The spire on O’Connell St, finally set in place this week, so naturally the pub quiz trivia question wasn’t far behind. Apart from the spire, what other monuments line Ireland’s premier street?
Well, the first two are easy. There’s ‘the uncrowned king of Ireland’, Charles Stewart Parnell and ‘the Liberator’, Daniel O’Connell, bookending O’Connell St… Then there’s trade union organiser Big Jim Larkin, and abstinence campaigner Fr Matthew.
It takes a bit more thought before you remember that the Young Irelander commemorated is William Smith O’Brien. Then, last but not least, there’s Dr Sir John Gray.
Poor John Gray is only vaguely remembered at the best of times. Pub quiz teams usually get the others eventually, though some stumble over Smith O’Brien, but end up wracking their brains over John Gray.
The trouble is, John Gray didn’t do anything glamorous. He was a Liberal MP for Kilkenny, supporting O’Connell in the effort to get Home Rule, but he was a backbencher.
Larkin led the strikers, O’Connell finished off the Penal Laws, O’Brien led a revolution, and Parnell was to the forefront of Irish politics for over a decade on home rule and land reform. Even Fr Matthew, by leading a campaign for abstinence in the city that invented Guinness, earns a place in the public memory for his eternal optimism. John Gray published the Freeman’s Journal, but he earned his statue for building the Vartry water works.
It’s a pity really. It might not be as glamourous as reforming Land Law, or founding the trade union movement, but the water works were a major breakthrough in public welfare. In the nineteenth century, people died because of unclean water, just like they still do in many third world countries today. Grey was a medical doctor, and his contribution to public health was as important as Dr Noel Browne’s a century later in eradicating TB.
Clean water is something we take pretty much for granted these days, for all that our hygiene levels aren’t what they should be with problems from slurry spills to the recently publicised problems with group water schemes.
So next time you need to quench a thirst, don’t forget to raise your glass of H2O in memory of John Grey.
The Spire looks quite impressive by the way, but it is a major disappointment in one way. It hasn’t yet inspired the famous Dublin wit.
The Anna Livia monument famously became the Floozie in the Jacuzzi within days of its arrival. Molly Malone is the Tart with the Cart. There’s the Hags with the Bags, and for a while we had the Time in the Tide, but so far, the Spire had filed to inspire a truly memorable nickname.
True, there have been a few suggestions, its true. Among them are the Stiletto in the Ghetto, the Spire in the Mire, the Jab in the Slab, the Light in the Night, the Bertie Pole, and The Milligan (after Spike, geddit?) but nothing has really grabbed the imagination.
You’d think with four million euro to spend on the project, they could have spared a few thousand for a competition to give it a decent nickname.