The debate on who whould be honoured on Castlebar's Mall took place in the Town Council Chamber last week. A number of prospective candidates were tabled by the council members. Who was to be cast in bronze? General Humbert was an initial hot favourite - especially with the possibility that President Hollande might be persuaded to pay a visit to Castlebar to unveil the statue.
Objections were voiced, however, - the French didn't really do all that much for Castlebar or Ireland in the end - they were beaten back by Cornwallis as was pointed out. Why commemmorate a failure with a larger than life bronze casting?
Enda Kenny was another favourite with the FG councillors but as he is the current Taoiseach and in the light of current austerity measures it was felt that it was better to wait to see how things turned out.
This did lead to a suggestion that garnered a lot of support. A series of bronze statues was proposed - former leaders of the country - former Taoisigh and Presidents - they would all be cast up over a period - perhaps one for each new Town Council assuming that the councils were not abolished. In the end we would have the Mayo version of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota honoring former American presidents - Jefferson, Roosevelt, Lincoln and Washington. The idea of a series of large bronze sculptures depicting all of Ireland's leaders going back to the foundation of the state was seen as very attractive by all parties. Even Labour would be represented in the long run when Michael D was eventually added to The Gathering.
Funds were only available for one statue to start off with so the members faced the difficult task of deciding who to pick for the first of this wonderful series of large - larger than life - bronze figures. De Valera? He spoke on the Mall during election campaigns way back when; so he would be returning to an old stomping ground. While the FF members were delighted, this was shot down by the majority.
The meeting went on batting various choices back and forward - Bruton, Lemass, Lynch, Cosgrave, Fitzgerald, Costello, Reynolds, Ahern even? Eventually a decision to only include deceased former Taoisigh so that cut out Bruton, Reynolds, Cowen, Ahern and Enda Kenny for the initial statue on the Mall.
As the midnight hour drew close with no final conclusion beyond a definite decision to cast a dead Taoiseach in a twice life-size statue on a large plinth on the Mall. The location was even chosen over near the boxing club so that the full complement of former Taoisigh and Presidents could be added to The Gathering as time went by and as funds became available.
'Why not draw straws?' The brilliant suggestion came from floor - 'It's getting late and we'll never get a drink before last orders.'
So the decision was made - 11 names were written out on paper and put into a biscuit tin. There was a little bit of aggro about how to handle those who had held office a number of times - Garret Fitzgerald and Eamon DeValera for example, but it was decided to apply the one man one vote principle. It was getting late after all. The pre-post 1937 Constitution thing about including WT Cosgrave and Eamon Dev as 'Presidents of the Executive Council' was avoided by including WT - Dev was already in the running in any case.
The final result - the ticket drawn was that of Charles J Haughey - who was actually born in Castlebar according to the plaque on the house up on Mountain View - in 1925. An attempt to suspend standing orders was ruled out and the councillors accepted the decision - quite magnanimously it must be said.
The casting of the CJH twice life-sized bronze statue will commence immediately with a target date for erection and unveiling of the statue. The bronze statue of Charles Haughey will be unveiled by a French man - a nice twist at the end of the debate that began with a proposal to have a statue of General Humbert. The CEO of the Charvet Shirt company , Place Vendome, Paris, will do the honours on 14 July next.