New writing for
Memorial to the Victims of Abuse while in Residential Care.
byJoanne Laws. November 2013

Discusses; Monuments. Memorials. Selection Processes. Studio Negri and Henessy. NJBA. Seamus Nolan. OPW. Critical reception. 


Following recommendations made in the Ryan Report, published in 2009 by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, a memorial has been commissioned to recognise the suffering of victims in State-run institutions.  Given the extent of recent media coverage on the proposed memorial, outlining objections to the selected design and intended site, and a subsequent appeal to An Bord Pleanála contesting Dublin City Council’s planning approval, it seemed important and timely to present an overview of the facts relating to the issue.  This text will commence with a brief overview of the existing 20th century memorial sculptures in Dublin city centre. The design brief, specifications and commissioning process for the Memorial to Victims of Abuse While in Residential Care will be described, followed by an account of the shortlisted designs. The selected memorial design will be discussed in detail, concluding with a summary of the ongoing debate as it continues to unfold.


Dublin Monuments

As the cranes which temporarily dominated Dublin’s skyline came and went, the city’s many statues and memorial sites have remained, with walking tours revealing an urban experience defined by these structures.  Statues of national literary figures such as William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, and Oscar Wilde take pride of place in the city, with their affectionate, semi-scornful nick-names becoming part and product of the local, modern Dublin vernacular. Numerous important monuments serve to honour Irish revolutionary figures, such as Wolfe Tone, Daniel O'Connell, William Smith O'Brien, James Larkin and Charles Parnell.  A statue of James Connolly is situated in Beresford Place, opposite SIPTU’s headquarters at Liberty Hall, acknowledging Connolly’s contributions to the Irish Labour Party and Socialist Movement. Ubiquitous memorial crosses and plaques in churches across the city are dedicated to members of the RAF, Irish Guards, and Irish Merchant Navy, memorialising Ireland’s involvements in The Boer War and World Wars I and II. Statues commemorating The 1916 Rising, War of independence, Irish Civil War further attest to the Nation’s militarised past.  Famously, Nelson’s Pillar in O’Connell Street, was blown up by Irish Republicans in 1966. Its site remained empty until the Spire (reportedly the world’s tallest public artwork) was erected in 2003 as part of Dublin City Council's O’Connell Street ‘Integrated Area Plan’ – a regeneration initiative which also facilitated the restoration of the street’s many existing monuments.

The American historian Jay Winter described the impulse to memorialize through the construction of monuments as ‘the effort to comprehend and transcend catastrophe’[i]. Through the use of public artworks in Dublin city centre, moments of great national tragedy have been poignantly acknowledged, with the aim of marking and preserving them in the present-day, collective memory. A series of figurative bronze sculptures entitled 'Famine' is located on Custom House Quay in Dublin's Docklands, commemorating the mass emigration of Irish citizens during the 19th century Irish Famine. A memorial to the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974 is situated in Talbot Street, comprises two benches and a vertical structure, creating a commemorative area where people still gather to remember those killed in the attacks. The granite slab is inscribed on both sides with dedications to the 33 victims; the north-facing side naming 16 people, and the south side naming 17. In Coolock, a memorial park, created in 1993, houses a bronze statue of a dancing couple, in remembrance of the 48 people killed in the Stardust nightclub tragedy of 1981. [ii]

Memorial to Victims of Abuse While in Residential Care

Given the range of existing statues and memorial sites within the city, and the long-held tradition of commemoration through public artworks, the Ryan Report’s recommendations for a permanent sculpture, monument or reflective space, as a memorial to the victims of abuse while in residential care, offered a mode of ‘alleviating or otherwise addressing the effects of the abuse on those who suffered’. Arising from the findings of its investigations, the Commission specified that the memorial should incorporate the following words taken from the state apology delivered by the Taoiseach in May 1999:

 “On behalf of the State and of all citizens of the State, the Government wishes to make a sincere and long overdue apology to the victims of childhood abuse for our collective failure to intervene, to detect their pain, to come to their rescue.”

In October 2009 a Memorial Committee was appointed by the Minister for Education & Science Deputy Batt O’Keefe, to oversee the commissioning process and design. The committee, chaired by Séan Benton (former Chairman of the Office of Public Works), includes Seán Ó Laoire of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland, Monica Corcoran of the Arts Council, Billy Houlihan, formerly Cork County Architect, and former residents of institutions Bernadette Fahy and Paddy Doyle. The main remit of the committee is to work in consultation with groups representing the survivors of abuse, to oversee the design and delivery of the memorial.  During a publicly advertised consultation process, the location of the proposed memorial was discussed at length, and several alternative commemorative processes were suggested, including a public garden, an exhibition, a ‘Nobel Prize’ style award, and a national remembrance day.  During this period of consultation, some survivor groups expressed reservations regarding the timing of the proposed memorial.  A budget of €500,000 was allocated to the development of a public artwork, administered and managed on behalf of the Committee by the Office of Public Works. An international competition was launched in July 2011, seeking expressions of from individuals and consortia. It was advertised nationally in broadsheet newspapers.

Design Brief

Stating that there were ‘no pre-conceived ideas regarding the design of the memorial’, the brief outlined a degree of artistic freedom regarding the medium, format and location. The proposed memorial could take the form of a ‘traditional physical artefact’ or one that would ‘appeal to any one or any combination of the senses’.  In the case of a permanent sculptural artwork, a prominent site adjacent to the Garden of Remembrance at Parnell Square was identified and made available. Applicants were also free to suggest alternative locations in their proposals, or indeed to suggest no physical site at all. The brief specified that several factors should be considered, including the durability and resistance of the materials to vandalism and graffiti, and the impact of the artwork within the local residential area.  As well as incorporating the state apology delivered by the Taoiseach in May 1999, the brief stated that the proposed memorial should ‘convey the magnitude of personal and emotional trauma and create an enduring symbol of lost innocence that inspires others to ensure the protection of all children’. Furthermore, the design should be readily accessible to the public, should identify ways to promote contemplation, healing and reflection, should inform and inspire visitors in ways ‘expressive of the events commemorated’, and should ‘retain its poignancy and relevance with the passing of time’[iii].

Short-listed Proposals

The competition jury comprised the Memorial Committee members, alongside Pat Cooney (Principal Architect Office of Public Works), and two nominees from the Arts Council, with the evaluation process involving a score-system based on the commission criteria. 32 submissions were received during stage one, with 6 of these designs progressing to stage two of the process, requiring the shortlisted artists to submit a more detailed proposal of the design and realisation phases.  The commission was awarded to Studio Negri and Hennessy & Associates for their winning design ‘Journey of Light’. The other shortlisted entries were submitted by Cleary & Connolly with Hugh Maguire and Vincent O’Shea, sculptor Michael Warren with FKL, Peter Maybury and Tom de Paor, NJBA, and artist Seamus Nolan. It is worth describing a couple of the shortlisted submissions in greater detail here, in order to explore proposals which did not involve the designated Parnell Square site.

Identifying an alternative location for the memorial NJBA (Noel J Brady Architects and Urban Designers) proposed a permanent sculpture be situated between the Papal Cross and Áras an Uachtaráin, under the ‘watch of the President’ in Phoenix Park – ‘a place of and for the people’. NJBA suggested that the use of this site would avoid any confusion over the ideas embedded in The Garden of Remembrance in Parnell Square, while also providing a more accessible location for people outside Dublin. Their proposed design comprised a 90 metre long curved wall, and a straight 45 metre long glass panel incorporating the Taoiseach’s historic apology. Limestone blocks – the building material of institutions – would be used for the wall, with interior gaps incorporated, letting through light and air, producing ‘the antithesis of an institutional wall’. The two sculptural components would combine to actively engage with the visitor and the environment, creating a space for personal and private reflection.[iv]

