Next year, 2015, sees the 200th anniversary of one of the most significant and iconic events in European history: the Battle of Waterloo. For the British empire the final defeat of Napoleon and the removal of their great imperial rival was a watershed. Ireland, of course, has a significant connection with Waterloo through Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, whose family was based in Trim County Meath. Wellington served as MP for Trim from 1790 to 1795.
Heather Stedman, who completed her Ph.D. in historical geography at TCD in 2012 has recently published a major article on how the Duke of Wellington was inscribed in the Irish cultural landscape through the erection of monuments. This article is partly based on her Ph.D. thesis that also deals with Wellington monuments in Scotland and Wales.
Three monuments were built to honour Wellington in Ireland. The first and most spectacular of these is the Wellington monument in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. At over seventy metres it is an imposing presence in the landscape. The foundation stone was laid in 1817; the obelisk completed by 1822 but the monument was not completed until nearly forty years later in 1861. Stedman reveals that it was suggested that this monument be located in College Park in Trinity College Dublin.
In Trim, County Meath a figure of Wellington stands atop a Corinthian column nearly twenty-three metres in height. This was erected in 1817, as the inscription on its base records: “IN HONOUR OF THE ILLUSTRIOUS DUKE OF WELLINGTON BY THE GRATEFUL CONTRIBUTIONS OF THE COUNTY MEATH”.
The third monument is a small folly-like tower built on the estate of Sir William Barker at Kilcooley, County Tipperary in 1817 and “dedicated To His GRACE THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON in Commemoration of his Glorious Victory over the FRENCH at WATERLOO on June the 18th An. Domi. 1815”.
Stedman reads these monuments as part of a wider project to construct a sense of British identity in Ireland following the Act of Union in 1801. The Wellington monuments, she argues, can be seen as an attempt to normalize Ireland’s new position as an integral part of the Union but also as symbols of British power and domination. The instigation, design and funding for these monuments came almost entirely from the protestant ascendancy class.
The one exception to this is the inclusion of a bas-relief commemorating catholic emancipation on the Wellington monument in Dublin that was partly funded by subscriptions for a never completed separate monument funded by Roman Catholic subscribers. Wellington, as Prime Minister played a key role in the passing of the Catholic Emancipation act in 1829. In a way however the inclusion of the bas-relief, Stedman argues, underlines the exclusion of Roman Catholics as it marks the overdue granting of basic civil rights to Roman Catholics twenty-eight years after the passing of the Act of Union.
Stedman’s article is based on highly detailed archival research and draws on a range of theoretical perspectives to present a highly textured account of the making of the Irish Wellington monuments. I hope this very brief introduction will lead you to read the whole article and appreciate the originality of Stedman’s research and the range of the analysis she presents.
Stedman, H. (2013) Monuments to the Duke of Wellington in nineteenth-century Ireland: forging British and imperial identities. Irish Geography 46 (1-2): 129–159.