Earlier this week, I was at the launch of a book by Aileen O’Carroll and Don Bennett on Dublin’s dockers. Their work culture, community history and geographies are now hidden from most who live in the city. Much of that poetry and prose is lost in the labour-denying use of the word ‘infrastructure’, as if people are no longer a factor in mobility; as if the objects and commodities we use are bereft of human agency. Aileen’s work, and Don’s before he died a few years ago, does this place and time justice. The launch was in the Dublin Port company headquarters.
A few years ago, I photographed many of Dublin’s streetside Marian grottos and statues for my Ph.D. research. One of the crucial aspects of their location was their connection with workplaces. The old Irish Independent offices had a Marian statue as many of the Dublin Bus garages still do, notably the Ringsend depot. The picture above is from March 2011 and represents a typical streetside grotto. Mary, as stella maris, is dressed in blue, looking down on the earth she stands atop and, as is usual, crushing the edenic symbol of sin beneath her foot, a snake. On Tuesday evening, before the launch, I noticed that the statue has been removed as part of a general regeneration of this entire corner. The Dublin Port Company are making a feature entrance here involving shapely iron gates and lighting. There is no mention of the statue’s removal in the planning application.
This statue is one of the few that has not been replaced after redevlopment of a site. The site works are not yet finished of course. Across Dublin, Marian and other Christian statuary has been replaced following renovation and rebuilding. The two best examples are probably at the new taxi rank at Cathal Brugha street after the Luas works and at the Timberyard housing complex in Dublin 8. In both of these cases, there was no explicit mention of the replacement of the statue as being integral to the planning conditions but they were placed back there anyway.
I am not mourning for the Alexandra Mary’s removal. It was not even a particularly pretty example of streetside Marian statuary. I am sure that a small number of HGV drivers paid attention to it and maybe some made an affective connection with the star of the sea. It marks the end of a public expression of religious faith and devotion, as evident from its maintenance until now. This small place has been folded into broader relations of the flow of capital; recomposed into a vision for the city where use is more than function but always less than beautiful.