Westminster/ Mayfair bit of town, so I had a wander. It’s very, very, very posh. The Queen lives round the corner. That posh. And all around, are lads on sticks. Marble or cement lads, cocked up on plinths and pedestals. Triple barrel titles and noses in the air. “I did a thing,” their air proclaims, “I did a thing, and now I’m on a stick.”

I lived in London for five years but never really contemplated what these fellas had done, what they were symbolic reminders of. They become invisible unless you stop to think. And this time, I had time.

Oh god. Oh jaysus no. Not all of them?

Pretty much all of them. Bloody, greedy, cruel. Conquering and exploiting in name of king and country and bringing back shit that belonged to someone else. If Vikings did it, we’d call it pillaging. But these lads got pillars. Up they went, to dizzying heights, so future people might strain their necks, if they stopped to think, and go “Who? Oh jaysus, no.”

It doesn’t really happen in Ireland, unless you’re the BVM herself. Here, you get knocked down to size, be you pillar or popstar. Don’t go getting ideas above your station. Before we all got locked in, I was lucky  enough to be asked by Herstory and EPIC: The Irish Emigration Museum to present a piece from O’Connell Street, asking what people thought about the dearth of statues of real women (Markiewicz apart) on our streets. I was to find out who, no disrespect to Big Dan or Big Jim, they’d like to see up there instead.

It was interesting. Although a few mentioned Presidents or sports stars, most said “My mam,” before listing all the things she did for her community. Or named a person you’d never see in the papers, who never asked  for praise. One woman told me she’d just got out of homelessness. “Me,” she said. I agreed. She should have a statue. She shouldn’t be forgotten. Again.

There’s nothing wrong with statues in themselves. They’re just bits of bronze or stone. What and who we choose to commemorate can and probably should change over time, especially if their special skill was Stealing Things or Hurting People. Here, they weren’t long moving the Anna Liffey sculpture or Molly Malone when that proved expedient – and those gals were myths, they hadn’t even done anything wrong.

If the lad on the stick has a murky past that we’re no longer willing to pass obliviously by every day, why not move the lad? Let him be a pigeon toilet or a motorbike helmet-stand in peace elsewhere. Though peace really isn’t what many of them stand for.

You see? You just can’t trust them.

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash