Nelson's Pillar
The Nelson Pillar known locally as Nelson's Pillar or simply The Pillar, was a large granite pillar topped by a statue of Horatio Nelson
Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson
Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté, KB was a flag officer famous for his service in the Royal Navy, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. He was noted for his inspirational leadership and superb grasp of strategy and unconventional tactics, which resulted in a number of...

 in the middle of O'Connell Street
O'Connell Street
O'Connell Street is Dublin's main thoroughfare. It measures 49 m in width at its southern end, 46 m at the north, and is 500 m in length...

, Dublin. It was built in 1808 and destroyed by a bomb planted by Irish republicans
Irish Republicanism
Irish republicanism is an ideology based on the belief that all of Ireland should be an independent republic.In 1801, under the Act of Union, the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland merged to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland...

 in 1966.


The pillar was a Doric
Doric order
The Doric order was one of the three orders or organizational systems of ancient Greek or classical architecture; the other two canonical orders were the Ionic and the Corinthian.-History:...

 column that rose 121 feet (36.9 m) from the ground and was topped by a 13 feet (4 m) tall statue in Portland stone
Portland stone
Portland stone is a limestone from the Tithonian stage of the Jurassic period quarried on the Isle of Portland, Dorset. The quarries consist of beds of white-grey limestone separated by chert beds. It has been used extensively as a building stone throughout the British Isles, notably in major...

 by Cork
Cork (city)
Cork is the second largest city in the Republic of Ireland and the island of Ireland's third most populous city. It is the principal city and administrative centre of County Cork and the largest city in the province of Munster. Cork has a population of 119,418, while the addition of the suburban...

 sculptor Thomas Kirk
Thomas Kirk (sculptor)
Thomas Kirk was a noted Irish sculptor.He was born in Cork. He studied at the Dublin Society's School where he won prizes in 1797 and 1800. He later worked for Henry Darley, a skillful builder and stone-cutter from Meath, based in Abbey Street, Dublin. Kirk was acclaimed for his fine relief work...

, RHA (1781–1845), giving it a total height of 134 feet (40.8 m) – some 35 feet (10.7 m) shorter than Nelson's Column
Nelson's Column
Nelson's Column is a monument in Trafalgar Square in central London built to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The monument was constructed between 1840 and 1843 to a design by William Railton at a cost of £47,000. It is a column of the Corinthian...

 in London. The diameter of the column was 13 feet (4 m) at the bottom and 10 feet (3 m) at the top.
All the outer and visible parts of the pillar were of granite, from the quarry of Gold Hill, Kilbride, County Wicklow
County Wicklow
County Wicklow is a county in Ireland. It is part of the Mid-East Region and is also located in the province of Leinster. It is named after the town of Wicklow, which derives from the Old Norse name Víkingalág or Wykynlo. Wicklow County Council is the local authority for the county...

. The interior was of black limestone. A contemporary account of the pillar described it in the following terms:
"In Sackville Street is a very noble monument to the memory of the immortal Nelson: it consists of a pedestal, column, and capital of the Tuscan order, the whole being surmounted by a well executed statue of the hero, leaning on the capstan of his ship."


The Lord Mayor of Dublin, James Vance, is credited with first coming up with the idea of honouring Lord Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar
Battle of Trafalgar
The Battle of Trafalgar was a sea battle fought between the British Royal Navy and the combined fleets of the French Navy and Spanish Navy, during the War of the Third Coalition of the Napoleonic Wars ....

 with a monument, in 1805. After consultation with the British Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was the British King's representative and head of the Irish executive during the Lordship of Ireland , the Kingdom of Ireland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland...

, the Duke of Richmond
Charles Lennox, 4th Duke of Richmond
Charles Lennox, 4th Duke of Richmond, 4th Duke of Lennox KG, PC was a British soldier and politician and Governor General of British North America.-Background:...

, a meeting with leading citizens was held and a committee of 21 duly appointed, containing, as well as the Mayor, John La Touche, M.P., Robert Shaw, M.P., Hans Hamilton, M.P., Arthur Guinness, and the Chief Secretary, Charles Long. A subscription was opened, with the banks leading the way in forwarding funds. However, it took over two years for the finances to get close to the projected budget of over £5,000.

The original plans for the Pillar were submitted to the organising committee by William Wilkins
William Wilkins (architect)
William Wilkins RA was an English architect, classical scholar and archaeologist. He designed the National Gallery and University College in London, and buildings for several Cambridge colleges.-Life:...

