Ron Goulden

I am happily sitting in the Café courtyard, sipping coffee, oblivious to the bustle of mid-morning just outside its walls. The courtyard had recently become a small container or flower pot garden adding a feeling of calm and colour, bringing nature into focus with the occasional sweet scent of blossom in the centre of Waterford City.

Rumours were abound that we were soon to have the introduction of a new centrepiece in the courtyard, probably a garden statue. The idea sounded exciting, would it be large or small, traditional or a contemporary piece I asked myself?

Memories came flooding back of my maternal grandfather’s flower garden when I was a child, where colourful garden Gnomes, tools in hand, peeped from under leaves and around the fabulous bedding plants, adding a touch of magic that soon became embedded in the childhood memory of my early years. Gnomes are said to have originated in the Royal gardens of Italy. The very first terracotta garden gnomes were made in Germany in the early 1800s and soon became popular in surrounding countries. The animated film Snow White and the seven Dwarfs, released in Ireland in 1938 resulting in a steady increase of Garden Gnome popularity here.

Alas, this addition to the courtyard container garden was probably going to be a statue, so my thoughts were carried to Kilfane in Co. Kilkenny, to a very impressive piece of its era. Would it be like Cantwell Fáda, otherwise known as The Longman of Kilfane, believed to be c14th century and standing 2.43 metres high, (almost eight foot)?

However, it was very possible that a small statue might be selected from the array of garden ornamentation that’s readily available in every Garden Centre throughout the country. What would be an appropriate piece for the Granary container garden I wondered? Would a contemporary piece be selected?

A few weeks went by and so I made an enquiry as to what became of the proposal. “It’s arriving shortly” I was told with an encouraging smile.

Thereafter, when I visited the courtyard there were no sign of any development and so there came a point where the idea had slipped my mind.

A couple of months had passed and when I arrived for lunch one day someone said, “what do you think of our statue?” Is it here I asked? Scanning the Granary courtyard for any evidence of a new addition from where I was standing.

“Its lying on a pallet down the floor to the left at the moment, have a look at it and tell us what you think?”

Well, I must say I was taken aback when I discovered what was resting on the wooden pallet. It was a type of statue that resembled a youthful curly haired male figure, less than life-size, dressed in loincloth and it looked to be in a distressed state with both feet broken and missing. It was lying in the supine position with both hands behind its head. Some fine detail was evidently damaged and the piece was the subject of graffiti and certainly not what I expected. A large cone shape attached to its head was most unusual. As it lay there on the wooden pallet one could be forgiven for thinking that this figure might be a representation of youth throughout the ages, relaxing and watching the world go by or even watching footie on the T.V.

Architect Matthew Keating made a decision that the best way to display the “Granary Statue” was to place it in the upright position on top of an old mill wheel to give it height.

I had many unanswered questions. What did this piece represent? Where did it originate? Could I get an explanation as to why it is depicted holding a weight on its shoulders?

After a brief search through the history of Greek and Roman art and mythology, the piece seemed to be inspired from a representation of “Atlas”, a bearded Titan, who according to Greek mythology was condemned to hold up the sky for eternity, usually depicted in sculpture in a crouched position and holding up a celestial sphere on his shoulders.

During further research I came across giant statues that adorn the portico of The New Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Known as Atlantes, they are curly haired clean shaven male figures dressed in loincloth.

In classical European architecture, an atlas (also known as an atlante or plural atlantes) is said to be a support sculpted in the form of a male, which may take the place of a column, a pier or a pilaster. The Roman term for such a sculptural support is Telamon.

Atlantes are shown using extreme effort in their function, heads bent forward to support the weight of the structure above them across their shoulders, forearms often lifted to provide additional support, used as an architectural motif. Oxford dictionary 1995.

Do the above statues at The New Hermitage Museum bear any resemblance of our Granary statue?

Evidently our Granary statue or Atlantean (male figure) was not a new piece of art commissioned by the Granary Café so where did it originate? After some discussion and help from Peter Fowler, proprietor, my enquiries were directed towards Waterford City and County Council; Waterford Central Library; Waterford Archaeological & Historical Society and Waterford History Group.

