A visitor to Hawarden in Wales might stumble across a statue in honour of William Ewart Gladstone, the four-time prime minister of Britain. A hugely important figure in nineteenth century Irish political history, Gladstone’s political career spanned over sixty years, with him first taking the office of prime minister in 1868. Gladstone had tried and failed to introduce Home Rule to Ireland, but he was also instrumental in introducing coercion laws into Ireland which allowed for people to be imprisoned without trial, in an attempt to establish “law and order” in Ireland.
In 1898, the Gladstone National Memorial Fund proposed that statues in honour of Gladstone be erected in London, Edinburgh and Dublin. John Hughes was the sculptor chosen for the job at hand. Dubliners will be familiar with Hughes’ statue to controversial Trinity College provost George Salmon, while his monument in honour of Queen Victoria has long been removed from Leinster House. A discussion around acceptance of the statue took place at a meeting of the Dublin Corporation in August 1898, and ultimately the elected members of the Corporation decided against acceptance of the statue, which infuriated the Freeman’s Journal newspaper:
Under the circumstances, it is clear that it is the duty of self-respecting Irishmen to step into the breach, to form a representative committee, to accept the offer of the Duke of Westminster on behalf of the nation, and by the force of public opinion to override the ill-considered and ill-conditioned resolution adopted yesterday. There is no other course open unless Irishmen are to hang their heads in shame for all time at the name of Gladstone.
The actual motion passed by Dublin Corporation is interesting, as it seems the primary cause of concern to the Corporation was the absence of a statue to Charles Stewart Parnell in the city, with their motion stating that “that no statue should be erected in Dublin in honour of any Englishman until as least the Irish people have raised a fitting monument to the memory of Charles Stewart Parnell….”
It was not until 1911 that Parnell’s monument was put in place, the work of the reknowned sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. John Redmond had served as secretary to the Parnell Monument Committee, and huge crowds came to see the unveiling of the statue in October of that year. Poor Parnell, like Daniel O’Connell, was to take a number of bullets in Easter Week. It was there that British Army officers would pose with the captured flag of the Irish Republic, less than five years after the statue had been unveiled.
Ultimately, Hawarden on the Welsh/English border would claim the statue to Gladstone. Far from the city of Dublin, the total population for the greater community of Hawarden was 13,539 at the time of the 2001 census. While the Freeman’s Journal may have felt Dublin had disgraced itself in refusing such a statue, history had shown it may not have stood much of a change in a newly independent state, where symbols of the British state and establishment were routinely targeted in Dublin.