MILITARY MEMORIAL - SCULPTURE

MILITARY MEMORIAL - SCULPTURE

This figure by Morris Harding stands atop the lectern presented by the Officers of the 36th (Ulster) Division, containing 8 volumes with the names of those Irish killed serving in the First World War. These link the Cathedral with the Irish National War Memorial at Islandbridge, Dublin

The war memorial lectern donated to the Cathedral by the Officers of the 36th (Ulster) Division contains eight volumes which were compiled as Books of the Dead at the end of the First World War and were published in Dublin in 1923. They link the Cathedral with the Irish National War Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge, Dublin which were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.

The names of 49,000 Irishmen are recorded individually, alphabetically and with as many details of their birth, death and rank as could be found, This was the only publication to bring so many of the Great War dead from Ireland together in order that they might be individually and collectively honoured and remembered.

Various schemes to do this had been discussed from just after the Armistice in the winter of 1918. But progress was slow. In June 1919, John French, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland who was subsequently created, Earl of Ypres, set about launching a widespread appeal for the names of the Irish dead. He wanted to ensure that “the part taken by the soldiers of Ireland” would “stand out in brilliant relief”. The names were to include those of Irish nationality in British regiments.

In December 1922 while Ireland was in the midst of its own bitter civil war, the collected volumes were ready for publication. French issued a passionate exhortation in his introduction. He stated that wherever “the strife was hottest” Irish soldiers were always to be found ... “Irish regiments had always stood their ground against terrific orders ... with a tenacity which has never been surpassed in war.”

Five thousand pounds were spent on giving the project great publicity so as to collect the records of as many dead as possible through the press, and from family and private sources. This work was directed by a sub-committee in Dublin which recorded their regret at not having been able to obtain a complete list of “the fallen Irishmen in the Navy. Airforce and Colonial Regiments”.

Miss Eva C. Barnard, Secretary of the the Irish National War memorial, was responsible for compiling the list of names. The printing was personally supervised by George Roberts who had co-founded and inspired Mansel and Co, the Dublin literary publishing house.

Conscious of the emergence of the new, independent Irish Free State, the sub-committee decided the entire production of the volumes had to be home-grown and produced by the best Irish craftsmanship available.

The volumes were engraved on home-made paper by the Irish Photoengraving Company and the Dublin Illustrating Company.

Harry Clarke,
already a leading figure in the Irish Arts and Crafts Movement, was well known for his versatile and highly original graphic designs and book illustrations, for his stunning stained glass windows and his strong views on the reproduction processes used in printing.

Clarke was commissioned to decorate the title page which is reprinted with alphabetic amendments at the start of each of the eight volumes. His signature is so small it is barely discernible in the illustration. On the title page the figure of Hibernia with her torch, wolfhound and harp is emblazoned beside the rising sun of the Fianna, a High Cross and a ruined Church with a Round Tower. Above her stand effigies of the four symbolic guardians of the Four Provinces of Ireland.

For the figures of soldiers in action and the battlefield scenes, Clarke turned to the pages of “The Irish Soldier”, an illustrated journal first published on September 1st  1918. He successfully incorporated accurate images of trench warfare, artillery, tanks, searchlights and soldiers engaged in both dramatic military action or tragic loss. These include the medals they may not have lived to see, and the badges they wore unto death.

Each of the volumes were bound with exceptional artistry to a design by Berry Oswald Reeves who was not only a skilled enamelist and metalworker, but also a design critic, teacher and major figure in the Arts and Crafts Society of Ireland. The tooling on the bindings was completed by William Pender, a protégé of Lord Dunsany.

Only one hundred sets of the eight volumed set were produced, in a limited edition, for distribution to the principal libraries.

There were various locations discussed for an Irish National War Memorial. A proposal to convert Merrion Square into a Memorial Park was rejected by the Dail in 1927. The erection of a gateway in Phoenix Park was discussed.

The distinguished English war memorial architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens was approached in 1930. The Ministry of Finance in Dublin and the Trustees of the Memorial Fund agreed to acquire a ten acre site beside the river Liffey at Islandbridge, on the outskirts of Dublin.

One of the four gardens in Ireland designed by Lutyens, the work was undertaken from his drawings between 1931 and 1937 under the sympathetic supervision of Dublin architect, T. J. Byrne.

It was not until Armistice Day, 1940, that the Irish War Memorial finally opened. The Books of the Dead were placed in the four granite pavilions Lutyens had conceived as book rooms at the end of each pergola, each to contain two volumes. The peaceful nature of the site on the riverbank is a suitable counterpoint to the honours of war.


** Based on work by Dr. Nicola Gordon Bowe, lecturer at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin. For further information on the Irish National War memorial Gardens see: www.heritageireland.ie
 

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