A type of progressive iconoclasm appears to be the order of the day across much of the Western world this month. Buoyed on by the death of George Floyd, statues of historically racist individuals are biting the dust from King Leopold of Belgium, to Bristol slave trader Edward Colston publicly defenestrated by mobs into the city harbour.
In an Americanised world this miasma also appears to have hit Irish shores with suggestions calling for the removal of Galway’s Christopher Columbus as a symbol of European subjection of the Americas.
As an anti-colonial people, the Irish have an established protocol of removing statues pertaining to the British Empire, occasionally using dynamite in the process.
The mimicking of American cultural dogfights is of course farcical, however it is a good chance to take stock of historical figures with rather problematic views to modern sensibilities.
The following are a list of historical figures honoured on Irish streets with statues that may very soon fall under the knife of the outrage mob for their problematic held views.
1-George Bernard Shaw
Strangely a figure that has scarcely been mentioned amid the current turmoil. George Bernard Shaw bestrides the Irish literary arena as a cultural titan, even if his work is rarely cited in his contemporary homeland. Despite being a man of letters, he tipped his toe often in the world of politics through the socialistic Fabian Society.
Wherever Shaw did get embroiled in politics though he found himself flying the flag of totalitarianism.
An avowed supporter of eugenics, and an apologist for Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin respectively, some of Shaw’s defences of Hitlerism remain online.
Shaw infamously was one of the “useful idiots” composed of Western intellectuals who carried water for the Stalinist regime even as the Gulags began operating at capacity. Shaw’s adulation of Stalinism came after witnessing the Baltic canal system, built largely with slave labour.
Despite early endorsements of Hitler, Shaw became hawkish against the Third Reich during the Second World War, as well as his own country, whom he lobbied to be invaded by Churchill.
Regardless, where Shaw is still revered in Ireland it is done so by bourgeois-left types, most notable being Fintan O’Toole. While O’Toole waxes lyrically about institutional racism he has done much to rehabilitate a man like Shaw through a sympathetic biography.
With an imposing statue at the entrance of the National Gallery of Ireland, Shaw is by any measure worthy of being thrown off his pedestal amid the current mania of anti-racist protests. Ironically his dearth of popularity and fact he is categorised as a safe progressive figure may save him for now.
2-William Butler Yeats
Potentially even a Nobel Prize and a slot on the Leaving Cert may not save one of Ireland’s great poetic muses of the 20th century.
Yeats’s flagrant support for fascism at home and abroad is well-documented and has been a cause for inordinate queasiness for the Irish literary establishment for decades. The knives have been out for Yeats ever since the intellectual Conor Cruise O’Brien first voiced the rather public fact in the 60s that the inhabitant of Innisfree was by any measure a fascist.
A full-blooded authoritarian and hyper-reactionary, Yeats attempted to fashion the Blueshirt movement into his image and failed spectacularly. Similarly, his erstwhile muse Maud Gonne and 1916 veteran can similarly be written off for her antisemitism picked up during the Boer War, and sexual dalliances with French proto-fascists in rather macabre sex rituals.
Honoured with a statue in his adopted county of Sligo, Yeats may shortly find himself quietly dropped from the Leaving Cert English module this decade, and plunged into the Sligo Harbour.
He is not the only Leaving Cert poet potentially on the chopping block with TS Elliot beginning to take heat for antisemitic verse. Similarly what the average woke feminist would think reading Patrick Kavanagh Tarry Flynn shouldn’t even be contemplated.
Occupying a distinguished pedestal on the street named after him the Emancipator has pride of place on Dublin’s thoroughfare.
A lifelong campaigner against slavery and insituonalised sectarianism O’Connell should be a safe figure to the curent wave of historical destruction.
Regardless, his antisemitic vitriol shown repeatedly towards Benjamin Disraeli says otherwise.
Similarly while modern Ireland seeks to secularise its schooling system, O’Connell set in stone the foundations for the clerical state that emerged post-Independence.
While no doubt safe for the immediate future, O’Connell may be a little too confessional for the post-Catholic Ireland eventually. Or else someone might notice on his statue a bundle of sticks around an axe, which is evident of a certain problematic symbolism.
