The interesting story of this statue is rich in symbolism. In August 1849, Queen Victoria witnessed her statue being hoisted on the highest gable of the new Queen’s College, now University College Cork. There it remained until 1934 when it was taken down and replaced by Finbarr, Cork’s patron saint. The Victoria statue was put in storage for some years and then bizarrely buried in what was admittedly UCC’s classiest location, the President’s Garden.
People sometimes ask me, “Why wasn’t the statue destroyed outright?” Well, the UCC authorities were nationalists, not vandals. Besides, local pietas was stronger than nationalist feeling. Who in Cork would wantonly destroy the handiwork of a Cork sculptor, a handsome Cork limestone statue, depicting the 30-year-old queen?
In 1995, to mark the 150th anniversary of the Queen’s College foundation, UCC decided to resurrect the statue – little the worse for wear, given what it had been through – and display it as part of a sesquicentennial exhibition. Thus not only was a valuable artefact salvaged, but an important academic statement was being made – that history is a record of the past, not a chronicle of grievances. In the words of the philosopher George Santayana, a civilised people does not tear out the pages of its history, it simply turns them over.
The erection of the statue in 1849, its deposition in 1934, and its rehabilitation in 1995 – these successive events mirror the changing state of the British-Irish relationship over that long period: first, British dominance, then nationalist triumphalism, and finally reconciliation. Today, the Victoria statue represents the mutual respect of friendly neighbours on an equal footing. This symbolism is happily rounded off by your visit today. Thank you for coming here.
John A Murphy
The University Historian and Emeritus Professor of History, University College Cork, Ireland