Phil Lynott Statue Creator Recalls 15-Year Fairness Fight
When Philomena Lynott unveiled a statue of her son, Thin Lizzy icon Phil Lynott, in Dublin City Centre on Aug. 19, 2005, it was something of a state occasion for Ireland. Fans, colleagues and others touched by Lynott's music had come from all over the world to pay their respects. They’d all have been aware of the sad absence of Lynott himself, who died in 1986 at 37. Fewer were aware of another sad absence - that of Paul Daly, the artist who created the statue but found himself relegated to the shadows.
For Daly, the commission to sculpt one of his heroes was the realization of a hard-chased ambition. But instead of becoming one of the high points of his career, it became a cause of bitterness, hardship and severe illness. He lost four years of his life to depression associated with the experience of being involved with the Roisin Dubh Trust, the organization set up to secure Lynott’s memory. It’s only very recently that he was able to return to Bruxelle’s Bar just off Dublin’s Grafton Street and look the sculpture in the eye.
The Roisin Dubh Trust (named after the Gaelic title of the Thin Lizzy song “Black Rose”) was set up by Philomena Lynott in the years after her son’s death. She was a strong personality, known as the Queen of Irish Rock ’n’ Roll, who campaigned fearlessly for the statue, among other projects, while also welcoming fans far and wide into her home and showing them Phil’s bedroom. Like an Irish Sharon Osbourne, she was prepared to fight for her charge until her death in 2019, finding force from a wealth of personal difficult experiences and her undying love for the person she cared most about. Also like Osbourne, she was prepared to unleash her formidable energy against anyone who crossed her.
Daly’s art career had stalled around the time he saw Philomena on TV in 2000, noting that permission had been given to proceed with the statue project. He knew he had to get involved because the project meant a lot to him, and because he believed it would give his career new momentum.
“I thought, ‘I have to get involved in this – I'm going nowhere,” Daly explains on a cold weekend afternoon at the downstairs bar in Bruxelles – a venue that’s done well because of the statue but has never extended him the honor of a free pint of Guinness. “I was a painter, an artist, I was selling to galleries, I wasn't getting anywhere. I was struggling. I needed something to get me up there, a stepping stone. My wife said, ‘You don't sculpt.’ I said, ‘I’ve fooled around with it; I can do it. I have to get involved.’ Off I went – the next day, a Saturday, I put all my stuff in a portfolio. I had no idea where she lived.”
Fortunately, Philomena’s address was well-known in her community, and Daly found himself approaching her door. “Before I could knock, Philomena opened the door," he recalls. "She says, ‘Hello!’ Full of confidence – I had nothing. ‘Are you a Thin Lizzy fan?’ Before I knew it I was dragged in. ‘Come on, I'll show you.’ She was in a hurry because she was going out, she had a police escort coming to pick her up. She said, ‘I apologize. I'll show you Phil's room.’ Memorabilia and all this, all the albums and a jukebox, posters, pictures. Just looking at this stuff, I was dying to talk more. I just blurted out, ‘I’m an artist, I'm a sculptor.’ ‘Are you really? Come back tomorrow and we'll sit and have a chat.’ I went home, I got a camcorder, the whole thing. I just couldn't believe that I got a chance.”
The next day he went back and talked Philomena through his portfolio. “She was very hospitable and full of charm," Daly says. "She was really nice to talk to, very confident. She looked at the pictures – ‘These are beautiful, my God!’ The phrase she used was, ‘You're talented beyond words.’ She found one that she loved of Phil. I said, ‘If you love that, you can have it.’ She said, ‘Do more art for me. We can put them on T-shirts.’”
While Daly is certain the pair struck up a friendship very quickly, the use of his artwork became an early concern. Like any rock fan, Daly was aware of the rip-off stories that surround the music business. He also knew of the hardships Philomena had endured over the years. He could understand that some additional injection of trust was important, so he permitted his artwork to be used by the Roisin Dubh Trust without reaching a contracted deal.
