Connolly group launches £50,000 appeal for statue

A CONTROVERSIAL bid has been launched to commemorate the Edinburgh-born Irish revolutionary James Connolly with a statue in the city centre.

Members of the Connolly Foundation have used today – the 141st anniversary of Connolly's birth – to launch a 50,000 appeal to build a lasting memorial to one of the leading figures in the struggle against British rule in Ireland.

Tom White, an American sculptor, has agreed to create a life size statue of James Connolly after completing one in Chicago last year.

Sites under consideration include the Meadows, where Connolly gave some of his most famous speeches, the West Port, where he lived, and the Cowgate, his birthplace and home to the majority of Edinburgh's Irish immigrant community until the mid-20th century.

Such a move, however, is likely to prove highly controversial as while he is regarded as a hero in Ireland, he remains a divisive figure in the country of his birth for leading the rebellion at a time when thousands were dying during the First World War. The marches held in his memory in Edinburgh have often become flashpoints for sectarian violence.

Any bid for a statue would require both planning permission and council approval if it was erected on a city street or pavement. It is hoped the 50,000 can be raised from both public and private donations.

City leaders today said they would consider the scheme once they had been given full details.

A plaque commemorating Connolly already exists in the Cowgate but campaigners today said a full size statue was long overdue.

Jim Slaven, chairman of The Connolly Foundation, said: "Erecting a statue to James Connolly in the city of his birth is a fantastic opportunity, not only to honour James Connolly but also to acknowledge the contribution of the broader Irish community and other immigrant communities to the development of the city.

"Edinburgh has statues, mostly to individuals, such as royalty, who are totally irrelevant to the majority people of Edinburgh.

"What Edinburgh does not have is monuments to immigrants or the working class. A statue to James Connolly in the city of his birth is long overdue.

"Finance is clearly an issue but we could get all the money in place tomorrow and still face problems, so it is important for us to engage with the council and the local community to get something in place that everyone can be happy with."

Mr Slaven caused controversy in 2007 when he suggested renaming part of the Cowgate "Little Ireland" in Connolly's memory, as well as renaming one of the paths in the Meadows after him.

A council spokeswoman said any application for new plaques or monuments require the "appropriate planning consents".

City Tory leader Iain Whyte warned: "We have to be very careful in the city with our statues because one person's hero is another person's villain."

LIFE IN CONFLICT

JAMES CONNOLLY was born on 5 June, 1868, at 107 Cowgate to John and Mary Connolly, a poor Irish couple.

By the time he began his first job in a bakery at 12 he was aware of the political unrest in Ireland, which had a profound influence on him.

At 14 he had to "take the shilling or starve" and from 1882 to 1889 was stationed with the King's Liverpool Regiment in Ireland.

Connolly entered politics upon his return to Edinburgh, becoming an activist in the Scottish Socialist Federation.

He stood for Edinburgh Council in 1894 and 1895 but lost both times, then emigrated to Ireland in 1896, where he set up the Irish Republican Socialist Party.

From 1914 he looked at ways to disrupt the British war machine and his zeal saw him become a Sinn Fein member.

He was in command of the GPO in Dublin at the Easter Rising of 1916. When the Irish Citizen Army surrendered, Connolly, gravely injured, was captured by the British. He was executed on 12 May.