Tuesday, 8 March 2016

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 city's‭’ ‬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 timebomb 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.‭ ‬[above] 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) [above] ‬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.‭

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