 (1778–1839), a London architect, Fellow of Caius College, Cambridge, and accepted by them in 1808. However, for some reason, the committee wrote later that they were incapable of "executing his design precisely as he had given it." Francis Johnston
Francis Johnston (architect)
See Francis Johnson for English architect of similar name.Francis Johnston was an Irish architect, best known for building the General Post Office on O’Connell Street, Dublin.-Life:...

 (1760–1829), the architect who built the General Post Office
General Post Office (Dublin)
The General Post Office ' in Dublin is the headquarters of the Irish postal service, An Post, and Dublin's principal post office...

 (to the left in the picture above) was brought in to execute the design, and "afforded the necessary assistance with his acknowledged ability, which...he did with the utmost cheerfulness." He made several drawings of his own, one of which met the approval of the committee sufficiently for construction to start. Johnston and later architects laid out Sackville Street (now O'Connell Street) so that the buildings, the GPO, and the Pillar were in scale to the size and length of the street and to each other.

Construction of the Pillar was started with the laying of the foundation stone on 15 February 1808. It was inaugurated with a procession of dignitaries including the Fellows and Provost of Trinity College and the Lord Lieutenant and his wife. Notably, the Pillar was finished long before the similar Nelson's Column
Nelson's Column
Nelson's Column is a monument in Trafalgar Square in central London built to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The monument was constructed between 1840 and 1843 to a design by William Railton at a cost of £47,000. It is a column of the Corinthian...

 was erected in Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square is a public space and tourist attraction in central London, England, United Kingdom. At its centre is Nelson's Column, which is guarded by four lion statues at its base. There are a number of statues and sculptures in the square, with one plinth displaying changing pieces of...

 in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 in 1849. The pillar became both a tram terminus and a common meeting place for Dubliners and offered the city's best public viewing platform, reached by a spiral stairway inside the column. The original entrance to the pillar was underground but, G. P. Baxter designed a porch in 1894 which was added to allow direct access from the street. The adult public paid sixpence (children under 12 were half-price) to climb the 168 spiral steps to a platform which gave a bird's-eye view of the city.


The building of Nelson's Pillar had been, from the outset, controversial. As early as September 1809 a paragraph appeared in Watty Cox's Irish Magazine, stating: "The statue of Nelson records the glory of a mistress and the transformation of our state into a discount office". Until 1922 most of the criticisms were due to aesthetic considerations or because it was considered an impediment to traffic. In May 1876 a letter to the editor expressed its author's feelings in verse:
In 1876 Dublin Corporation
Dublin Corporation
Dublin Corporation , known by generations of Dubliners simply as The Corpo, is the former name given to the city government and its administrative organisation in Dublin between 1661 and 1 January 2002...

 took up the question of removal, but found it did not have the power to remove it. In 1879 the Corporation argued that it should be removed as it was "an ugly traffic hazard". It tried again in 1891, causing much debate in the city and in Parliament, but did not succeed due to financial considerations. A writer on Dublin's history in 1909, Dillon Cosgrave, acknowledged the temporary nature of the Pillar, remarking that "For a very long time, the project of removing the Pillar, which many condemn as an obstruction to traffic, has been mooted, but it has never taken definite shape".

In 1923, the debate was renewed when famous Irish poet
A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

 William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet and playwright, and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature. A pillar of both the Irish and British literary establishments, in his later years he served as an Irish Senator for two terms...

 called for the pillar to be removed on aesthetic grounds, saying "It's not a beautiful object". The debate was renewed again in 1926 and again in 1928. Several attempts were made subsequently to have it removed, including by Taoiseach
The Taoiseach is the head of government or prime minister of Ireland. The Taoiseach is appointed by the President upon the nomination of Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas , and must, in order to remain in office, retain the support of a majority in the Dáil.The current Taoiseach is...

 Seán Lemass
Seán Lemass
Seán Francis Lemass was one of the most prominent Irish politicians of the 20th century. He served as Taoiseach from 1959 until 1966....

, in 1960. He said "[Nelson] has no place in the centre of our capital city overshadowing our principal national monument, which is the GPO". There were proposals to keep the pillar but to replace the statue of Nelson with other statues.

On 7 April 1954, the Dublin Brigade Irish Republican Army
Irish Republican Army (1922–1969)
The original Irish Republican Army fought a guerrilla war against British rule in Ireland in the Irish War of Independence 1919–1921. Following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty on 6 December 1921, the IRA in the 26 counties that were to become the Irish Free State split between supporters and...

