John Cassidy, son of a farmer was born at Littlewood, Slane Co. Meath on January 1st 1860. He served his apprenticeship as a bar assistant in White Horse Hotel Drogheda. It was then said that he spent most of his spare time etching, drawing and painting. Some of his paintings of 1880 vintage are to be found in Drogheda, most notably The Bathe House and a Street Scene in Drogheda 1880. Both of these pictures hang in Drogheda Corporation Offices.
Aged 20 years John went to work in Dublin, where he attended night classes in Art School. He gained a scholarship to study in Milan. Two years later he settled in Manchester where he spent the rest of his life. He studied at the Manchester School of Art and established a studio at Lincoln Road. As his reputation grew he exhibited at the Royal Academy , the Hibernian Academy and in Manchester City Art Gallery. His public works can be found at various sites around Manchester and throughout Britain.
Some of his most famous sculptures are the Edward Colston statue in Bristol, the Hygeia Monument in Aberdeen, the Ben Brierly statue in Queen’s Park Manchester and The Ship Canal Digger in Manchester City Art Gallery. Perhaps his greatest achievements are to be seen in the famous John Rylands Library in Manchester. Here John fashioned a group of statues entitled “Theology Directing The Labours Of Science and Art” which adorn this august building. He also created two matching statues in white marble of John Rylands and his wife Enriqueta which stand guard over the two ends of the Reading Room. His many war memorials are much admired. John’s best known work in Ireland is a full length figure of Queen Victoria in Belfast.
John died on July 19th 1939 and was buried in Southern Cemetery in Manchester. Until recently, his achievements and reputation have been more or less unheralded in Ireland. Over a weekend in October 2004 Slane History Society mounted an exhibition of John’s works in his native village. This included approx. 40 photographs of his sculptures and paintings which were greatly admired by visitors from near and far.
A Trip to Manchester — John Cassidy Research
Written by Michael Leahy.
The six members of the John Cassidy sub-committee travelled to Manchester on the 24th June 2003. They were on a fact finding tour of the Greater Manchester area seeking out the many pieces of sculpture crafted by John Cassidy which are to be found in the area. The members felt that they needed to view a number of John’s creations and attempt to evaluate them before organising some form of celebration of the artist’s works in his native Slane.
We found several pieces of our local artist’s work, ranging in size from the commemorative medallions to Alcock and Brown to the massive statue of Edward VII in Whitworth Park. In our humble opinion, John Cassidy was a formidable artist with a prodigious output of a wide variety of high quality pieces. We are now aware of the existance of over sixty of his sculptures and new ones are coming to light regularly.
We departed Slane by minibus at 9.30am and took Ryanair to Manchester Airport. On our arrival we were greeted by Pat Duff, a native of Grangegeeth, who had transport arrangedfrom the airport to our hotel. Mr. Duff has a civil engineering business in Manchester and in his personal capacity and through his association with the Manchester Irish Centre he was ever so helpful towards us and proved an invaluable contact. By 2.00pm we were up and running. Our first port of call was Manchester City Hall. We were disappointed when informed that the pieces of sculpture by John Cassidy held there were in storage and not available to the public. These included a bronze relief of Daniel McCabe, Lord Mayor 1913-1915, and a bronze memorial to Alcock and Brown.
We walked from the City Hall to the Manchester Information Centre. This was a futile journey as the officials here were of no assistance at all. So off we went to Manchester City Art Gallery. This gallery houses several examples of John Cassidy’s work, but as in the City Hall all but one were in storage. Lack of space and renovations were the reasons cited. Cassidy’s pieces here include a bronze bust of the painter William Powell Frith R.A. modelled from life in his ninetieth year, a bronze bust of the painter H.Clarence Whaite, and a marble bust of Edward John Broadfield. The only piece available to us was a bronze figure entitled “The Ship Canal Digger”. We all agreed it was a charming work of art.
The caption read “The Ship Canal Digger ( about 1893 ) Bronze. This image of the weary digger contrasts with official commemorative work. The man represents the workers, more than 16000 of them, who dug the 36 miles canal from Runcorn to Salford mostly using only picks and wheelbarrows. Cassidy has created quiet a sentimental image, pride in an ideal of the dignity of labour. John Cassidy came to Manchester when he was 22 years of age. He studied at the Manchester School of Art and became a well known and respected sculptor, particularly in the Manchester area”.
A change of scene was now thought to be a good idea and we decided to take a bus ride to a suburb and Whitworth Park.
Standing in a queue for half an hour in the sweltering heat of the city centre was not conducive to historical research or art apprecation but we persevered and our efforts were rewarded when we eventually found the statue of Edward VII in Whitworth Park.
This massive bronze statue shows the king in court robes with an orb and sceptre in his hands. It was unveiled in 1913 and the base and statue must be over 20 feet high. We returned to base, partook of an evening meal, and retired.
Wednesday morning was devoted to the John Rylands Library where three sculptures by John Cassidy are on display. In brief, John Rylands became Manchesters most successful cotton magnate and one of the wealthiest “self made” men of his day. Although he married three times no children survived his and his wife inherited his estate valued at £2,575,000 he died. Enriqueta Rylands decided to build a magnificent public library for the city in honour of her late husband. The John Rylands Library has been acclaimed as the finest examle of noe-Gothic architecture in Europe. On entering the main hall a group of statues entitled “Theology Directing The Labours Of Science And Art” dominate the view. The complete piece was carved by John Cassidy from shawk, a Cumbrian sandstone. That John Cassidy was engaged to create this sculpture , in such an august building, is an indication of the esteem in which he was held at this time. The famous Main Reading Room is presided over at each end by Cassidy’s full size marble statues of John and Enriqueta Rylands.