“I didn't ask about royalties or rights,” he admits. “There was no, ‘You should have a few quid for you.’ There was a T-shirt. I say, ‘Can I have one of them?’ Someone told me, ‘Not at all.’ Philomena said, ‘Give it to him.’ The other person said it was ‘losing profits.’ It was a lot of stress, but I got it anyway, I still have that. But that's the only thing I got – one T-shirt. They just took all of my work and used it, and I was using that as a stepping stone.”
Daly was working in a factory at the time to pay the bills, and the additional drain of time and effort for Philomena’s operation became an additional worry: “She was making a fool of me, I knew that.” But, he adds, “We were really good friends. We got to know each other. I knew I was being screwed and abused, but I took it because I was chasing the goal. This is what I needed to get it. You do it to get what you want.”
Eventually, Daly received the news he had risked so much to hear: He was tasked with creating a Phil Lynott sculpture in mid-2004. “Four years is a long time to wait to work at a crappy factory, working long days, tolerating being screwed, being taken for a fool, taking it on the chin,” he reflects now. “I knew it. I did it because I was a nobody; I was an artist struggling.”
He remembers the co-founders of the project, the Arts Council, were against it. They stated, "This is a novice; you’re giving it to a guy that doesn't know what he's doing." "One guy stood up and said, ‘If he can capture a likeness in a small Phil model, he can do a life-size. The foundry will do the measurements,'" Daly recalls. "If that guy didn’t stand up and speak out, I probably wouldn’t have got it.” That, of course, was a good day. “Can you imagine? The biggest gig of my life,” he smiles at the memory. “Couldn't get the Guinness down quick enough! I was jumping around playing Lizzy. I went back to work on the Monday, hungover. Couldn't give a shit, and I got a round of applause from the whole factory. That was wonderful. I felt after alive four years. I was alive and the job was allowing me: ‘We'll accommodate you to do this project; we'll give you time out.’ And they did give me time out.”
Daly admits the actual task of bringing the piece from wax mold to welded metal figure was long and difficult. “I spent a couple of weeks, probably a month," he remembers. "I kept going back to the head – there was something I couldn't figure out. I was looking and looking and couldn't understand what was wrong with it. I kept walking away and going back to it: leave it there, go back to it again, alter it again, keep going back and forth for bloody weeks. In the end I said, ‘Leo [Higgins, head of Ireland's Cast Foundry, where the statue was to be constructed], I'm finished, I think. Would you come along?’ He said, 'We'll get it back to cast, make a copy of it, you'll have a hard copy and you can alter it again if you want to. If you think you've nailed it ... it's up to you.’ I didn't. ‘You come down and tell me what you think.’ He looked at it and went, ‘Wow, it's really good.’ Still, I'm not happy. He said, ‘I’ll do you a hard copy, take it home, take it to work, make sure it's right then we'll cast it when you think it's right.’”
He took the head home and put on Thin Lizzy’s Live and Dangerous video. “I was in between the sitting room and the kitchen, his head was on the kitchen table," Daly explains. "I was looking around. I was looking at Phil, who came onstage sweating, I was watching him, watching his face.”
Then came the moment: “‘Got ya, ya bastard! Now I have ya! Now I know what's going on!’ It was slightly short. His face was long. My wife came out; I was heating a fucking knife. ‘What are you doing?’ ‘I’m going to slice it. I know what's wrong with it!’ ‘Don't touch it, don't touch it!’ She left!
“I sliced the hot knife through the bridge of the nose. It's hollow, hard, black – like an Easter egg, glued together. I slid right through. I had black rags to fill it. I had done it. I got it, looked at the video and he's doing that singing. Then I looked at it and went, ‘fuck!’” Daly recalls “the agony of waiting and sweating, ‘I don't know what I'm doing! I'm not going to be able to do this!’ Then the ecstasy of winning. That's what I had. I’d got him, and I was jumping around. There he was.”
When Philomena saw the finished product, she was equally emotional. “She looked and she just shook her head," Daly recalls. "Tears in her eyes. She walked slowly towards it - that was it. It was a lovely moment. I have that on camera – she just smiled. The moment of creation, that's what it was all about for me. To do that, that's my job done.”