The Granary Statue

When the “Granary Statue” was erected in the container garden, some comments from the general public were as follows:

I remember another statue that looks just like that one before some-where, let me think for a few minutes and I’ll tell you where it is!

It’s great to see the statue out on display again where it can be seen by everyone. It was in storage there for a few years and I’d say most people had forgotten about it. It looks well the way it’s on display in the container garden. J. P.

The Granary statue, was that not always there?

I never noticed it to be honest, it doesn’t bother me. It’s just there isn’t it!

It’s wonderful to see it back on display again, well done.

I am informed by Waterford City & County Council that the Granary Statue or Atlantean was previously the centrepiece of a water fountain that once adorned an area near Wise’s bridge on the Waterside, at the Waterside – Catherine Street junction in the city.

The image below dated Friday 18th May 1984 by Eoin Murphy of the Munster Express shows the new water fountain on the Waterside. Great care was taken by City Council when selecting its location and design.

The front page of an edition of The Munster Express dated Friday 18th May 1984 featuring a photo by Eoin Murphy of the new water fountain on the Waterside.

The “Granary Statue” was the main feature of a water fountain on the Waterside. It is supporting what could be described as an urn on its head from where water jets upwards .

Here are some comments about the Waterside and the fountain:

 “The Waterside was always a nice place to live and we knew all the neighbours. The children were quite safe playing across the street and some of the mothers stayed at home to look after the family back then. They always had an eye on the children whoever they belonged to. I can tell you if someone’s mother scolded you because you done something wrong you wouldn’t answer her back and you wouldn’t do it again either. In later years we moved house and when we got a car we might drive past our old home on a Sunday to see what was happening on the street. When City Council added the water fountain near Wise’s Bridge I thought it really enhanced the street and it was lovely to have it outside your door. We didn’t live there anymore and times were changing with no children to play around it or there was nobody sitting beside it anymore. People had other interests. They took it away in the end and I was sorry to see it go. It’s a pity really but there you have it. At least the river doesn’t flood onto the street anymore with the new improvements!”

One recollection is of a young couple who were sitting on the octagonal seating around the Waterside fountain and while the evening closed in they both sat a little closer. Just when they were about to have “ loves first kiss” as it were, a slight breeze came from behind, moving the cascading water over the edge of the pool and falling as a torrent of water on top of the young couple who were seated. The young lady was soaked to the skin and had to make her way home, with a lot explaining to do I expect. A. B.

I remember the fountain on the Waterside, it was always there, like. Wasn’t it a bit daft putting the seats around it because you were sitting there with your back to the edge of the pool. City Council took it away in the end.

I went to school in De La Salle and we walked through the Waterside on the way home. I never remember a working water fountain there, just a big flower bed with the Statue in the middle of it. We used to sit on the wooden seating around the flower bed for a bit of fun and craic and talk about football and all sorts of things before making our way home. J. B.

At a time before the Waterside fountain, our “Granary Statue” was in long term storage at the local Council Depot. On further investigation I discovered that in mythology, the “Granary Statue” can be described as an Atlantean from the lost City of Atlantis. It originated in the “People’s Park” Waterford where it had a chequered history. However, it didn’t stand alone, it had two brothers as companions and was part of a great water fountain. The “Granary Statue” as we know it, is the only known surviving piece of the original and magnificent Victorian water fountain that once took pride of place there. Research has shown that the magnificent fountain was installed in the Peoples Park in 1883.  If you the reader know of any other surviving piece no matter how small, we would be delighted to hear from you.

Here are some anecdotes from people who were familiar with the old fountain and the “People’s Park”.

 “We lived on the Waterside when we were young and the “People’s Park” was our playground. We used to call it “The Big Park” because there were other smaller parks like Wise’s park. The water fountain in the Park was the big attraction. We always played in the outer pool because the water was just a couple of inches deep (50mm). We played all the old games and I remember playing house and washing my dolls in the pool. We had a daily routine when I think of it… oh the fun we used to have! That’s when summer was really summer!” M.K.

