With Arthur’s Day fast approaching, Come Here To Me looks at the monument to Sir Arthur Edward Guinness, great-grandson of ‘To Arthur!’ himself. A leading unionist politician in the city, Sir Arthur opened St. Stephen’s Green Park to the general public
The statue to Sir Arthur Edward Guinness, which gazes over in the direction of the Royal College of Surgeons from St. Stephen’s Green, will be a familiar sight to all Dubliners. Arthur was the son of Sir Benjamin Guinness, who is also commemorated with a statue in Dublin today. Benjamin was a grandson of Arthur Guinness, and his statue outside Saint Patrick’s Cathedral today serves to remind Dubliners that between 1860 and 1865, he undertook the restoration of that Cathedral at great cost. Benjamin Guinness was also elected to the House of Commons in 1865 as a Conservative representative for Dublin City. His son would follow his footsteps in both his political career and his contribution to the city of Dublin, as Sir Arthur Edward Guinness would succeed in opening the beautiful St.Stephen’s Green Park to the general public.
Historically, St. Stephen’s Green had been a private residents park, something which was greatly at odds with a law passed by the City Assembly in 1635 which stated: “That no parsel of the Greenes or commons of the city shall henceforth be lett, but wholie kept for the use of the citizens and others to walke and take open aire, by this reason this cittie is at present groweing very populous” Access to the green was restricted to those who rented keys from the local commissioners, who had been given control of the park in 1814.
Sir Arthur Edward Guinness, or Lord Ardilaun, would become a unionist politician, like several of the Guinness family before him. He had first been elected to Westminster in the 1868 election, as a Conservative M.P for Dublin. Guinness’ election was deemed void, owing to corrupt practices on the part of his election agent. He was returned again however at the next election of 1874. The title ‘Lord Ardilaun’ was granted onto him in 1880.
As Joe Joyce has noted in his fantastic history of the Guinness family, Lord Ardilaun’s politics had brought him into conflict with John Redmond among other nationalist voices, and Redmond accused Ardilaun, along with Lord Londonerry, of being a reactionary political force. Redmond noted in Parliament that:
So far as Ireland is concerned, we know who they are- Lord Londonderry and Lord Ardilaun, two men who in the whole of their careers never contributed one useful word towards the settlement of any grievance, large of small…I admit his public generosity, but I say, as a politician, he is a man who has never, either in Parliament or out of it, contributed one sensible or useful word to the settlement of any question, large or small.
Lord Ardilaun followed a long line of Guinness philanthropists, and his financial support would prove crucial to opening St.Stephen’s Green to the general public in 1880. On 27 July 1880, St.Stephen’s Green first opened to the public, and The Irish Times noted on that day that:
The work of beautifying and rendering St.Stephen’s Green, one of the most charming public recreation grounds in the Kingdom, having at length been completed, the gates will be this morning quietly and without ceremony open to the public.
Lord Ardilaun himself did not attend the opening of the park. Within a week of its opening, a young 16-year-old by the name of Patrick Grennan, listed in the newspapers of the day as being an ashpit cleaner by trade, became the first youngster charged with malicious damage in the park for tearing up plants! Ironically, his home was Arthur’s Lane.
The idea of placing a monument to Lord Ardilaun at the park was proposed long before his passing, and the foundation stone of the monument was laid on May 7th 1891. The first meetings to discuss the most fitting to honour Ardilaun’s contribution to the park had occurred in April of the previous year. Among those present when the foundation stone was laid were the Lord Mayor of Dublin, and Sir Charles Cameron, who served over fifty years at the head of the Public Health Department of Dublin Corporation. At a banquet held in honour of Ardilaun later that day, following ‘God Save The Queen’, the Lord Mayor raised a toast to Lord Ardilaun and thanked him for his contribution to Dublin life.
The statue itself would follow in June 1892, with The Irish Times reporting that the large presence of “the trades and of the working people” showed the gratitude of ordinary Dubliners to Ardilaun. Sitting above a pedestal of Irish granite, the fine statue had been sculptured by Thomas Farrell. Farrell was also the sculptor responsible for the statues of William Smith O’Brien and Sir John Gray, which both stand on O’Connell Street today.
In 1894, the Dean of St.Patrick’s Cathedral, acting as spokesman for the committee, noted that “no memorial was ever erected in Dublin which was more more deserved than that which the citizens of Dublin had erected in St.Stephen’s Green to perpetuate the memory of the noble man to whom Dublin was indebted for the opening and beautifying of that park.”
Ardilaun died in January 1915, at the age of 75. During his lifetime he had been a prominent Dublin business man, a president of the Royal Dublin Society, a student of Eton and Trinity College Dublin, a unionist political voice in the city and a philanthropist. The Irish Times noted that “throughout the whole of his career Lord Ardilaun’s personality was conspicuous in the public life of Ireland. His activities were many, all being inspired by a hearty desire to further the material and social well-being of his country”