The Last Laugh by Kieran Devaney

If the sculptor Eamonn O’Doherty was still alive today, no doubt we would be laughing and joking as we walked across the Halfpenny Bridge on our way from an early house on the Dublin Quays to a Joycean breakfast in Davy Byrnes.

The Doc will always be remembered for having the last laugh and perhaps for one work in particular.

Anna Livia, the bronze of a young woman sitting in a fountain which stood for several years on O’Connell Street in the heart of Dublin ,was commissioned to mark the City’s thousandth anniversary. She was named after the character in James Joyce’s Finnigan’s Wake, Anna Livia Plurabelle, the human embodiment of the River Liffey. The Dubs christened her “The Floozie in the Jacuzzi.”

But the Floozie had to be removed to safer ground after late night revellers poured bottles of washing up liquid into her Jacuzzi which sent tidal waves of foam flowing down O’Connell Street to threaten the GPO.

‘I don’t know what the fuss was about,’ Eamonn laughed. ‘The street was never cleaner.’

We were Baggotonians and proud to follow in Brendan Behan’s footsteps as we walked up and down the street to Dohney and Nesbitts, Tohners or wherever our fancy took us. If we bumped into Shane McGowan, Ronnie Drew, Gareche Browne or other would-be denizens of Joyce’s Nighttown it was invariably after closing time in another notorious drinking den – the United Arts Club on Upper Fitzwilliam Street where I had lived for more than seven years.

Eamonn had a house up the road in the leafy lanes of Ballsbridge. Unlike the Arts Club, Ballsbridge was the haunt of the rich and famous who lived in splendour in three storey Victorian houses with carefully manicured lawns. Eamonn’s front garden was full of scrap metal which he fashioned into his works of art.

One night in the Arts Club he had a worried look on his face.

‘What’s up?’ I asked.

‘The German Ambassador has moved in down the road. He knocked on my door this afternoon and said,  “I have called about your garden.”’

‘What did you say to him?’

“Not a word. I ducked inside, came out and handed him a spade and a rake. I’ve heard nothing since but I’m worried the SS might be there when I get home.’

Like most Baggotonians,  Eamonn was a committed Socialist Republican who proudly wore a red star on his navy blue serge cap. That didn’t stop him from taking money from Capitalists. 

‘The more they give me the less they’re spending on oppressing the workers,’ he told me only half jokingly. ‘I never liked her but I laugh when I think that Michael Smufitt paid me a quarter of a million for the Floozie.’

When, to celebrate Dublin’s tenure as the European City of Culture back in 1991, the directors of the Central Bank were looking for a public sculpture to put outside their headquarters on Dame Street, Eamonn was one of several artists who submitted ideas.

Crann an Oir, or in English, the Tree of Gold, is a globe on a gilded bronze trunk surrounded by lush golden leaves.

But according to Eamonn it may never have been.

He claimed he was driving passed Grogan’s Bar on South William Street on his way to the Bank with the maquette, or model, of the Tree of Gold on his passenger seat. He spotted our friend the Sunday Independent cartoonist and poet Tom Mathews sitting drinking a pint outside and stopped. Mathews got into the car, sat down and crushed the maquette.

‘I was gutted,’ Eamonn told me. ‘It was a complete balls up. It was going to be my golden cash cow. Then Tom had a brilliant idea. We went into Grogan’s and stole the ballcock from the gents toilet, bought a knitting needle from the wool shop down the road, pinched some paint from a friend’s studio, and grabbed some leaves from a flower seller on Grafton Street.’ 

He laughed, ‘Within the hour Tom had rebuilt the maquette which had taken me two months to make.’

To this day, the Tree of Gold is known by Dubliners as ‘The Ball at the Bank’. But I laugh when I wonder if they realise how it got its name?

Sadly The Doc died nine years ago after a long battle against cancer. Ronnie Drew and Garett Browne have also gone. Amazingly Shane MGowan and I are still alive.

 But I was reminded of Eamonn’s memory by a call to the Joe Duffy afternoon phone in on RTE Radio One a couple of years later. Another of Eamonn’s public works was the bronze Plough and the Stars on the side of Liberty Hall. A caller phoned in to report that the Stars were missing and for the next two hours indignant callers telephoned to talk about public works of art being stolen and melted down to be sold as scrap.

At the very end of the programme the man who ran the foundry which cast Eamonn’s work phoned in to say, ‘I took them down to give them a good clean.’

From beyond the grave the Doc had once again managed to have the last laugh.

About the contributor

Kieran Devaney has written extensively for the London Times and other world-wide publications. During a 30-year-career in television, he has reported on and produced programmes around the world for TV am, Channel 4, ITN and Sky News in the United Kingdom, CNN in the United States and until his retirement he produced the Vincent Browne Programme for TV3 in Ireland.

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