 (IRA) sent a letter to Dublin Corporation, asking that it "seek legislation for the removal of the Nelson Pillar".

Politician and former SIPTU president Des Geraghty
Des Geraghty
Desmond "Des" Geraghty is a former Irish politician and trade union leader. He was president of SIPTU from 1999 to 2004. He stood unsuccessfully at the 1984 European Parliament election for the Dublin constituency as a Workers' Party candidate...

 argued that, by the 1960s, "not many people wanted Nelson there...he was a relic of the Empire". Independent Dublin TD Frank Sherwin
Frank Sherwin
Frank Sherwin was an Irish independent politician who sat for eight years as TD for Dublin North Central, from 1957–1965.-Early life:...

 said: "Although I view Nelson as a great Englishman ... I hold that there should be a great historic Irishman put in his place".

1955 attack

On 29 October 1955, a group of nine University College Dublin
University College Dublin
University College Dublin ) - formally known as University College Dublin - National University of Ireland, Dublin is the Republic of Ireland's largest, and Ireland's second largest, university, with over 1,300 faculty and 17,000 students...

 students locked themselves inside the pillar and tried to melt the statue with flamethrower
A flamethrower is a mechanical device designed to project a long controllable stream of fire.Some flamethrowers project a stream of ignited flammable liquid; some project a long gas flame. Most military flamethrowers use liquids, but commercial flamethrowers tend to use high-pressure propane and...

s. From the top they hung a poster of Kevin Barry
Kevin Barry
Kevin Gerard Barry was the first Irish republican to be executed by the British since the leaders of the Easter Rising. Barry was sentenced to death for his part in an IRA operation which resulted in the deaths of three British soldiers.Barry's death is considered a watershed moment in the Irish...

—a Dublin Irish Republican Army
Irish Republican Army
The Irish Republican Army was an Irish republican revolutionary military organisation. It was descended from the Irish Volunteers, an organisation established on 25 November 1913 that staged the Easter Rising in April 1916...

 (IRA) volunteer who was executed by the British during the Irish War of Independence
Irish War of Independence
The Irish War of Independence , Anglo-Irish War, Black and Tan War, or Tan War was a guerrilla war mounted by the Irish Republican Army against the British government and its forces in Ireland. It began in January 1919, following the Irish Republic's declaration of independence. Both sides agreed...

. A crowd gathered below and began to sing the well-known Irish rebel
Irish rebel music
Irish rebel music is a subgenre of Irish folk music, with much the same instrumentation, but with lyrics predominantly concerned with Irish republicanism.-History:...

 song "Kevin Barry
Kevin Barry (song)
"Kevin Barry" is a popular Irish rebel song recounting the death of Kevin Barry, a member of the Irish Republican Army who was hanged on 1st November 1920. He was 18 years old at the time. He is one of a group of IRA members executed in 1920-21 collectively known as The Forgotten Ten.The ballad...

". Gardaí
Garda Síochána
, more commonly referred to as the Gardaí , is the police force of Ireland. The service is headed by the Commissioner who is appointed by the Irish Government. Its headquarters are located in the Phoenix Park in Dublin.- Terminology :...

 forced their way inside with sledgehammers. They took the students' names and addresses and brought them downstairs. As a Garda van arrived it was attacked by the sympathetic crowd. Rather than arrest the students, the Gardaí merely confiscated their equipment and told everyone to leave quietly. None were ever charged.


At 02:00 on 8 March 1966, a group of former Irish Republican Army
Irish Republican Army (1922–1969)
The original Irish Republican Army fought a guerrilla war against British rule in Ireland in the Irish War of Independence 1919–1921. Following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty on 6 December 1921, the IRA in the 26 counties that were to become the Irish Free State split between supporters and...

 (IRA) volunteers, including Joe Christle, planted a bomb that destroyed the upper half of the pillar, throwing the statue of Nelson into the street and causing large chunks of stone to be thrown around. Christle, dismissed ten years earlier from the IRA for unauthorised actions, was a qualified barrister and saw himself as a socialist revolutionary. It is thought that the bombers acted when they did to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising
Easter Rising
The Easter Rising was an insurrection staged in Ireland during Easter Week, 1916. The Rising was mounted by Irish republicans with the aims of ending British rule in Ireland and establishing the Irish Republic at a time when the British Empire was heavily engaged in the First World War...


