The Lead Statue of the Duke of Cumberland d.1765),
by John Cheere.
Formerly on top of a Column at Emmet Square, Birr, (Parsons Town) County Offaly, Ireland.
Removed in 1915.
In 1747, Sir Laurence Parsons of Birr Castle who had inherited the estate in 1740, commissioned a statue of the Butcher Cumberland and erected it on top of the handsome Doric column that stood at the heart of his town.
The newly formed Birr Freemason’s Lodge paraded in the towns’ equally new Palladian ‘Cumberland Square’ to mark the occasion.
The Column was designed by Samuel Chearnley (1717 - 46).
Design by Chearnley in Armagh Public Library.
A letter written by a William Sturgeon to the Bishop of Meath, of 24 March 1743, quotes Chearnley as saying: "I have always been a lover of architecture but this is the first essay which Sir Laurence has put to me". This makes explicit both Parsons’ patronage of Chearnley, but also could be said to hint at their collaborative relationship.
This letter also contains Chearnley’s acknowledgement of Claude Perrault’s Ordnances des Cinq Especes des Colonnes,translated into English in 1708, as the source for his design of his column in Birr.
The statue itself was personally paid for by Parsons. It was executed by Cheere of London, the same artist who executed the monument in memory of the Earl of Cork, on the north side of the altar in Christ's Church, Dublin. Things did not go wholly to plan. In a letter the Cheeres, expressed surprise when a crack appeared in the Duke’s leg, but insisted that it could be mended by a plumber and to pacify Sir Laurence, they included in the price a plaster bust of Cumberland, polished to imitate marble which, they noted, was ‘exceeding like and very handsome to stand in a room upon a table or chimney piece’
Dublin Journal of 3 June 1746
"Sir Laurence Parsons, Bart and other Gentlemen in the King’s County, from a Principle of Loyalty, are going at their own expense to raise a marble pillar, fifty foot high, with a statue of the Duke of Cumberland, on the top of it, in honour of his Royal Highness, for defeating and vanquishing the rebels at Culleden-Muir"
Faulkner’s Dublin Journal of 8 November 1746, as follows:
"The Gentlemen of the King’s County assembled at Parsonstown…and as they had before subscribed a large sum for a pillar and statue of his Royal Highness the Duke of Cumberland, they thought no day more proper to lay the first stone of the monument of their gratitude to this young hero, who defended their civil and religious liberties"
Looking rather unsteady c.1915.
The severed head of Cumberland now in Birr Castle.
The head, which is owned by the Hunt Museum, is currently on loan to the Earl of Rosse and housed in Birr Castle, while part of the arm is to be found the Birr public library. I will endeavour to obtain more photographs.
Much of the information here culled from the excellent and comprehensive Conservation report by Howley Hayes, Architects of Dublin, 2009-
Bust of Richard Parsons, First Earl of Rosse (1702 - 41). In St Patricks Cathedral Dublin.