On this Wednesday morning Charlie Hulme I.T. co-ordinator of the library called to our hotel at 10.00a.m. and we walked with him to the famous library. This arrangement arose from Frances Lee-Gargan’s many contacts with the Rylands Library in the course of her research over many months. Mr. Hulme was ever so helpful, as were all the staff. One of the library’s chief archivists admitted us to a special reading room where she displayed some of the library’s rarest manuscripts. We would have liked to stay longer but duty called and we walked to the Bridgewater Centre. This complex is devoted to music and displays two busts of the composer Halle.
One is in bronze and the other is in plaster. The here informed us that the artist who created these two pieces was unknown to the management until a member of our group enlightened them. Having got out their stepladder they found JC embossed on the back of both sculptures. John Cassidy sometimes signed his work in this way. One thing leads to another. A staff member here informed us that there was another Halle statuette in the principal’s office in the Royal Northern College of Music. The blind led the blind.
We succeeded in getting on the wrong bus. When we eventually got on the right bus we got off at the wrong stop. There followed an amusing scene. When we found the College and climbed the 72 steps to the Principal’s office he was out. His secretary allowed us to sneak into the office and there on the windowsill stood a John Cassidy bronze statue of Halle, a charming piece about 50cm high. We didn’t dally here but took a long bus ride to Heaton Moor. After a despairing walk we found Cassidy’s war memorial to the men and woman of this area who fell in the Great War.
By the time we retraced our steps it was time to dine.We invited Pat and Anne Duff to accompany us as a gesture of gratitude towards their willing help. A Manchester Evening News reporter, known to Frances, was also invited to share a beverage with us. This reporter arranged a lenghty press interview with our group on the next evening.
We hired a minibus on Thursday morning as we planned visiting a number of outlying towns and sites. Our first stop was Southern Cemetary where John was buried on July 18th 1939. This was the highlight of the entire trip and the time we spent there was tinged with both sadness and pride. The staff were most helpful in assisting us to find the plot. As we were leaving they presented us with photocopies of John’s burial arrangements and details of the erection of the headstone by his nephew George. It was pleasing to find that the plot and its environs are well maintained. A few days before our departure to Manchester four members of our sub-committee visited the site of the remains of the Cassidy household at the Commons, Slane, and collected a sample of dried mud from the old mud wall, some flakes of lime from a whitewashed area and a fragment of newspaper which we found adhering to an interior wall. We continued on to Grangegeeth old cemetary and brought back with us a scrape of soil from the family plot. As Frances sprinkled our samples from home on John’s grave, tears were shed and our simple tribute to our beloved artist was poignent and moving. We recited a decade of the Rosary and reluctantly left Southern Cemetary.
There followed a frantic rush about. We went to Oldham but failed to locate a Cassidy sculpture, known to us to be in this town. Better luck befell us in Bury. Here in Kay Park is a magnificent arrangement of sculptures clearly inscribed ‘John Cassidy’. This is a commemorative piece celebrating the inventions of John Kay. He invented mechanical aids which revolutionised the weaving and spinning industry. Down the road in the imposing town of Bolton we found a large Cassidy statue of Benjamin Dobson gracing the main square.
As we had an appointment with Manchester Evening News at 4.00pm we rushed back to the city centre. For one reason or another the interview did not take place until 6.00pm which left us with a frustrating wait.Eventually our party was interviewed at lenght. Photographs were taken and there followed a newspaper article. We made contact with the Manchester Guardian and with the Manchester Post and these newspapers also featured articles on our visit to Manchester. On Thursday evening we were pleasantly surprised to be invited to Manchester Irish Centre where we were treated to a splendid dinner. Rose Morris, Art and Culture Director Mr. Patrick Marmion the Manager, and Pat and Anne Duff sat with us. This centre has ambitious plans for a new complex costing some £14,000,000. We previewed the outlines of this new development and enjoyed ourselves. Close by in Queens Park is a life size statue of Ben Brierly, regarded as one of John Cassidy’s finer works. It was admiringly called ‘Owd Ben’ shortly after its erection because of its remarkable resemblance in figure and features to the genial Lancashire humourist it commemorates. Although the time was approaching midnight some members of our party tried in vain to find this statue on their way home. Their failure was put down to poor light.While in Manchester we failed to see a group of sculptures by Cassidy entitled ” Humanity Adrift In The Sea Of Life” which are presently in storage. They will be restored to their original position in the newly refurbished Piccadilly Gardens in the near future. This was the first outdoor non portrait example of the new sculpture to be acquired by the city. On Friday morning we arranged to depart for Manchester Airport at 11.30am. Before this some members met with some success in their individual research. We enjoyed our short stay in Manchester. The pace was hectic and my fellow members showed boundless energy and no mean display of research ability. In all our communication with the Manchester people, both formally and casually, we were treated with courtesy, friendliness, and gratitude for having honoured them with our visit. The group members were; Noel Foley ( Noel is a grand nephew of the artist John Cassidy ) and his wife Mary, Mr. James Gargan and his wife Frances, Miss Shiela Crehan, Mrs. Marie Meade, Mr. Nicholas Wall and Mr. Michael Leahy.