Tuesday, October 2, 2018
Athy's links with the O'Connell Monument Committee 1862-1888
Canon John O’Hanlon, Parish Priest and secretary of the Daniel O’Connell Monument Committee wrote a report of the committee’s work which resulted in the erection of the O’Connell monument in Dublin. The project had started with an attempt by the people of Clare to erect a column surmounted by a statue of Daniel O’Connell where the courthouse formally stood in Ennis and from where O’Connell was returned as an M.P. in 1828. As work on the column continued the local committee ran out of funds. However, money to complete the Ennis monument was soon collected when the proprietor of the Freeman’s Journal, John Gray, and a number of other persons including the ’98 historian, Dr. Richard Madden, came together to help and that group later decided to raise a national monument in honour of Daniel O’Connell in Dublin city. Canon O’Hanlon’s report on the work of the O’Connell Monument Committee published in 1888 made several references to Athy’s involvement in the project. We learned that on Monday 16th October 1862 a meeting of the townspeople was held in Kavanagh’s hotel in Athy. O’Hanlon recorded that an ‘influential committee was formed and several subscriptions were paid before the meeting separated. Arrangements were made for the reception of other contributions.’ Another interesting link with Athy was provided by Fr. John O’Rourke who was responsible for drafting an appeal addressed to the people of Ireland in support of a national collection planned for St. Patrick’s Day two years after the monument project was first mooted. Apparently the funds raised at that point were less than sufficient and Fr. O’Rourke, who had served as a curate in Athy in 1851/’52, was moved to write: ‘if the O’Connell testimonial be not now made what it ought to be, the mistake can never be retrieved; it will be a monument not to his glory, but of our shame, and our children will look upon it with sorrow and despise us.’ The well-chosen words of the one-time Athy curate who would write in 1874 the earliest published account of the Great Famine under the title ‘History of the Great Famine of 1847’ prompted a ready response throughout the country. This enabled the foundation stone of the O’Connell monument to be laid in Sackville Street by the Dublin Lord Mayor on Monday, 8th August 1864. A sub-committee was appointed to select a suitable design for the monument. Amongst their members was the earlier mentioned Fr. John O’Rourke. The sub-committee decided to hold a competition for the design of the monument and although 60 entries were received, none were successful. A second competition was held but the designs submitted were deemed to be ‘wanting in grandeur and simplicity’. It was eventually decided to give the commission to John Henry Foley, the noted Irish sculptor then based in London. Originally expected to be completed within three years of Foley’s appointment, the subsequent delay caused concern which turned to dismay with Foley’s death in August 1874. The unveiling ceremony initially planned to coincide with the centenary of O’Connell’s birth on 6th August 1875 had to be postponed indefinitely. Fr. O’Rourke and John Gray were sent to London to inspect the substantially completed O’Connell monument, but no further work was possible while the sculptor’s estate was probated in London. Court proceedings concerning Foley’s estate caused further delay, but eventually work on completing the monument recommenced after an interval of nearly three years with Foley’s assistant, Thomas Brock, in charge. Twenty years after the O’Connell monument project was initiated the Liberator’s statue was unveiled on 15th August 1882. Amongst the early subscriptions by Athy folk was the sum of £21-1-6 recorded in January 1863. James Leahy contributed £1-10-0, followed by John Lord, Solicitor, Dr. Thomas Kinsey and R. Stein, each of whom donated £1 to the fund. The local parish priest, Fr. Andrew Quinn, joined his curates Fr. McManus and Fr. Doyle in contributing 10 shillings each. Amongst those contributors also was Thomas Peppard, Town Commissioner, who was a member of the platform party at the Monster Repeal Meeting addressed by Daniel O’Connell at Mullaghmast on Sunday, 1st October 1843. Sixty-eight other locals contributed on that occasion and two weeks later five further contributions were submitted through James Lawler of the Nags Head Hotel, Athy. Athy’s involvement in raising funds for the O’Connell monument continued throughout 1864, with a further £5-5-10 paid in by contributors who included the local Christian Brothers and Dr. Ferris, each contributing ten shillings. The outlining rural areas were also committed to the project and during 1864 the Parish Priest of Castledermot, Archdeacon Laurence Dunne forwarded £6-4-3 from the parishioners of Moone, £4-15-5 from Castledermot and £3-4-9 from Levitstown. The Archdeacon’s personal contribution of £1 was separately noted, as was the ten shillings contributed by each of his curates, Fr. John Fogarty and Fr. James Germaine. The O’Connell monument stands today, a proud reminder of a past generation’s tribute to a great Irish leader.