On 8 March 1966 Nelson’s Pillar was partly demolished by an explosion.
Nelson’s Pillar (or Column) stood at the junction of O’Connell Street, North Earl Street, and Henry Street. Erected in 1809, it survived the bombardment of the city centre during 1916, but was partly destroyed by a bomb on 8 March 1966. The remaining stump of the pillar was considered unsafe and was blown up by the Irish army.
The Pillar was erected in 1808-1809 to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson’s victory at the battle of Trafalgar. Designed by Francis Johnston, who also designed the General Post Office, it consisted of a plinth and Doric column of Wicklow granite, with a statue of Nelson by Thomas Kirk in Portland stone at the top. It was 134 feet (almost 41 metres) high with a narrow staircase accessing a viewing platform below the statue.
The Pillar marked what Joyce calls ‘The Heart of the Hibernian Metropolis’ at the beginning of the ‘Aeolus’ episode of Ulysses. The trams from the south and north sides of the city, as well as those heading east to the docklands, terminated at the foot of the Pillar and the top of North Earl Street. At the beginning of the ‘Aeolus’ episode, the tram destinations are bawled out by a Dublin United Tramway Company’s timekeeper.
At the end of the ‘Aeolus’ episode, Stephen Dedalus tells Myles Crawford the so-called ‘Parable of the Plums,’ in which Anne Kearns and Florence MacCabe climb Nelson’s Pillar: they “waddle slowly up the winding staircase, grunting, encouraging each other, afraid of the dark, panting, one asking the other have you the brawn, praising God and the Blessed Virgin, threatening to come down, peeping at the airslits. Glory be to God. They had no idea it was that high.”
When they reach the top, they settle down under the statue of the “onehandled adulterer” and eat their plums, spitting out the pips onto the people below.
The Pillar had never been very popular and in March 1966 a bomb was exploded inside the pillar, destroying the top half of the pillar and the statue of Nelson. The explosion happened in the early hours of the morning and a taximan was the only one injured. The remaining part of the Pillar was blown up a few days later by the army, shattering windows the length of O’Connell Street in the process.
Several parts of the Pillar survive. The head from the statue of Nelson is on view in the Reading Room of the Dublin City Library and Archive at 138-144 Pearse Street, Dublin 2. Some of the larger stones from the plinth, bearing the names of some of Nelson’s battles, are in the gardens of Butler House in Kilkenny.
See photographs of the Pillar here.
See a photo of the head of Nelson’s statue here.