“When visitors came to our house, home from England or once in a while from America, we’d always take them for a stroll in the Peoples Park. The water fountain was a lovely backdrop for having our photograph taken.”

“I used to play cricket in the Peoples Park. All my life I loved cricket. I was a young fellow that time and all the others were mature men. I played with Johnny Matthews, he played soccer for Waterford United. Then there was Dave Kirby, another great man into soccer. Another man was Karl Cummins and then there was Gouglas Baxter, that was back in the sixties. We had eleven players on the team and I always played the batsman. When I got married my wife thought it was the most boring game to watch, but I loved it. Anyone who didn’t want to watch the game went for a walk and had a chat or sat around the fountain to watch the world go by. That was the old fountain, not the one that’s there now. G.

“I used to work in McConnell’s garage on Catherine Street all those years ago and when it came to lunchtime a couple of the lads and myself would go over and sit on the park wall to have our lunch. The water fountain in the park was like the centre of the universe in those days. At lunchtime there were always young ladies walking into the park to sit around the fountain for twenty minutes or so. It was like a real fashion show. What else would a young fella want I used to ask myself back then?” S.

Oh I don’t think I can recall anything unusual about the Fountain or what we used to do. I don’t think we visited the park very often when we were young. The fountain was always there in the Park, not the one that’s there now, it was the old fountain. I remember my boyfriend at the time, now my husband, bringing me to the park to have my picture taken for something or other and I remember I had to stand in the pool, it was of course dry at the time. He decided that it was the best place for a photograph. I think I needed a photograph for the “Tops of the Town” competition.

Image from ‘In Waterford Park’ (Lawrence Collection National Library of Ireland) c1900.

From the above close-up we can see the detail on the underside of the larger “lily pond” basin and the central pedestal. The upper body of an Atlantean is shown supporting the basin on its shoulders.

When we were young we always played in the “big park”, that’s what we used to call it. We always said we were going to the “big park” when we were leaving the house to go out to play. We girls always played around the pool. That’s the pool around the big fountain, not the one that’s there now. We used pretend our dolls were going for a swim! Oh the fun we had when I think of it. The boys were always boisterous, splashing about or playing ball or trying to sail their paper boats. Then we bought roller skates in Wright’s bicycle shop and we tried skating around the fountain. I don’t know how we didn’t kill ourselves. Those skates didn’t have small wheels like roller skates have now, they only had “ball-bearings”! We were always squealing with our arms wide apart, trying to keep our balance or there might be someone pulling us along and if someone walked in front of us when we were skating, no one had a chance! It’s a pity the Council had to move the fountain in the end! M.K.

We grew up not far from the “big park” and it’s where we used to play as children. I have no particular memories of the fountain, it was just there. Sometimes it was working and full of water but mostly it was dry and children often played in the dry pond. Times were changing and we were growing up and as young teenagers we lost interest in going to the “Park”. We had loads of other exciting things to do and I suppose the popularity of the park declined around that time.

Our next image, taken probably in the 70’s using the fountain in the Peoples Park as a popular backdrop for photographs.

In this instance the fountain appears to be in excellent repair but without water.

Our next image is that of a similar fountain in the grounds of what was The Masonic School for Orphaned Girls in Ballsbridge, Dublin, now The Clayton Hotel. The only known surviving example of its type in Ireland. This is what the Victorian water fountain might look like today should it have survived in Waterford’s “People’s Park”.

Image from ‘In Waterford Park’ (Lawrence Collection National Library of Ireland) c1900.

We go abroad to exotic places on holidays and marvel at the water fountains we see on our travels and to think that we had something as magnificent as this on our doorstep, what a pity!

This is the only known artefact belonging to the Great Victorian Water Fountain that once took pride of place in Waterford’s People’s Park. All that remain now are photographs and memories.

Funding was made available in 2006 for the refurbishment of The Peoples Park when a new water feature was installed.

Ron Goulden is currently writing a paper on the history of the old Victorian fountain.