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Nelson’s Pillar was bombed by republicans in Dublin 50 years ago

Nelson's Pillar (to the right) picture in Dublin. (Picture: WikiCommons)
Nelson’s Pillar (to the right) picture in Dublin. (Picture: WikiCommons)

ON THIS day 50 years ago one of Dublin’s most iconic and well-known landmarks was bombed.

At 1.32am on March 8, 1966 Nelson’s Pillar, which stood where The Spire stands today, was attacked by an IRA breakaway group.

A bomb blew the top half of the pillar off and days later Dublin City Council ordered the remainder of the pillar to be destroyed.

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Until that day, Nelson’s Pillar had stood on the main street of the Irish capital for more than 150 years.

It was named after Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, a Royal Navy officer who was renowned for his military abilities – fighting in the Napoleonic Wars in the late 1700s.

He was widely mourned when he died in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and such was his legacy that plans were swiftly made to build memorials in his honour.

Three years after his death, construction began on Nelson’s Pillar – a Roman column adorned with a statue of the admiral on top, stretching some 40 metres (134ft) into the Dublin skyline.

At the time of construction, Ireland was a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, under the rule of King George III.

The monument cost an estimated £6,500 – a small fortune at the time.

But it was immensely popular from the outset, immediately becoming a major tourist attraction in Dublin.

Visitors to the city could climb to the top of the pillar for a bird’s-eye view of Dublin City Centre from the viewing platform.

A larger version of the pillar was later built in Trafalgar Square – some 10m higher than Dublin’s.

Today The Spire of Dublin stands on the pillar's site. (Picutre: WikiCommons)
Today The Spire of Dublin stands on the pillar’s site. (Picutre: WikiCommons)

But while Nelson’s Column in London still stands, today marks 50 years since the attack on Nelson’s Pillar.

The British monument, despite its popularity, was targeted by a group of former members of the IRA.

The small left-wing group had pulled away from the republican organisation and formed their own with the pillar as their target.

The device detonated at 1.32am and blew the top half of the pillar to pieces – though Nelson’s head remained intact, despite some superficial damage.

It was thought  by many at the time to be a fresh republican resurgence to mark the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising.

The attack was widely condemned by the Irish Government.

There was also a general feeling at the time that with the destruction of the landmark statue, Dublin had lost part of its identity.

The Irish Army moved in days later and on March 14, 1966 the remainder of the pillar was destroyed with explosives.

The second blast caused more damage to O’Connell Street than the republican attack – blowing out many shop windows on the street.

In 2003, almost 40 years after the pillar was demolished, The Spire of Dublin was unveiled on the pillar’s site, giving the Irish capital a new landmark on the iconic street.

Today, while the rubble is long gone, the head of Nelson’s statue sits in Gilbert Library on Pearse Street.

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James Mulhall
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James Mulhall is a reporter with The Irish Post. Follow him on Twitter @JamzMulhall

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