Queen Vic in Oz

Published in Issue 1 (Spring 2002), Letters, Letters, Volume 10

Sir,—Antipodean lauds on your last issue! In the best spirit (whatever about the taste) I offer some notes on Sighle Bhreathnach-Lynch’s report on ‘The Chequered Fate of a Queen’ (Winter 2001). Sydney’s very own ‘Irish Mile’ of inner-city Irish icons begins inspirationally with the Book of Kells motifs in stained glass at the State Library and ends convivially at the statue of Queen Victoria opposite the Town Hall. I tell my students that I saw the old girl languishing at Kilmainham when I was on a college Dublin Society outing in 1979 and admit that seeing her next in Sydney a decade later lingers yet on the bitter-sweet side of my memory. The jowls were the give-away. (So much for my inadequacy as an art connoisseur.) I do not dispute that Regina Imperatrice was the gift of Charles Haughey to ‘Australia’, nor that the gesture is not considered his worst, but a plaque on the sculpture’s plinth makes it ‘the Gift of the Irish People to the People of Sydney’. As one of the latter, I keep my tongue in my cheek as I read those words to my audiences, much as I imagine the writer of the text may have done while composing it. As to giving it back in the interests of cultural inclusivity, I protest! pace ‘the ever-growing climate of Australian republicanism’. The plaza outside the Queen Victoria Building is well-served by the adornment, just paces as it is from a bronze of the same monarch’s dog. This gives our monarchists context. It also cheers them. During our republican referendum in 1999 the statue’s orb of state bore a ‘yes’ sticker. Few Sydney-siders missed the joke though they ignored the advice. Finally (and proving that art history is not entirely beyond my ken), the ‘regalia’ mentioned in passing is none other than the chain and star of the Sovereign Head of the Order of the Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick (the self-same ‘Irish Crown Jewels’ tracked by Tomás O’Riordan in the same issue of History Ireland). The sole (surviving) depiction of the (any) monarch in this capacity, I wonder? Harps and Shamrocks and Tudor roses laid on with a trowel. Truly, this is the Irish Queen.—Yours, etc..

Sir,—The article by Sighle Breathnach Lynch, ‘The Chequered Fate of Queen’ brought back memories of the ‘brou ha ha’ at the time of the statue’s removal. A story of my father’s underlines the general feeling. A tea merchant friend of my father’s got a phone call from a shopkeeper in a West Cork town complaining that his delivery had not arrived. My father’s friend investigated to find that his deliverer was in the process of removing Queen Victoria from Leinster Lawn, and due to her weight the process was taking longer than expected. My father’s friend contacted his shopkeeper and on explaining the cause of non-delivery the West Cork man said, ‘No need to apologise, anyone who is removing that auld strap is fine by me’.—Yours, etc..


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