Statue of Queen Victoria by John Cassidy, in Shankill Graveyard, Belfast.
As I wandered through Old Shankill cemetery in west Belfast I came across a statue of Queen Victoria. To my surprise the statue was made by John Cassidy from Slane. The statue had originally been made for the Queen’s Jubilee Schools in central Belfast and had marked Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1897. When the school was demolished the statue had been removed to Rowallane House, before returning to Belfast in 2003.Victoria is depicted wearing a dress trimmed with Nottingham lace.
John Cassidy was born at Littlewoods Commons, to the north of Slane village on 1st January 1860, son of Patrick Cassidy, a farmer, and his wife, Jane, née McGorisk. It would appear that his baptism was recorded as taking place on 31st December 1859. Five of his six brothers emigrated. As a young man John was apprenticed to the bar trade at the White Horse Hotel (now the Westcourt Hotel) in Drogheda. Cassidy spent most of his spare time drawing and painting. Two of his paintings from this time are in the Highlanes Gallery, Drogheda.
Sponsored by local merchant, R.B. Davis, Cassidy moved to Dublin at age 20 to find employment. He attended art classes at night and won a scholarship to study in Milan. By 1884 he had moved to Manchester where he spent the rest of his life. He studied at the Manchester School of Art where he won a prize for the best modelled design. Three years later he became a teacher in the Manchester school. In 1887 at the Manchester Royal Jubilee Exhibition he modelled in the region of two hundred heads of visitors to the exhibition.
Many of his work are in the Manchester area including three in the John Rylands Library, commissioned by Enriqueta Rylands, widow of textile millionaire John Ryalnds. Casssidy made a collection of statues entitled “Theology Directing The Labours Of Science and Art” for the Ryland Library and also created two matching statues of John and Enriqueta Rylands which stand at the two ends of the Reading Room. He is remembered for his works in churches and on war memorials. His public war memorials are in several English towns, including Eccles, Colwyn Bay, Skipton, Lower Peover, Clayton-le-Moors, Stourbridge and Heaton Moor.
Cassidy never married, living in various boarding houses before dying in 1939. He was buried in the Catholic part of Manchester’s Southern Cemetery. His gravestone carries the epitaph ‘His hands fashioned the beauty he saw.’
There is an excellent website on the life and works of Cassidy created by Charlie Hulme and Lis Nicolson. Slane Historical Society have also researched Cassidy and in 2010 commemorated the 150th anniversary of his birth. In 2004 a special exhibition of Cassidy’s works was launched at the Conyngham Arms, Slane.