Despite his lifelong support for African-Americans, the O’Connell statue was graffitied by the recent Black Lives Matter Protest. Perhaps a signifier that the current wave of street protests are less to do with structural racism than with giving overgrown babies the chance to lash out.
Alas, the namesake of this publication and champion for moderate Whig liberty, Edmund Burke may find himself coming under scrutiny shortly by the leftist mob rule he ruminated against.
A surprisingly moderate figure, despite his caricature as being a two-dimensional reactionary, Burke was a stalwart opponent of oppression from the Penal Laws in Ireland to colonial mismanagement in India.
However, he expressed ambiguous attitudes towards slavery towards the end of his life. Most notably in the rather odd text “The Negro Code” where he laid out the procedures for beating slaves correctly.
While Burke remains a forgotten character, his statue’s location on the grounds of the progressive stronghold of Trinity may put him in danger one day.
Across from Burke’s sculpture lies that of the poet nationalist Thomas Davis. Was Davis not engaging in Islamophobia when he wrote of Islamic raiding gangs attacking Irish towns?
The spirit of Jacobinism is sadly just as strong two centuries after Burke penned his seminal Reflections. Perhaps one day some precocious Trotskyite attending Trinity could discover the fact that they attend lectures passing under the shadow of a man with certain problematic opinions.
In a university where Black Studies is to be institutionalised and stringent anti-racist codes unleashed, what long term hope has a poor counter-revolutionary sage like Burke?
The gun-toting mother of Irish Republicanism, Constance Markievicz has found new life in modern Ireland as the Gloria Steinem of Easter Week.
Characterised simply as a proponent of female equality and socialism, she even became a minor icon for the Repeal the 8th movement, featuring in certain short films as being in favour of abortion.
Regardless, this whitewash neglects the actual Constance, herself an impassioned Catholic, who named the potential for divorce to be legalised one of the reasons she was against the Anglo-Irish Treaty.
Some of her religious poetry is available online, such as that commemorating the praying of the Rosary following the seizure of the RCSI by nationalists.
An early founder of Fianna Fáil with De Valera, it is unlikely she would take kindly to being used as a poster girl for pro-abortion advocacy.
Across the water in England, Constance’s rival for the first female parliamentarian Nacy Astor, herself in possession of a prominent statue, is taking fire for stridently anti-semitic and pro-fascist sympathies.
Markievicz’s statue on Stephen’s Green opposite where she took up arms and knelt in prayer before battle at the RCSI is safe though for the foreseeable future. Modern Ireland is happy with the myth that she was merely a progressive, and not a Catholic ultranationalist.
6-Problematic 1916 Signatories
Famously Pádraig Pearse was refused a statue in the place of Admiral Nelson. This was done for the sake of not lending credence to the Provisional IRA by a Free State uneasy with the Northern conflict, and Pearse’s polemics in favour of armed insurrection by a revolutionary vanguard.
This is perhaps fortunate, for the writings of Pearse have left Irish elites red-faced for a century. Pearse in his militaristic prose and training of what were essentially child soldiers has earned him the title of being proto-fascistic, from writers as diverse as Kevin Myers to Eoghan Harris.
The contested joint leader of the 1916 Rising, Thomas Clarke caused a certain stir with revelations of his hostility and sometimes colourful descriptions of living proximate to black people.
While James Connolly is given de facto ideological credit for the Rising, the preponderance of hard-line Catholics present during Easter Week and who signed the Proclamation is something that is often forgotten about.
Whatever about what Connolly said about a socialist republic, what do modern Irish liberals think a traditional Catholic like Joseph Plunkett would think of homosexual marriage?
7 Seán South
Remembered in verse and by a Fermanagh monument, the Limerick-born Republican martyr played an important role in revitalising the movement after the botched Operation Harvest.
Killed alongside Fergal O’Hanlon during a raid on an RUC barracks, South’s funeral became a rallying point for a marginalised Republican movement in the 1950s.
However while being honoured by Republicans of all stripes, South was a vocal clerical fascist. Noted for antisemitic screeds sent to local papers, South was a member of the Catholic integralist group Maria Duce, likely flirting at one stage with the overtly fascistic Ailtirí na hAiséirghe.