No one was hurt by the explosion. The closest bystander was a 19-year-old taxi driver, Steve Maughan, whose taxi was blasted to pieces.

Six days after the original damage, on the morning of Monday 14 March 1966, Irish Army
Irish Army
The Irish Army, officially named simply the Army is the main branch of the Defence Forces of Ireland. Approximately 8,500 men and women serve in the Irish Army, divided into three infantry Brigades...

 engineers blew up the rest of the pillar after judging the vestigial structure to be too unsafe to restore. This planned demolition caused more destruction on O'Connell Street than the original blast, breaking many windows.

The rubble from the monument was taken to the East Wall dump and the lettering from the plinth moved to the gardens of Butler House, Kilkenny
Kilkenny is a city and is the county town of the eponymous County Kilkenny in Ireland. It is situated on both banks of the River Nore in the province of Leinster, in the south-east of Ireland...


Ken Dolan and six other students from the National College of Art and Design
National College of Art and Design
The National College of Art and Design is a national art and design school in Dublin, Ireland.-History:Situated on Thomas Street, the NCAD started as a private drawing school and has become a national institution educating over 1,500 day and evening students as artists, designers and art educators...

 stole the statue's head on St. Patrick's Day from a storage shed in Clanbrassil Street
Clanbrassil Street, Dublin
Clanbrassil Street is a street in Dublin south of the city centre. It runs from Robert Emmet Bridge on the Grand Canal to New Street. It is served by several bus routes.It is named after James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Clanbrassil.-History:...

 as a fund-raising prank to pay off a Student Union's debt. They leased the head for £200 a month to an antiques dealer in London for his shop window. It also appeared in a women's stocking commercial, shot on Killiney
Killiney is a suburb of Dublin in south County Dublin, Ireland. It is within the administrative area of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County. The area is by the coast, south of neighbouring Dalkey, and north to Shankill area in the most southern outskirt of Dublin....

 beach, and on the stage of the Olympia Theatre
Olympia Theatre, Dublin
The Olympia Theatre is a concert hall/theatre venue in Dublin, Ireland, located in Dame Street.-History:Built in 1879, it was originally called the "Star of Erin Music Hall". Two years later in 1881, it was renamed "Dan Lowrey's Music Hall" and was renamed again in 1889 to "Dan Lowrey's Palace of...

 with The Dubliners
The Dubliners
The Dubliners are an Irish folk band founded in 1962.-Formation and history:The Dubliners, initially known as "The Ronnie Drew Ballad Group", formed in 1962 and made a name for themselves playing regularly in O'Donoghue's Pub in Dublin...

. The students finally gave the head to the Lady Nelson of the day about six months after taking it, and it was later housed in the Civic Museum in Dublin. It now resides in the Gilbert Library, in Pearse Street.

The Nelson's Pillar Act was passed in 1969, transferring responsibility for the site of the monument from the Nelson Pillar Trustees to Dublin Corporation. The site was simply paved over by the authorities until the Spire of Dublin
Spire of Dublin
The Spire of Dublin, officially titled the Monument of Light is a large, stainless steel, pin-like monument in height, located on the site of the former Nelson's Pillar on O'Connell Street in Dublin, Ireland.-Details:...

 was erected there in 2003. In 2001, whilst the site was being excavated to prepare for the foundations of the spire, The Irish Times
The Irish Times
The Irish Times is an Irish daily broadsheet newspaper launched on 29 March 1859. The editor is Kevin O'Sullivan who succeeded Geraldine Kennedy in 2011; the deputy editor is Paul O'Neill. The Irish Times is considered to be Ireland's newspaper of record, and is published every day except Sundays...

announced the discovery of a 200-year-old time capsule. This, in fact, turned out to be a dedication plaque commemorating Nelson's achievements.

On 23 April 2000, Liam Sutcliff, from the suburb of Walkinston, claimed on the RTÉ radio programme Voices of the 20th Century that he was responsible for blowing up the monument. Sutcliffe is a republican supporter who has been linked in the past to the Official Sinn Féin movement. He maintained that in Operation Humpty Dumpty, the explosive used was a mixture of gelignite
Gelignite, also known as blasting gelatin or simply jelly, is an explosive material consisting of collodion-cotton dissolved in either nitroglycerine or nitroglycol and mixed with wood pulp and saltpetre .It was invented in 1875 by Alfred Nobel, who had earlier invented dynamite...

 and ammonal
Ammonal is an explosive made up of ammonium nitrate, trinitrotoluene , and aluminium powder.The ammonium nitrate functions as an oxidizer and aluminium as a power enhancer. To some extent the aluminium makes it more sensitive to detonation...

