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Saturday 1 October 2016

Nelson’s pillar blown up by IRA 50 years ago today

Published 08/03/2016 | 02:30

Historian Donal Fallon with the head of Nelson’s statue, which now sits in Dublin City Council’s Pearse Street Library. Photo: Douglas O’Connor
Historian Donal Fallon with the head of Nelson’s statue, which now sits in Dublin City Council’s Pearse Street Library. Photo: Douglas O’Connor
The pillar before it was destroyed in 1965. Independent Newspapers Ireland

For almost 160 years British Admiral Horatio Nelson stood stoically watching over the nation’s main thoroughfare.

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From his breezy perch atop a lofty Romanesque column, the Viscount remained a thorn in the side of Irish Republicans long after independence. 

From his granite throne on O’Connell Street, just metres away from Ireland’s symbol of freedom, the GPO, the memorial stood proudly defiant.

However, on a still night in 1966 shortly after 1.30am, his time ran out – and he was blown from his roost by an IRA splinter group to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Rising. 

Irish Independent photographer Tom Burke was on duty for the ‘Evening Herald’ on the night of the explosion, working from the paper’s old home on nearby Abbey Street. 

“I was working for the night column at the time. It was known as the ‘Going Places’ column,” recalled Mr Burke. “I was in the dark room developing photographs when I heard an unmerciful bang. A colleague came in shouting that the pillar was gone.

“The cloud of smoke was unbelievable. It consumed the street.”

The head of the statue, which was photographed on the night by Mr Burke, was found amid the rubble and stored in a Dublin Corporation depot.

However, a team of enterprising, cash-strapped students saw an opportunity and swiped the bust before leasing it to a London antique dealer who displayed it in his window. The head later popped up on stage with The Dubliners before finally being handed over to Dublin Corporation. It has now found a permanent home in the reading room in Dublin City Council’s Pearse Street Library.

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