In opposition to the idea of a fixed object, or physical monument to the survivors of abuse, artist Seamus Nolan’s submission addressed the brief in a conceptual, immaterial manner. Rather than producing a ‘totem’ to retrospectively address something that went wrong, the artist called for an examination to take place in the public domain, of the historic conditions and class formations that allowed such wide-spread systematic oppression to occur.  Nolan proposed that William Delaney, a 13 year old boy who died in State care, be made President of Ireland for one day. The circumstances surrounding Delaney’s death in 1970 remain inconclusive, despite his body being disinterred by the police in 2001. Eye-witness reports from his classmates in the Letterfrack Industrial School attest to him being knocked unconscious by a Christian brother. Outlining a case based on the memories of children, Nolan sought to evaluate where legacies such as these sit in the psyche of modern Irish society. The proposed project would have been manifested as an institutional intervention, a media campaign, and the coronation ceremony of William Delaney, writing him posthumously into the history books as the 10th president of Ireland. Nolan later entered into direct correspondence with Michael D. Higgins on this issue, and presented a body of work ‘10th President’ in Temple Bar Gallery and Studios in April 2013. [v]

The winning design ‘Journey of Light’, devised by Studio Negri and Hennessy & Associates, makes use of the designated site at Parnell Square, identifying ways to integrate with the existing Garden of Remembrance (see fig. I).  The garden was opened in 1966, on the fiftieth anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, dedicated to the memory of ‘all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom’. It houses a sunken water-feature in the shape of a crucifix and Oisin Kelly’s bronze Children of Lir sculpture (1971) which symbolises resurrection and rebirth. Referencing the Parnell Square Framework Plan (2005), a street-level walkway into the garden forms part of Negri & Hennessy’s final design, conveniently addressing the long-standing problem of universal access at the site, which is currently largely inaccessible to wheelchair users or those with impaired mobility. A limestone passageway through the existing podium steps will be lit at night, and will feature the state apology inscribed at child’s eye-level in English, Irish and Braille (see fig.2). It will be flanked on either side with waterfall structures fabricated in steel plates, with the flowing water suggestive of a ‘healing force for the victims’, encouraging calmness and contemplation in the viewer’[vi].

Critical Reception

In May 2013 the application by the Office of Public Works (OPW) to build the memorial was approved by Dublin City Council. The decision was subsequently appealed to An Bord Pleanála, and a 3 day oral hearing took place on 25th – 27th September 2013.  The Irish Georgian Society has voiced strong opposition to the proposed site, on the grounds that it impinges upon a broader development plan for Parnell Square - an area of outstanding 18th-century urban architecture. According to the group’s conservation manager Emmeline Henderson, the ‘subterranean’ aspect of the design would provide a ‘dank, unsafe space which will attract anti-social behaviour’[vii].

The proposed location has also proved for contentious for other parties, including groups representing survivors of abuse. The prospect of locating a memorial for children who have suffered abuse at the hands of religious orders, in such close proximity to a cruciform structure has been described as deeply inappropriate. Broader opposition also highlights the confusion that would arise in the interaction between the two memorials, detracting from the Garden’s original purpose. Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan described how the memorial plan is proving ‘divisive and stressful’ for abuse survivors, stating that ‘it is demeaning to the survivors not to give them their own space but to ask them to share with a memorial that is celebratory. And it is demeaning to those who fought for the principles of democracy, our independence, to ask them to share with this dark chapter of abuse’[viii].  Independent councillor and former industrial school resident Mannix Flynn maintains that the timing of the proposed memorial is insensitive, given the ongoing investigations and abuse allegations. Spokesman for the organisation SOCA (Survivors of Child Abuse) John Kelly also criticised the project’s timing, in light of the failure of religious congregations who ran the Catholic institutions to adequately contribute to the compensation bill recommended by the Ryan Report, and the ongoing exclusion of victims of certain institutions from this €1.3bn State redress scheme.

Conversely, accounts given at the An Bord Pleanála hearing, insist that the monument is not only essential but long overdue. Committee member and former resident of Goldenbridge Industrial School, Bernadette Fahy, stated that there is ‘unquestionable robust support for the project from many of the survivor groups’. She believes that the proposed memorial will provide a ‘symbolic acknowledgement and a place of remembrance and of potential healing’ for abuse survivors and their families’[ix]. Speaking about the chosen location, designer Andre Negri described ‘an ethical and poignant link to the sacred ground of the State and a constant reminder that the abuse of our children must never happen again’[x]. At the time of writing, a decision on the permission planning appeal has not yet been reached.


Joanne Laws is an arts writer and educator based in the west of Ireland.She has previously published reviews, reports and extended essays in Afterimage Journal of Media, Arts and Cultural Criticism (U.S), Allotrope (N.I), Art Monthly (U.K), Art Papers (U.S),  Axis (U.K),  Cabinet (U.S),  Enclave Review (IRL) , Variant (U.K), and Visual Artists News Sheet (IRL).

