This evening (Tuesday) I launched a book in Belfast by the former Irish Times journalist Dennis Kennedy about the history of the Nelson Pillar in Dublin. It used to mark the centre of the city in O’Connell Street (formerly Sackville Street) beside the GPO. Now we have The Spire.
A bomb explosion in the early hours of March 8th 1966 toppled Admiral Horatio Nelson from his perch and damaged a section of the 121 ft high column. The remaining stump and the large base which contained the entrance where you used to be able to go in and climb up 168 steps to the top to view the skyline had to be blown up by Irish Army engineers six days later. In the process they succeeded in causing more damage to premises in the surrounding area than the original explosion. The blast is thought to have been the work of a couple of former IRA members, although that group denied responsibility. It coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. The pillar had been opened in October 21st 1809, the fourth anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. The inscription on the memorial plaque read as follows:-
“By the blessing of Almighty God To Commemorate the Transcendent Heroic Achievements of the Right Honourable Horatio Lord Viscount Nelson Duke of Bronti in Sicily, Vice-Admiral of the White Squadron of his Majesty’s Fleet, Who fell gloriously in the Battle of Cape Trafalgar On the 21st Day of October, 1805, when he obtained for his Country a Victory over the Combined Fleets of France and Spain, Unparalleled in Naval History. This first stone of a Triumphal Pillar was laid by His Grace, Charles Duke of Richmond and Lennox, Lord Lieutenant General & General Governor of Ireland, On the 15th Day of February, In the Year of Our Lord 1808, And in the 48th Year of the Reign of our most Gracious Sovereign, GEORGE THE THIRD, In Presence of the Committee, appointed by the Subscribers, for erecting this Mounument“.
The book launch was at No Alibis bookshop on Botanic Avenue at 5:30pm. The book is published by Ormeau Books, 3 Mornington, BELFAST BT7 3JS and costs £10 or can be purchased for €15 including free postage.
For 157 years, he kept “a watchful half-eye over Ireland’s capital city”.
January 28, 2010 by Sam:
Earlier this week, RTE broadcast a very well made documentary on the history of Nelson’s Pillar. The programme contains amazing archive footage along with contributions from Des Geraghty, Jimmy Magee and David Norris……Though it focuses on the bombing of 1966, the documentary tells also tells the fascinating story of how in 1955 a group of UCD students, involved with the Irish National Student Council (INSC), occupied the pillar. Dropping a banner of Kevin Barry over the edge, they tried to melt Nelson’s statue with homemade “flame throwers”. Gardaí used hammers to break into the pillar and tried to arrest the students but they had to be released after the Gardaí were attacked by sympathetic members of the public. After the statue was blown up in May 1966, Nelson’s head was stolen by NCAD students from a storage shed in Clanbrassil Street as a fund-raising prank to help clear their debts. Wearing sinister black masks, they held a very civil press conference explaining their motives. The head made several secret appearances over the next six months including making its way onto the stage of a Dubliners concert in The Olympia Theatre!
Nelson’s head now rests peacefully in the Gilbert Library in Pearse Street. Photo by Alastair Smeaton, Dublin Public Libraries.