Sunday 26 May 2019

A colonel writes . . .

Sir - In the course of his article under the heading, 'Whatever happened to . . . Nelson's Pillar', in last Sunday's edition, your correspondent Rory Egan stated: "Army engineers were brought in to remove it [the stump]. Their 'controlled' explosion caused more damage than the original blast, much to the amusement of Dubliners."

Could I refer you to the 2004 Review of the Journal of Irish Mining and Quarrying Society (Extractive Industry Ireland 2004) and an article written by its editor, Tony Killian, titled Exploding the Myth: the Truth about the Demolition of Nelson's Pillar. Mr Killian is a member of the Institute of Explosive Engineers and worked as a technical engineer with the explosive supply industry since 1951, specialising in the design and supervision of blasting operations in the quarry and civil engineering fields. He has carried out numerous building and chimney stack demolitions in Ireland and the UK throughout his career.

Following the first blast on March 8, 1966, Mr Killian, who at the time was the technical representative with the main commercial explosives supplier in Ireland, was asked by the Gardai to inspect the remains of the monument, with a view to giving an opinion on methods and quantities of explosive used by the perpetrator, whoever he or she might have been.

He carried out an in-depth survey of the scene and asked permission to attend the army demolition of the stump at 0300 hours on the following Monday, March 15. The Army Engineer in charge of the operation, Comdt Jim Seward, later to be Colonel and Director of the Corps, one of my predecessors, outlined to Mr Killian the technique he intended to use to demolish the stump, and Comdt Seward incorporated a suggestion by Mr Killian in relation to additional protection to dampen flying material during the blasting operation. Mr Killian then took cover in a doorway in North Earl Street, about 70 yards away.

After the blast of the stump he walked about the site and observed one windowpane on the first floor of the GPO; upstairs windows on Worth's jewellery store at the corner of Henry Street; the window of Burton's shop - all broken. And a burglar alarm going off. He did not see any other broken windows, while admitting that air overpressure may have caused others to shatter. From an explosive engineer's perspective, he said that Comdt Seward had carried out the demolition in a very competent manner, despite extreme difficulties.

There were technical problems in relation to the boring of holes for the explosive charges, which had to be carried out from the outside and at street level, whereas the perpetrator of the first blast had the luxury of blowing from the inside of the column and above street level. The central layer of six inches of sand between the inner 24 inches of limestone and the outer eight inches of granite and the spiral stone staircase would have cushioned and deflected the blast outwards and upwards. Poor old Nelson didn't have a chance. The proof of the pudding lies in the subsequent claims for damage. At a City Council meeting on November 7, Matthew Macken, City Manager, said that in relation to the first blast, 36 claims had been received for malicious damage, totalling £18,864 19s 3d, and that 33 claims for damage to property totalling £4,180-9-10 had been received after the Army demolition. The latter claim may have included a claim for scaffolding used during the operation, of £995-17-10.

Mr Killian defines the myth as: "The first blast was an expert job which did no damage to property, but the Army blew up half of O'Connell Street." He asks if he should apologise for spoiling it with facts.

Not to me, Mr Killian, not to me. Colonel Michael Cleary, Chartered Engineer, Director of Engineering, Defence Forces

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