THE prospect of the iconic bronze Master McGrath statue returning to its Lurgan home has moved a significant step closer.
Jamie Brownlow, a direct descendant of Lord Brownlow who owned the famous greyhound Master McGrath, has said he would be ‘delighted’ for the statue - currently standing in the grounds of the Civic Centre - to be returned.
In a letter to Upper Bann MLA Sam Gardiner, which has been seen by the ‘MAIL’ Mr Brownlow said: “It would be wonderful to see the statue back in Lurgan and my father would have been delighted.”
Mr Browlow’s comments are a major boost to the campaign to have the statue returned to the town centre. Both Lurgan Forward and councillors in Lurgan believe the statue could be incorporated as a centrepiece of the new-look town centre.
Controversy has surrounded the bronze statue since it was moved to the Civic Centre in 1993 because of security concerns.
Residents in Lurgan have consistently demanded its return and the campaign gained momentum six years ago when local man Dermot McCabe discovered a four tonne plinth close to Solitude House near Brownlow Castle. It was covering what many believe to be the original burial ground of the famous Master McGrath, also known as Dicksy.
Having won the Waterloo Cup on three occasions, 1868, 1869 and 1871 and was the first greyhound to do so, Master McGrath had become an iconic hero. He was such a celebrity that his owner Lord Lurgan was asked to take him to see Queen Victoria.
Dermot had been visiting a friend at Solitude House and the pair were pulling away brambles when they came across the massive granite plinth. It stayed there for a few years until the land was sold to developers.
He said two JCBs moved the plinth and revealed a grave of brick - the same type used to build the Castle.
“That drove my interest to find out more about Master McGrath,” said Dermot who contacted Craigavon Council about his discovery.
Mr McCabe believes the bronze statue of Master McGrath would once have stood on top of that plinth which is still in the Solitude area of Lurgan.
He wants the bronze statue of the famous greyhound to be put back on the original plinth.
“I think this monument should be in the centre of the town, not one side or the other. I don’t want to turn it into a political monument. It should be somewhere both sides of the community can enjoy it,” said Mr McCabe
Mr Brownlow said in his letter: “The replica bronze statue of Master McGrath now at Craigavon Civic Centre was gifted by my father and the Brownlow family to the town of Lurgan and was originally intended to be sited within the town of Lurgan, until concerns for its security meant it was placed in Craigavon Civic Centre grounds.
“I could not be more delighted if the statue returned to Lurgan town where the original statue stood on top of a very ornate Victorian stone monument in the grounds of Brownlow House until c.1905, when the Lurgan family were forced to sell up and took the bronze to cousins in Suffolk.
He explained that it had been in the grounds of the last Lord Lurgan in Hampshire where it had been stolen twice and remained missing until after Lord Lurgan’s death.
“On its recovery, my father arranged for two copies to be made (one for Lurgan and one for The Coursing Club) which also meant there was more than one statue in existence, should further thefts or vandalism occur.
“The original is here indoors, as we cannot risk him being outside, given the increase in metal statue thefts and ongoing threats from various shadowy Animal Rights groups,” he said.
“It would be wonderful to see the statue back in Lurgan and my father would have been delighted.”
In a letter to Lurgan Forward Chairman Charlie Gardiner, Mr Brownlow said he was excited to learn of the discovery of the granite plinth at Solitude.
He said given the plinth’s London plague that ‘this was possibly the original plinth made for the bronze and sent over to Lurgan’.
“So maybe a grief-stricken Lord Lurgan built the large monument (perhaps even to mark the site of his grave) as a more fitting memory to the sudden and unexpected death of Master McGrath.
“No one seems to know who sculpted the bronze, but several of today’s noted sculptors have remarked on its excellent quality. The address on the ‘London’ plaque may well enable us to track down who sculpted and who cast the original,” he said.
Lurgan Forward chairman Charlie Gardiner said the group was eager for the return of Master McGrath to Lurgan. “We feel it is symbolic that it should return to the town,” he said.
“It would be particularly advantageous from a tourism point of view.
“With the public realm works in High Street and the modern public art which is coming to the town centre, it is felt that this historic piece of public art should come to the town.”
Lurgan Forward had asked Sam Gardiner, who is a friend of the Brownlow family, to initiate contact to ascertain whether the family were in favour of the statue’s return.
“All the councillors have worked with Lurgan Forward for this goal. Alderman Moutray has raised the issue at council level and it is looking very promising that the bronze on a granite plinth could be incorporated into the public realm works,” said Charlie Gardiner.
A council spokeswoman said, “Council is the custodian for the well liked Master McGrath statue which has been situated in the grounds of the Civic Centre since 1993. There has been a request to move Master McGrath to Lurgan and council are currently considering this option.