. He declined to confirm his remarks when he received a visit at home from Garda
Garda Síochána
, more commonly referred to as the Gardaí , is the police force of Ireland. The service is headed by the Commissioner who is appointed by the Irish Government. Its headquarters are located in the Phoenix Park in Dublin.- Terminology :...

 Special Branch detectives four months after his radio interview in August. Then, on the morning of 21 September, he was arrested under Section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act and invited to repeat his allegations at Store Street Garda Station. His reluctance to do so, while in custody, resulted in his release without charge that night. The Gardaí prepared a file for review by the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide if the matter should be pursued further.

The identity of the bombers has been a source of speculation and conflicting claims of responsibility.

Songs about the explosion

Within a matter of days of the blowing up of the pillar, a group of Belfast
Belfast is the capital of and largest city in Northern Ireland. By population, it is the 14th biggest city in the United Kingdom and second biggest on the island of Ireland . It is the seat of the devolved government and legislative Northern Ireland Assembly...

 school teachers: Gerry Burns, Finbar Carrolan, John Sullivan and Eamonn McGirr
Eamonn McGirr
Eamonn McGirr was a Northern Ireland-born entertainer in New York's Capital District area.An immigrant to the U.S., he was born in Derry, Northern Ireland...

, known as The Go Lucky Four, reached the top of the Irish music charts with "Up Went Nelson
Up Went Nelson
"Up Went Nelson" is a song by The Go Lucky Four that was number one on the Irish music charts in 1966 for eight consecutive weeks....

", a popular folk song
Folk music
Folk music is an English term encompassing both traditional folk music and contemporary folk music. The term originated in the 19th century. Traditional folk music has been defined in several ways: as music transmitted by mouth, as music of the lower classes, and as music with unknown composers....

 set to the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic
The Battle Hymn of the Republic
"The Battle Hymn of the Republic" is a hymn by American writer Julia Ward Howe using the music from the song "John Brown's Body". Howe's more famous lyrics were written in November 1861 and first published in The Atlantic Monthly in February 1862. It became popular during the American Civil War...

" which maintained the number one spot for eight consecutive weeks.

Other songs were:
  • "Good Lord Nelson" by Tommy Makem
    Tommy Makem
    Thomas "Tommy" Makem was an internationally celebrated Irish folk musician, artist, poet and storyteller. He was best known as a member of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. He played the long-necked 5-string banjo, guitar, tin whistle, and bagpipes, and sang in a distinctive baritone...

  • "Nelson's Goodbye" by Joe Dolan
    Joe Dolan
    Joseph "Joe" Francis Robert Dolan was an Irish entertainer, recorder and singer of easy listening songs...

    , released as "Nelson's Farewell" by The Dubliners
    The Dubliners
    The Dubliners are an Irish folk band founded in 1962.-Formation and history:The Dubliners, initially known as "The Ronnie Drew Ballad Group", formed in 1962 and made a name for themselves playing regularly in O'Donoghue's Pub in Dublin...

     on their album Finnegan Wakes
    Finnegan Wakes
    Finnegan Wakes is a live album by The Dubliners. Recorded live at the Gate Theatre on 26 and 27 April 1966 and produced by Nathan Joseph, this was The Dubliners' final recording for Transatlantic Records...

    and as a single "Nelson's Farewell / The Foggy Dew", both in 1966

See also

  • Dublin statues and their nicknames
    Dublin statues and their nicknames
    Dublin statues are a significant feature of the cityscape of Dublin and many have acquired nicknames. The city's statues and other monuments have a long history of controversy about their subjects and designs, and a number of formerly prominent monuments have been removed or destroyed.- O'Connell...

  • Nelson's Column, Montreal
    Nelson's Column, Montreal
    Nelson's Column is a monument in Place Jacques-Cartier, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.Installed on the Place Jacques-Cartier in 1809, Nelson's column was the second monument to be erected in Montreal.- History :...

  • Nelson Monument, Edinburgh
  • Britannia Monument
    Britannia Monument
    The Britannia Monument is a commemorative column or tower built in memorial to Admiral Horatio Nelson, situated on the Denes, Great Yarmouth in the county of Norfolk, England....

External links

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