She is a member of AICA and a regular contributor to The Visual Artist’s News Sheet,
where she serves on a panel of exhibition reviewers for the Critique section.




[i] Jay Winter, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural Memory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1995)

[ii] List of monuments, statues, and memorial sites referred to in this article (in order of mention):

William Butler Yeats memorial (Henry Moore; 1967) – St. Stephen’s Green

James Joyce statue (Marjorie Fitzgibbon; 1990) – North Earl Street

Oscar Wilde statue (Danny Osborne; 1997) – Merrion Square Park

Theobald Wolfe Tone memorial (Edward Delaney; 1967) – St. Stephen's Green

Daniel O'Connell statue (John Henry Foley; 1882) – O’Connell Street

William Smith O'Brien statue (Thomas Farrell; 1870) – O’Connell Street

James Larkin statue (Oisín Kelly; 1979) – O’Connell Street

Charles Stewart Parnell statue (Augustus Saint-Gaudens; 1911) – O’Connell Street

James Connolly  memorial (Eamonn O'Doherty; 1996) – Beresford Place

 Irish Merchant Navy memorial (1990) – City Quay

Fusiliers' Arch [dedicated to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers who died in the Second Boer War ] (John Howard Pentland and Henry Laverty and Sons; 1907) – St. Stephen’s Green

Irish National World War Memorial Gardens (Sir Edwin Lutyens; 1939) –  Islandbridge

The 1916 Rising memorial (see Garden of Remembrance)

War of independence memorial (see Garden of Remembrance)

Nelson’s Pillar (Thomas Kirk; 1809 - 1966) – formerly situated in O’Connell Street

The Spire (Ian Ritchie Architects; 2003) – O’Connell Street

Famine memorial sculptures (Rowan Gillespie; 1997) – Custom House Quay

Memorial to the victims of Dublin and Monaghan bombings (Dublin City Council; 1997) – Talbot Street

Stardust Memorial Park (1993); Includes bronze statue of a dancing couple (Robin Buick; 1993) – Coolock

The Garden of Remembrance (Dáithí Hanly; 1966); Includes Children of Lir statue (Oisín Kelly; 1971) – Parnell Square

See also:

‘History of Monuments O’Connell Street Area’ Commissioned by Dublin City Council (2003):

Public Art in Dublin's Docklands:                                                         

[iii] ‘Memorial to Victims of Abuse While in Residential Care’; International Competition: Stage 1 – Expressions of Interest.

[iv] Details of the proposed design can be found here:

[v] Details of Seamus Nolan’s subsequent exhibition ‘10th President’  can be found here:

Richard Fitzpatrick ‘First among the people’, Irish Examiner, Thursday, May 16, 2013

[vi] Press Release 20 July, 2012: ‘Ministers Quinn and Hayes announce winner of competition to provide a Memorial to the Victims of Institutional Abuse’.

[vii] Niall Murray, ‘Memorial to child abuse victims to replace iconic statue’, Irish Examiner, 1st May, 2013

[viii] Olivia Kelly, ‘Garden of Remembrance child abuse memorial 'demeaning'’, The Irish Times, 30th September 2013

[ix] Allison Bray, ‘Abuse victims voice support for controversial memorial at hearing’, Irish Independent, 25th September 2013

[x] Olivia Kelly, ‘An Bord Pleanála hearing on abuse memorial opens’, The Irish Times, 25th September 2013


List of Jury Members

Seán Benton, former Chairman of the Office of Public Works (Chair)

Bernadette Fahy and Paddy Doyle, members of the Memorial Committee and representing survivors of abuse,

Billy Houlihan, formerly Cork County Architect, member of the Memorial Committee

Seán O’ Laoire, Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, member of the Memorial Committee

Monica Corcoran, Arts Council, member of the Memorial Committee

Pat Cooney, Former Principal Architect, Office of Public Works (OPW)Vivienne Roche, sculptor and co-founder National Sculpture Factory, Cork

Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Violence against Children

Brian O’ Doherty, New York based, Irish born artist, sculptor and film maker