RTÉ One, Thursday, 7.00pm

Scannal - Nelson's Pillar

Admiral Nelson
Admiral Nelson

"It was the largest phallic monument in the city of Dublin, so what they were doing was actually ritually castrating their own city." Senator David Norris

Nelson's Pillar was erected in O'Connell St, Dublin in 1809 to honour the exploits of the British naval hero and notorious adulterer Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson who was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The 134ft high monument became an integral part of the city, central to the country's historic and literary epics, as well as being the meeting place for friends and lovers. The Pillar survived rebellions, wars and the even the 1916 Rising but in 1966, 157 years after its completion, Nelson's time keeping his one good eye on Dublin came to an explosive end.

Throughout the years the Pillar had been a controversial column, especially after the nation won its independence. People asked why an Englishman should stand tall in the centre of the capital of Ireland. Why not an Irish patriot or even a saint? However, even though the issue was often raised nothing was ever done and coming up to the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising Nelson stood as proud as ever.

But some republicans decided to take the law into their own hands and in the early hours of the morning of the 8th of March 1966 the top half of the Pillar was blown to pieces. The statue of Nelson came crashing to the ground. A taxi man driving by had a narrow escape. He survived but his car didn't!

The dramatic end to the Pillar was headline news and further cemented Nelson into city lore. The army was sent in to finish the job with a controlled explosion to demolish the remaining stump a few days later. Nelson's Pillar was no more with considerable damage caused to buildings in the immediate vacinity. Some people were arrested but nobody was ever charged with the bombing, and even though some regretted the Pillar's demise, the majority of Dubliners seemed happy that the one-eyed one-armed adulterer called Nelson had finally passed into history for once and for all.

Scannal looks back at the rise and fall of Nelson's Pillar - a key moment in the history of the city - and not least because the destination plate of many Dublin Buses had to change from the"Pillar" to the ethereal "An Lár" - ironically newly coined in the aftermath, by one of Nelson's would-be destroyers!
Contributors to the programme include broadcaster Jimmy Magee who was one of the first to arrive on the scene after the explosion, Senator David Norris who believes the bombing was an ignorant thing to do. "It provoked the only recorded instance of humour in that lugubrious figure, the late Éamon De Valera, who is said to have phoned.. the Irish Press to suggest a headline : «British Admiral Leaves Dublin By Air»" Sen. David Norris.

Des Geraghty remembers being brought to the top of the Pillar as a 5 year old. We also hear from Prof. Alan Titley and Senator Joe O'Toole who were both students in Dublin at the time and remember hearing the explosion. Seán Ó Brádaigh was part of a failed attempt by UCD students to melt the head of the statue in the late '50s and we also hear about the history of Lord Nelson and the Pillar from Andrew O'Brien of the Dublin City Library and Archives in Pearse Street, which interestingly still houses Nelson's Head that survived the blast nearly 44 years ago.

Presenter / Reporter Garry Mac Donncha
Producer / Director Seán Ó Méalóid

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