A BRONZE statue of executed United Irishman Tom Dunn was unveiled in his home village of Rostrevor by former President of Ireland Mary McAleese on Sunday.
The specially commissioned bronze artwork, which commemorates and celebrates the life of the 62-year-old hedge school master who died in 1798, was revealed at a special event in The Square. The statue, created by artist Rory Harron, is the result of the collaborative effort between the council and a local historical group, the Tom Dunn Project, under the PEACE IV Shared Spaces and Services programme, and is part of a broader project featuring interpretative panels, an educational walking trail, a mobile audio app and a series of hedge school workshops.
The cross community Tom Dunn Project group was formed in 2017 to facilitate the Tom Dunn Shared Spaces and Services Project, and has worked in partnership with the three local churches to promote the shared history ethos of his story. This work is now being carried on by the Tom Dunn Society. A table and two granite benches – bilingually inscribed with the slogans ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ and ‘Saoirse, Comhionannas, Bráithreachas’ in honour of Dunn’s dedication to Thomas Paine’s ‘The Rights of Man’ – have been placed beside the statue as part of the installation.
A council statement highlighted that Dunn’s legacy “as the local hedge school master and as a leading United Irishman meant he was known locally as the ‘Peasant Patriot’”.
“He knew the power of education and the inclusive nature of his teaching to both Catholics and Protestants, through his hedge school and evening recitations of scholarly books, enlightened the poor and oppressed,” it read. “As a testament to his life, emphasising how he played a pivotal role in guiding local communities towards a more integrated, cohesive and shared society, a series of intergenerational hedge school workshops were held this summer, which paid tribute to Dunn and his pivotal role as a cross-community educator and leader.”
After unveiling the sculpture, Dr McAleese said that “the inauguration of the Tom Dunn statue and Tom Dunn walk in the beautiful village of Rostrevor is much, much more than a nod to a hero of our troubled and violent past”. “It is, in fact, a statement of intent about our shared future as a people of divided loyalties, beliefs and politics who are nonetheless neighbours, with a strong desire to walk together, work together and make peace together,” she added. “It was the dream of the Protestants, Catholics and Dissenters, who formed the United Irishmen over two centuries ago, that Ireland would be a place where freedom and equality flourished. “Tom Dunn died for holding that ambition. “Here on Cherry Hill, he was mercilessly flogged. “He died from his wounds and is buried in Kilbroney graveyard. “As the fine, relentless scholarly work of Siubhán Ó Dubháin, John McCavitt and others has shown, remembering Dunn today allows us to bring his principles and his exemplary civic decency to bear on all our tomorrows.”
Dermot Russell, chair of the Tom Dunn Project, said that he was “delighted for our committee, both past and present, that we have come to this final stage of the project”. “I know this will be of great benefit to the Tom Dunn Society, who will continue with their annual activities and events to keep the legacy and history of Tom Dunn alive,” he stated. Highlighting the significance of the programme, council chair Valerie Harte said that the PEACE IV Shared Spaces Project “educates us about our shared past and the importance of equality and bringing communities together”. “The beautiful bronze statue of Tom Dunn, created by the artist Rory Harron, serves as the centrepiece of the Tom Dunn Shared Spaces experience with the walking trail guiding visitors on a captivating journey through Rostrevor’s rich heritage and scenic beauty,” she added.