The focus of my research this summer will be the iconic bronze sculpture of The Dying Cúchulainn (1911) by Oliver Sheppard (Irish, 1865-1941). Cúchulainn, also known as the "Hound of Ulster," is an Irish mythological hero whose exploits are accounted in the Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley), the central text of a famous group of early Irish tales from the first century CE known as the Ulster Cycle. Sheppard's sculpture was probably directly inspired by Lady Gregory's (Irish, 1852-1932) popular Celtic Revival retelling of these tales, Cuchulain of Muirthemne, published in 1902. But the sculpture subsequently came to represent the self-sacrifice of the 1916 Easter Rising rebels, who died for the cause of Irish independence from the British Empire. I plan to begin my research with a thorough investigation into the historical circumstances of the statue's creation, about which there are some significant discrepancies in the public domain. Once the facts have been ascertained (in so far as it is possible to do so), I will conduct a thorough visual analysis of the sculpture, and will investigate its place within the oeuvre of the artist, precisely how it came to be associated with the Easter Rising, as well as how it came to be displayed in the front window of the General Post Office in Dublin, which had served as the headquarters for the leaders of the failed coup. The statue remains in this iconic location today, which surely constitutes a major source of its rhetorical power in contemporary Irish culture. To better understand the cultural significance of this statue, I also plan to study the many reproductions and replicas of the statue in Irish visual culture from the time of its production up to the present day. Interestingly, these include murals from the Republic of Ireland as well as from the North, where Cúchulainn is considered to be a patron hero of the Unionists. In the end, I hope to offer an insightful analysis of the shifting and contested meanings of this impactful modern representation of a legendary hero, who remains very much alive in the collective memory of a treasured past.
Together with Profs. Jeanne Clark and Catherine Collins, I am applying for research support through the LARC Summer Research Community Program. We are seeking collaborators who are working on similar topics involving Art and Revolution, War, Commemoration, and/or Social Justice.