While Daly was aware that things on the business side of the deal were not what he wanted them to be, he remained focused on the artistic challenge. He recalls feeling concerned when the statue committee, looking at the work in progress, preferred to address their questions to Higgins: “They said to Leo, ‘How did you do this?’ Leo looked at me and said, ‘You'll have to ask Paul, 'cause it's his work.’ He looked at me as if to say, ‘What the fuck?’ Leo knew this was mine; I was the artist: ‘You own this, this is yours. They commissioned you, but you own it.’ They couldn’t wait to get their hands on it.”
Once the work was complete, however, Daily had to face the fact he wasn’t happy with the paperwork side of things. He should have been entitled to 15 percent of all money raised from the sale of the stature miniatures and the usage of its image. If Phil Lynott himself had been compensated for his artistic endeavors, why shouldn’t Daly? By the day of the unveiling, the man who’d created the sculpture was decidedly out of the picture. Photos show a smiling Philomena with the statue, while former members of Thin Lizzy and other musicians and fans circle around. The Roisin Dubh Trust website reported on what a whirlwind experience everyone had lived through. Daly is not mentioned anywhere.
“There was an argument months before the unveiling – they wanted me to waive all my rights,” he says. “They knew I was skint. I said, ‘Give us 15 percent. I’ll sign over and be happy. Once I get my 15 percent in royalties, that's my pension – I need the money.’ They sent the agreement for me to sign. My solicitor said, ‘Don't be too hasty. Don't sign anything.’ This was close to the unveiling, the last few days. They said, ‘We need it signed, we need it signed.’ The pressure was huge – it was fucking huge. They kept ringing. I signed it. They sent it back.” He says he didn’t notice until several weeks after the unveiling that what he’d been sent appeared to be a blank piece of paper except for his signature. “And that completely wiped me out. That's what finished me. The worst is I knew I couldn't go after them because I had no money.” He believes there was a deliberate attempt to deprive him of his share of income from the sculpture, and that Philomena – despite their friendship – was aware of it. "They all had a part in it," he claims. "They were as bad as each other."
As time went by, Daly began to succumb to the weight of emotion. He’d created what he regarded as the crowning glory of his career, and it had effectively been taken away from him. “All I wanted to do was drink,” he says. “I didn’t want to get any stories, I didn’t want to go on the radio, I didn’t want to be associated with it at that time. This is what happened because I loved Phil. I loved Thin Lizzy, and then this happened to me and I didn't want to know. I couldn't go near the statue. I couldn't look at it. I couldn’t visit it. I was in town, and I couldn’t go up to it.”
It wasn’t just a case of not being able to bring himself to look at the global attraction on Harry Street. When the statue was vandalized in 2013, it wasn’t him – but he admits it could have been. Asked if he was behind the crime, he replies, “No, but I felt like it! Joking aside, I did. This was my breakdown, when I completely broke. I drove the car into town, an old banger. I drove it in and said, ‘Okay, let's drive round to the statue tonight. Let's get thrown into prison. Let the media have a field day: "The artist crashes into his own sculpture.” What the fuck? Let's go.’ That's where I was at. I actually thought maybe not to drive into it, but maybe spray-paint it yellow. Then I thought, ‘Hold on a minute – this is a guy you love. You don't want to hurt him.’ I don't know how I stopped myself. I'm glad I didn't do it. It was tough, it was really tough.”
It takes a special kind of energy to deal with the fact that you hate what you’ve created, and it’s not easy to control within a creative spirit. Daly’s struggles became worse.
“I couldn't talk to people, I couldn't go out, I couldn't do anything,” he recalls. “There were panic attacks. It was awful. I had to talk to myself all the time, say, ‘Come on, Paul, for fuck’s sake, what's going on with you? Come on, move, get out of this.’ My kids were crying. That's how bad it was. I was in bed for weeks, I didn't get out of bed, I didn't eat, I was drinking. My wife was screaming at me, ‘You have to live! You've got to get out of bed!’ I didn’t want to know. Then I see my kids getting upset, and I said, ‘I’ve got to do something.’”
