National Monument

National Monument
The National Monument


The National Monument on the Grand Parade in Cork was unveiled on St Patrick’s Day 1906.  The monument commemorates the rebellions of 1798, 1803, 1848 and 1867.  Fr Kavanagh, OSF, unveiled the monument as bands from Cork city and from the county towns played ‘Who fears to speak of ’98?’ D.J. Coakley, a well-known architect, designed the monument.  John Francis Davis, a Kilkenny man with a studio at 4 Sunview Terrace, College Road, sculpted the figures of Wolfe Tone, Michael Dwyer, Thomas Davis, Peter O'Neill Crowley  and ‘Mother Erin’.  The builder was Mr Ellis.  Coakley had designed the façade of the Holy Trinity church, and the design of the National Monument resembles the design of the church façade. The Cork Young Ireland Society, a successor to the Cork ’98 Centenary Committee, raised funds for the monument.  Other speakers at the unveiling of the monument were the Fenians Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa and Charles Guilfoyle Doran, and the chairman of the Cork Young Ireland Society J.J. Crowley.

A procession led by a carriage occupied by Fr Kavanagh, O’Donovan Rossa, and C.G. Doran preceded the unveiling. The procession included bands, trade and labour bodies, and national societies.  It marched from Parnell Place along the South Mall, Grand Parade, Great George’s Street (now Washington Street), South and North Main Streets, Pope’s Quay, St Patrick’s Bridge, St Patrick’s Street, and on to the National Monument.  Thousands of people lined the route, cheering and waving handkerchiefs.


After the unveiling, Kavanagh made an emotional speech celebrating the close links, as he saw it, between Irish nationalism and religion and praising the patriots who had suffered and died for Ireland.  Part of his speech, reported by the Cork Examiner, reads: “By the erection of this monument we commemorate the long line of Ireland’s devoted patriots from the first to the last, from the days of Brian Ború to those of John Mitchell and down to our own day – to the men of ’98 to the men of ’48 (cheers), to the men of ’67 (cheers), to all the patriot sons of Ireland  – to all who have suffered or died for her, and to those who withered for her sake in the gloom of the dungeon, or crimsoned with their blood the gory scaffold or preferred poverty and exile to the glittering prizes offered to her betrayers. (cheers)”

O'Donovan Rossa made a characteristically fiery speech in support of the tradition of using physical force to achieve Irish independence.  After Rossa’s speech C.G. Doran, Fr Thomas and J.J. Crowley also spoke. 

Foundation stone

Patrick Meade, the Mayor of Cork, laid the foundation stone of the monument on 2 October 1898.  The spot chosen for the monument at the junction of the Grand Parade and South Mall had formerly been occupied by a statue of George II.  A big crowd gathered on the Grand Parade and the South Mall to witness the laying of the stone.  A large platform was built near the site of the monument and this was decorated with the flags of France, Spain, and the USA.  The presence of the Spanish and American flags on the same platform amused the reporter from the Cork Constitution newspaper as the Spanish–American War had finished only a few months previously.  During the laying of the foundation stone the national flag of Ireland was hoisted to the top of a flagpole while the massed bands played ‘The Memory of the Dead’.  A Union Jack was also briefly hoisted then lowered and thrown into the river to the amusement of the crowd. 

1798 Centenary

The idea of a building a monument in Cork to honour those who took part in the rebellions of 1798, 1803, 1848 and 1867 arose in 1898 during the commemoration of the centenary of the 1798 Rebellion.  All over Ireland, ’98 clubs sprang up to prepare suitable events to mark the centenary.  Among these was the Cork ’98 Centenary Committee which was established in 1898.  The committee succeeded a society set up in the early 1890s to erect a monument to the Manchester Martyrs.  The earlier society had raised £10 for the building of the Manchester Martyrs’ monument and this money was inherited by the Cork ’98 Centenary Committee which determined to erect a monument commemorating the rebellions of 1798, 1803, 1848 and 1867.  The building of public monuments, many of them inspired by nationalism, was very common in Europe in the years from 1890 to 1910.  As the art historian Judith Hill has written: ‘The public monument was regarded as the obvious way of expressing and cementing a sense of nationality, and the figurative language of sculpture continued to serve political leaders and to be comprehensible to the general public.’ 


During this period Irish nationalists were broadly divided between those who hoped to gain independence for Ireland by constitutional means and those who felt it could only be achieved by force-of-arms.  The constitutional nationalists were divided further between Parnellites and anti-Parnellites.  During those years the working class began to take an interest in socialism which was being promoted by James Connolly, founder of the Irish Socialist Republican Party, among others. All of these strands of opinion were represented on the committee charged with raising funds and drawing up plans for what was to become the National Monument.  Among those on the committee were members of GAA clubs, including Michael Deering the president of the GAA, and members of the Wolfe Tone Literary Society.  Some members of the Wolfe Tone Literary Society were also members of the Irish Socialist Republican Party while the GAA contingent included members of the IRB.  The activities of the group were watched by the Royal Irish Constabulary.  The presence of so many different views on the ‘national question’ on the committee must have led to lively and argumentative committee meetings.  Significantly, many of the speakers at the laying of the foundation stone of the monument referred to the need for nationalists to ‘bury the hatchet’ and ‘let bygones be bygones.’


