Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article, 9 October 2014
150 Years of The Statue
To honour such a man is to do honour to ourselves, to your country, and to the Irish name. It is now my pleasing duty, in the names of the citizens of Cork to unveil the statue, which is to stand henceforth in your city, as an enduring memorial of its best and greatest citizen, and to present to the gaze of those whom he loved and served in life, the semblance of those features, which are so familiar to their memories and dear to their hearts (John Francis Maguire, Mayor of Cork, 10 October 1864).
The date 10 October 2014 marks the 150th anniversary of the unveiling of the Fr Mathew Statue on St Patrick’s Street. Enshrined in Cork City’s collective memory as the ‘Apostle of Temperance’, by the end of 1840, it is recorded that 180,000 to 200,000 nationwide had taken Fr Mathew’s pledge. In the late 1840s, Fr Mathew went to America to rally support for his teetotaller cause and the teetotalism cause in Ireland and England started to suffer by his absence. He died in December 1856 and was buried in St Joseph’s cemetery, Cork, his own cemetery that he created for the poor. Fr Mathew has left a legacy in this city that has been maintained and respected since his death. Of all his commemorative features in the city, the Fr Mathew Statue, erected in 1864, on the city’s St. Patrick’s Street very much honours the man.
Soon after the death of Fr Mathew in December 1856, a committee was formed for the purpose of erecting a suitable memorial in the city. The commission was entrusted to the famous sculptor John Hogan who in his early days had been raised in Cove Street and was acquainted with Fr Mathew. Hogan died in 1858 and on his death a meeting of the committee was called. It was reported that they had on hand the sum of £900, and on the motion of John Francis Maguire MP, it was agreed to give £100 to the Hogan family in recognition of what Hogan had already done on the contract. The sculptor’s eldest son, John Valentine endeavoured to carry out his father’s work and in June 1858 another meeting of the community was held at the Athenaeum to inspect a model of a statue he brought to Cork.
However the commission was handed over to John Henry Foley. He was the second son of Jesse Foley, a native of Winchester, who had settled in Dublin. When John had reached the age of 13 he decided to follow his eldest brother in the profession of sculptor. He entered the school of the Royal Dublin Society where he soon distinguished himself by winning many prizes for drawing and modelling. In 1823 he won the major award of that school. This success induced him to follow his brother to London where he joined the schools of the Royal Academy. Within a short time he submitted a study entitled “The death of Abel”, which won for him a ten year scholarship to that establishment. Foley’s next noteworthy achievement was exhibiting in the Royal Academy in 1839, and 10 years later he was elected a full member carrying the letters R A after his name. At 40 years of age the sculptor had achieved the highest honours. Foley’s output was prodigious and his works are to be found in India, USA, Ceylon, Ireland and Scotland. His subjects were deemed classical and imaginative, creating equestrian statues, monuments and portrait busts. Two years after the unveiling of Fr Mathew statue, his Daniel O’Connell monument in Dublin was unveiled.
The Fr Mathew Statue was unveiled on 10 October 1864 amidst a concourse of people and public celebration. Both the Cork Constitution and Cork Examiner the following day carried lengthy and vivid accounts of the pomp and ceremony. The statue had been cast in the bronze foundry of Mr Prince, Union Street, Southwark, London. As well as obtaining a remarkable likeness of Fr Mathew, the sculptor posed the figure as a representation of him in the act of blessing those who had just taken the pledge. On the statue’s arrival in Cork, it was placed on the stone pedestal which had been designed by a local architect William Atkins.
The proceedings on that 10 October began at 12 noon when it was estimated that thousands of people lined all the vantage points on the city’s streets. All businesses had been suspended for the day and public buildings and private houses were decorated for the occasion. The city remained thronged with people from 10am to 4pm. A huge procession had assembled on Albert Quay and the Park Road and moved off at 12noon headed by the Globe Lane Temperance Society of 50 members and 12 performers in their band. All the trades, societies with their banners, sashes and coloured rosettes marched with Temperance Societies from all over the county. At 2pm the statue was unveiled to a mass of public support. Henceforth it was immortalised as a landmark, defining the centre of the city and supporting the story and folklore of Fr Mathew on the great St Patrick’s Street.
763a. Fr Mathew Statue, as depicted in the Illustrated London News, 26 December 1863, p.665