8 March 1966: Dissident Irish Republicans blew up Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin on this day. The 121 foot high column to England’s greatest Naval Hero, Admiral Lord Nelson, was erected in 1808 to commemorate his victories at sea and his death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. A subscription was raised from amongst the Loyal citizens of Dublin to fund the design and construction of the column and also the 13 foot high statue of Nelson that was placed on top of this imposing edifice.
A number of attempts over the years, some legal and others not so legal, were initiated to have it removed. Some were based on aesthetic and others on commercial grounds - that it was a block on traffic etc. But after 1922 a more political angle emerged as it was seen as an embarrassment that such an open symbol of British Imperial history dominated the main thoroughfare of Ireland’s Capital city. Notwithstanding this the open platform perched high above O’Connell Street remained a popular visit for both tourists and natives alike. It was also a well-known meeting place and landmark and the phrase ‘I’ll meet you at the Pillar’ was one that fell from many a Dubliners lips for generations. Many of the citys’ Trams and later the Buses had the simple words ‘The Pillar’ on their frontage as the name of their destination with no further explanation necessary to the passengers.
However with the approach of the Commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 1966 a small group of non-aligned republicans decided to remove the object by way of explosion. A plan, ‘Operation Humpty Dumpty’ was initiated to place within the pillar a device of such force that the structure would collapse. It was decided to plant a time-bomb on the stairs set to go off in the early hours of a weekday so as to avoid civilian casualties. No warning was to be issued and the perpetrators took a huge risk in this endeavour but Dublin was a far quiter city back then than it is now and this played in their favour.
At around 2 AM on the morning of 8th March a huge explosion rocked the City and awakened the more alert of the citizens situated near the city centre. The bomb destroyed the upper half of the pillar, throwing the statue of Nelson onto the street and causing large chunks of masonry to litter the surrounding area. By sheer good Fortune no one was killed or injured.
So long had the Admiral cast his eye over the City that at first many people did not believe the news on being told. But disbelief soon turned into undisguised amusement that this political eyesore was gone at last and in such bizarre circumstances. More mirth was had some days later when the Irish Army was ordered to remove the remains of the column by detonation. While this was accomplished the resultant official bombing destroyed many of the shop front windows in O’Connell St – none of which were subject to damage in the initial explosion!
Within days the event was commemorated in a ballad called ‘Up went Nelson in O’Connell Street’ by a group from Belfast called ‘The Go Lucky Four’ that reached Number 1 in the Irish Charts and stayed there for eight weeks. While Lord Nelson’s head from the statue survived damaged but intact it suffered further indignities as it was stolen from storage in a Student Prank and used to raise funds. It appeared in a TV add and on stage with the Dubliners. After many years on view in the Civic Museum it is now on display in the Dublin City Library (Gilbert Library) in Pearse Street.
In September 2000 Liam Sutcliffe, a resident of Dublin, claimed during a radio interview that he was one of the people responsible for the attack on the monument. On being questioned by the Gardaí he refused to substantiate his claim and the matter was let drop. No one was ever charged or convicted for this attack in what was probably the most popular bombing ever to occur in Ireland.