An incident during the ceremony of the laying of the foundation stone illustrates the differences of political opinion among the members of the ’98 committee.  It had been agreed that a number of books and newspapers would be inserted into the cavity of the foundation stone.  These were to include John O’Leary’s History of Fenianism, Alice Milligan’s History of Wolfe Tone, a copy of L’Irlande Libre, Fr Kavanagh’s History of ’98, and copies of all the nationalist newspapers including the Workers’ Republic which was the newspaper produced by Connolly and the ISRP.  At the last minute members of the committee refused to insert the copy of the Workers’ Republic provided for the occasion.  This drew a tart comment from Con O’Lyhane, a member of the committee and also a member of Connolly’s ISRP: ‘Attention being called to the matter at the next meeting, and no explanation being forthcoming - this is the funny part of the story - the committee refused to receive a proposition censuring those responsible. ...  It looks as if we shall have the Socialist Republic established ere the monument is built. We are a great people - at processions and foundation stones.’

Eventually the '98 committee fell apart and the task of completing the project was taken up by the Cork Young Ireland Society.


Despite the best efforts of the committee it proved difficult to raise enough funds to complete the project.  For a number of years the foundation stone lay undisturbed on the Grand Parade.  The Cork Examiner remarked: “… the neglected appearance which the site presented could scarcely be regarded as little less than an indication of apathy entirely out of keeping with the patriotic records of a city that has well earned for itself the title 'Rebel Cork'.” The members of the society and their supporters collected money outside churches in Cork on Sunday mornings and appealed to wealthy Irish-Americans and to nationalists in the towns in Cork for funds.  By 1902 enough money had been raised to proceed. D.J. Coakley, a well-known architect, won the competition for drawing up plans for the monument.  A contract was signed in 1902 with a builder, Mr Ellis, for the construction of the monument.  The cost was £2,000.  The committee asked John Francis Davis to sculpt the figures for the monument.

Cork Examiner reports

The Cork Examiner described the scene on the day of the unveiling: ‘As one o’clock approached the venue of the start of the procession – Parnell Place – was the scene of prompt, lively, and undoubtedly orderly preparation for the grandest procession that ever marched round and through our city.  The many trade and labour bodies, with their imposing chariots and banners, as well as the various other national bodies and societies were in their places at the hour appointed; and within a few minutes after one the procession, headed by a carriage in which drove Rev. Fr Kavanagh, OSF, Mr Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, and Mr C.G. Doran moved slowly along the South Mall.  A beautiful sunshine favoured the occasion, and beneath it the scene from start to finish was one of a picturesqueness that has never been excelled.  The boys of the Christian schools, wearing the Shamrock and blue and white rosettes, marched behind the leading carriage, and in their wake the boys of the Greenmount Industrial School walked similarly decorated.  The city bands and those from many Southern towns played appropriate Irish airs on the way, and as the wonderful procession proceeded along the South Mall, Grand Parade, Great George’s street, South and North Main street, Pope’s Quay, Patrick’s Bridge, Patrick Street, and on to the National Monument, the thousands of citizens and visitors who lined the streets and footways and occupied the balconies and the windows, the houses on the way gave full vent to their convictions by their  enthusiastic cheering and waving of handkerchiefs.  A noticeable and happy feature of the procession was the strong muster of total abstinence societies, reaching a grand total of over 1,000 men and boys, the most of whom wore their T.A. medals.

On arrival at the monument the huge gathering was addressed by Rev. Father Kavanagh, OSF, Rev. Father Thomas, OSFC, Messrs J O’Donovan Rossa, Charles G. Doran, J.J. Crowley, Chairman Cork Young Ireland Society, etc.’

The style of the National Monument

The Cork Examiner described the National Monument in the following terms:
‘The style of the monument is in the early Irish Gothic.  At the base there are four steps, with a boldly-moulded plinth.  Over this arm two cusped panels on each face, the spandrils being filled in with carving, and these are surmounted with by a richly carved and moulded coping, which forms the base to the monument.  On each of the four sides there are richly moulded arches with cusped heads, and the joints are filled in with green and red Irish marbles.  Over the arches are triangular strings.  From this point up the monument changes in form from square to octagonal.  Over these strings is a further series of richly-carved and moulded strings, with an embattled cornice set in.  The base of the spire commences with a moulded springing.  The space from the springing is in plain ashlar masonry and then occur 3 rows of scolloping.  The panels are perforated and divided by moulded strings.  Immediately over the panels is a very richly-wrought lantern light.  Each face has arched openings, and at each of the eight angles, separating the opes, are carved and crocketted pinnacles.  The spire is terminated by a moulded spring and carved finial, while at each of the four angles are panelled buttresses with marble columns and carved and panelled gablets. The pinnacles rise over the gablets and are set back from buttresses about eight inches.  The tops of the pinnacles are very elaborately designed, panelled on the faces and crocketted on the tops.  Flanking the four buttresses are square pedestals with moulded bases and caps.  On these are placed statues of Wolfe Tone, Michael Dwyer, Davis, and O’Neill Crowley.  The central statue under the canopy is “Erin” and is about eight feet high.  The height of the monument is 48 feet, and its breadth at base is 15 feet.’


On 26 April 2009 the Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Brian Bermingham, took part in a ceremony to rededicate the National Monumet and the Cenotaph.  He was accompanied by representatives of Óglaigh Náisiúnta na hÉireann Teoranta, the British Legion, and members of the UN ex-servicemens' association.  Professor Dermot Keogh spoke at the ceremony and wreaths were laid at the National Monument and the Cenotaph.

Cork City Libraries, Grand Parade, Cork, Ireland.
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