He fought back with support from his wife. “I don't know how she stood by me,” he says in awe. “I was a bollocks. I was a fucker. I don't know how she stuck with me. But she did. And the kids stuck.”
Fellow Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick – known for his iconic Che Guevara portrait painted in 1968, and also a Thin Lizzy fan – eventually came to Daly’s rescue. It was his post on social media in September 2019 that finally flagged the issue in hard facts. “Here's a grievous wrong we all need to help put right,” he wrote. “Did you know that sculptor Paul Daly who made that wonderful statue of Philip outside Bruxelles in Dublin never received a single penny in royalties for all the hundreds of miniatures of his work that have been sold? He is going through a tough time right now and needs our help. He has the same miniatures of his Philip statue for sale at a ridiculously low price on his website right now, so spread the word. Let's try to help him out.”
Fitzpatrick added that he had "never met Paul, so I have no dogs in this fight. Just want an artist to be justly rewarded for an important work.”
In a later post, he reported that the "entire point … is simply to help the artist who created the now iconic statue of Philip, much beloved by all his fans. No need to go beyond that into other territory. The fault lay with the contract and the advice given at the time by the Arts Council. No point in allocating blame so much later, just recognize the rights of the sculptor now and give him a bit of help.”
While Daly’s story doesn’t sit perfectly in line with Fitzpatrick’s, the principle still applies. Daly’s work is being sold via the Roisin Dubh Trust, but Daly receives no compensation, making it more difficult to continue a career that he voluntarily risked losing to create a work of value to him and hundreds of thousands of others. A few days after his initial post, Fitzpatrick wrote, “I knew Lizzy fans were kind, passionate people, but wow! This one leaves me stunned as so many have rallied round to help this artist who created one of Dublin's most iconic sculptures. That statue of Philip warms my heart every time I pass. … Thank you all for your kindness.”
Night has fallen over Bruxelles. One last swig of Guinness and Daly leaves the bar, his wife and one of his daughters alongside. Outside, on Harry Street, he prepares to gaze at a face he knows so well, and continue the job of recovering from years of emotional damage. He’s awkward at first, looking around the face to discuss other details like getting Lynott’s height right, the fact that he was thinner than some people might have thought, and then identifying the point where Daly cut into the nose in his kitchen to correct it.
Finally, he looks up into the iron eyes, and something is released in his own – a kind of sigh, a sideways tilt of the head, and then he puts his hand up to the statue’s cheek. They’re friends again. Then he quickly has to step out of the way for the latest Thin Lizzy fans who've made a pilgrimage to pose with his creation.
Meanwhile, Daly has started creating new art again and selling it on his website, including miniatures of Lynott, Freddie Mercury and Rory Gallagher. “Life is about creating moments,” he states in the voice of a confident artist. “This is 15 years later. Fifteen years ago, if somebody said to me, ‘You’re going to make a comeback, you'll be using Phil as a stepping stone, you'll be going on to greater things, you’ll be looking back saying, "Thanks Phil"' – it’s crazy.”
Looking back, he can’t forget the moment of creation: “It was so amazing. It was like a dream, but so real. Every morning, I couldn't wait to wake up to work on it and then work on it, knowing that this is a monument, this is Phil Lynott. I used to stand right in front of him, just the body and bass guitar, before the head was done – just the attitude was even in the body. Then when the head went on, he just came alive.”
Now, like every episode of artistic difference where careers are involved, there remains the issue of finding a compromise on paperwork that everyone can live with. That starts with a conversation. “I’d like to talk to the Roisin Dubh Trust and see if we can find a settlement,” Daily says. “I just want what was agreed. Let the past be the past. Let’s celebrate Phil Lynott and let everybody feel good about it.”
He’s still waiting for that conversation to start. The Roisin Dubh Trust did not respond to multiple requests for an interview or a statement on the subjects covered in this article.