While Sinn Féin are perhaps the most vocal supporters of antiracism nationwide, at which point do they begin to stop honouring South out of pure progressive embarrassment? One can envision the day when Irish Times periodicals bemoan the playing of Seán South at Republican concerts, and worse still, Republican concerts complying.
South, as this list will show, is not the only Republican gunman potentially going to enter hot water as the progressive delirium reaches boiling point.
Fianna Fáil may also come under fire for honouring the memory of Dan Breen, famous for firing the first shots in the War of Independence and founding the party, but less famous for being a supporter of Nazi Germany.
8 Flann O’Brien
An enfant terrible of Irish literature, O’Brien is an underappreciated giant in Irish literature, and for his work is honoured with a statue in his birthplace of Strabane.
Hostile to Gaelic chauvinism throughout his career, O’Brien has nonetheless raised eyebrows for certain racist statements made in his private letters.
It would appear that O’Brien had a particular love of repeatedly using the n-word in his correspondence. This was especially the case when during research for his novel The Dalkey Archive, where he fixated on the racial complexion of St Augustine.
O’Brien and his racism is likely too esoteric for the equality mob who are lucky to make it through a Joe.ie article than they would the Third Policeman. One could imagine Myles penning anti-SJW novels today or annoying liberals on Twitter using a Pepe the Frog avatar , in the same way he parodied the hegemonic Catholic nationalism of his own epoch.
9 Seán Russell
Perhaps soon to be a focal point for the current ahistorical hysteria, Russell sits comfortably perked up high in Fairview Park Dublin.
A veteran of Easter Week and IRA Chief of Staff, Russell has taken heat for his support of Nazi Germany, and a rather ambiguous death on a German submarine. Rather ironically while Russell embodied the more reactionary wing of Irish Republicanism, Frank Ryan the Republican antifascist talisman, perished in rather awkward circumstances in the hands German intelligence , potentially (though never proven) collaborating with the Third Reich.
Russell was noted for his confessional brand of Irish Republicanism even in his day, apparently ordering the batoning of communist sympathisers once attending commemorations at Arbour Hill.
Anti-Sinn Féin elements in the media will take joy from forcing the shinners to disavow Russell, with his statue being repeatedly vandalised. Out of all those on this list Russell may be the first to be dispatched to the scrapheap only a stroll from Mary Lou McDonald’s constituency office.
While they are at it they may as well target Arthur Griffith himself, a man so xenophobic he inspired a character in James Joyce’s Ulysses in the form of the character Cyclops.
10 John Mitchel
What to do with John Mitchel? The firebrand Fenian has been raising Cain just as much in death as he did in life.
A 19th century nationalist intellectual Mitchel aside from his lifelong commitment to Irish freedom was an impassioned defender of slavery and racialism.
While honoured with a statue in his native Newry in Northern Ireland, Mitchel has enraptured antiracists with his dyed-in-the-wool defence of slavery, and of the Southern Confederacy, judged too extreme even by some Confederates.
Mitchel like Russell is as prime a contender for the first dethronement from his pedestal by the equality horde. A man who survived being sent to Van Diemen’s land could fall afoul of the UK Equality Dictates.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced this morning that Ireland has a racism problem, and that there are statues which “we need to talk about“. Perhaps the Irish public should just get ahead of the curve and begin to sledgehammer any iota of our history older than a Rubberbandits podcast.
At its heart the series of recent attacks on statues is the physical manifestation of a self-loathing bubbling up in Western nations. Where it ends will not be the defacement of a few blocks of granite but the hollowing out of European civilisation as a whole.
While this article is half-written in jest, the neo-Bolshevik puritans out for blood on any semblance of Western assertion, very much do mean business.
Writers as diverse as Harris and Myers?
Do you realize how stupid that phrase is?
why? because they’re all pale, male and stale, perhaps?
A notable omission from your list is the statue of Mullingars favourite son Joe Dolan, whose suspiciously blackface features smile down on the local populace.
How is this tolerable in an age where, according to our Taoiseach, it is racist to ask someone where they come from!
I’d suggest that there are other statues looking very shaky but being a cute Corkman I’m not going to give anyone ideas. Hurleys at the ready.