The statues on each side of the Trinity College Dublin Campanile are well known to many, not only to students of the college but also to the many Dubliners who use use the college as a shortcut from Dame Street to Nassau Street.
On the left hand side, you find George Salmon. Salmon, as well as being a highly regarded mathematician and theologian, was a one time Provost of the institution, a deeply conservative figure who firmly opposed the admittance of women to Trinity. “If a female had once passed the gate …it would be practically impossible to watch what buildings or what chambers she might enter, or how long she might remain there” wrote the Board of Trinity College in 1895, capturing the spirit of the institution in Salmon’s time. It was somewhat ironic the first female student at Trinity College Dublin was to arrive soon after his death in January 1904. On the far side of the Campanile sits a fine memorial to historian W.E.H Lecky.
The George Salmon monument was first placed on the Trinity campus in 1911, though it didn’t sit in its current location at Parliament Square, but rather in the hall of the museum of the college. The sculpture was John Hughes, and The Irish Times noted at the time that the statue was carved of Galway marble. It was done in Hughes’ studio in Paris, based on photographs of Salmon. The statue has moved around Trinity on several occasions, beginning its life in the hall of the museum before being moved to the small lawn at the end of the library, near to the playing fields.
Yet to many, the statue was considered quite ugly. Writing in the letters pages of The Irish Times in January 1964, Owen Sheehy Skeffington defended the statue of Salmon, noting that “it is not a work of outstanding artistic distinction, but it has a rugged honesty that of the ‘warts and all’ type which accords well with the fearlessness and integrity of Salmon the man.”
Some never saw the appeal of the monument however, and twice in the early 1960s Salmon’s monument made the national broadsheet papers following attacks upon it. In February of 1961, the monument was daubed with red paint and creosote. An official of the university remarked to The Irish Times that it was “probably some undergraduate prank”, but the paper quoted one student who passed them as saying “it was about time- and you can quote me on that.” In March 1963, Salmon was again singled out for attack, when black and red ink was flung upon it.
Salmon was only moved to his contemporary location in January 1964. It became the first monument placed in the front square of the college in nearly 30 years, seated on the far side of the Campanile from Lecky. The Irish Times noted that “some people who have looked at the statue are doubtful about the wisdom of placing it in the square” and went on to state that it “is considered by many to be rather ugly.”
With Salmon having insisted women would not enter his beloved university, he must have turned in his grave in October 2004. The Philosophical Society of Trinity College chose Salmon’s marble statue as an ideal location for a photoshoot for Kayleigh Pearson, the Phil’s first invited chair of the year. If her name doesn’t ring a bell immediately, I’ll spare you the Google: she was a model from mens mag FHM, Britain’s favourite ‘Girl Next Door’ no less. Trinity had come a long way.