Standing outside Cork County Hall is a pair of statues of two men looking up at a tall building. The only information about the statues is on a nearby plaque on which it is stated that it was a gift from the Irish Transport and General Workers Trade Union – a curious fact in itself!
In the courtyard of The Kingsley Hotel across the road, there is another pair of statues. These are two young lads looking up to the top of the tall building that is now the hotel. Dressed in clothing of many decades ago, the sculpture is particularly charming as it is life size.
The poses of the young boys are identical to the characters in the larger statues – the characters on the left have arms akimbo, while those on the right have hands behind their backs and all four are gazing upwards. The plaque alongside explains everything!
‘It’s a fine big place you’ll have to agree’
Says Miah to Cha as they strolled by the Lee
‘I heard’ tis a hotel, called the Kingsley- it’s new’
So they stopped for a while to admire the view.
The spot that they gazed at – they’d looked at before
As the high diver plunged to the onlookers’ roar
The Lee Baths had gone now but here on its site
Was a beautiful Inn, inviting and bright.
The decades have passed now but the two friends still meet
To see them right now just look across the street
A critical eye’s cast on every new building
As curious as ever, just like when young children
The story on the plaque is continued
”In 1968, a stunning piece of sculpture by world renowned artist Oisín Kelly was unveiled just across the street on the Plaza outside County Hall. The piece was entitled ‘Two Working Men’ but the people of Cork quickly and affectionately renamed them ‘Cha and Miah’ (Charles and Jeremiah) after two famous Cork characters. The curiosity displayed by the men depicted in the sculpture led us to think that they must have been just as inquisitive as children. So the hotel commissioned this piece to remind us of a time when we were young and the world was full of wonder and curiosity was just part of who we were. Stay forever young at heart.
The Kingsley is located on the banks of the River Lee on a site that was once the famous Lee Baths, where hundreds played, dived and frolicked in the decades between the 1930s to the 1980s.
Oisín Kelly (1915-1981) was a renowned Irish sculptor who had been a student with the famous sculptor Henry Moore. Visitors to Dublin will be familiar with the impressive statue of Jim Larkin on O’Connell Street, Dublin’s main thoroughfare. Jim Larkin (1874 – 1947) was a labour rights activist who founded the Workers Union of Ireland and co- founded The Labour Party in Ireland. A powerful orator, he was known as ‘Big Jim’. Kelly’s statue was unveiled in 1977 and has become an iconic feature of O’Connell Street. Among several inscriptions on the plinth is a quote that I particularly like from one of his Larkin’s speeches – ”The great appear great because we are on our knees: Let us rise.”
Another equally famous and earlier work of Kelly’s is the Children of Lir sculpture that dominates the Garden of Remembrance, also in Dublin. It is based on the ancient Irish Legend of four children who were turned into swans, about which more can be seen here.
Kelly’s ‘Two Working Men’ were commissioned by the Irish Transport & General Workers Union. Kelly spent three years fashioning the older man and the younger man gazing in admiration at the impressive Liberty Hall in Dublin – Ireland’s tallest building at that time. The local council refused permission for the installation, arguing that it would be a traffic hazard. And so the ITGWU decided that the statues would go to County Hall in Cork in 1969. By that time, Cork County Hall had replaced Liberty Hall as the tallest building in Ireland – a title it held until 2008. In true Cork style the sculptures were nicknamed Cha and Miah after a Cork comedy duo. The names have stuck and while a request for directions to the Oisín Kelly sculpture might be met with blank stares, a request for directions to see Cha and Miah would be immeditely recognized!
It’s a pity that Cork County Council do not have information at their site about this work of one of our most renowned sculptors. Kudos to The Kingsley Hotel for their salute to the monument across the street!