In this, the 100th year after the Easter Rising perhaps I remember the 50th Anniversary in 1966 for all the wrong reasons. On the day I made my confirmation (don’t worry, I have since repented) on the 8th May 1966 the monument to Lord Horatio Nelson “The Pillar” which provided the geographic and sentimental centre of my hometown in O’Connell Street was blown up. Like many Dublin kids that year I had a photo taken in front of the stump by another Dublin institution, Arthur Fields who took photos of passersby on O’Connell Bridge from the 1930s until he retired in 1985 at age 84.
Nelson’s Pillar (also known as the Nelson Pillar or simply The Pillar) was a large granite column capped by a statue of Horatio Nelson, located in the centre of O’Connell Street (until 1924 Sackville Street) in Dublin, Ireland. Completed in 1809 when Ireland was part of the United Kingdom, it survived until March 1966, when it was severely damaged by explosives planted by Irish republicans. Its remnants were later destroyed by the Irish Army, with some indecent haste. There appeared to be no obvious reason why the Irish Army had to carry out a “controlled explosion” as opposed to a conventional demolition of the remaining structure. As it was the professionals caused more damage to surrounding buildings than the original pyrotechnics and the Government seemed determined to rid O’Connell Street of the structure to preclude any debate on rebuilding or re-purposing The Pillar.
British Pathé’s Academy Award-nominated documentary short from 1967 is a wonderful travelogue to the Irish capital, Dublin. See You at the Pillar is a 1967 British short documentary film about Dublin combining contemporary footage, folk music and quotations from past residents such as George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and Brendan Behan. The film is narrated via a “conversation” between Anthony Quayle and Norman Rodway. Produced by Robert Fitchet, it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short
Before television, people came to movie theatres to watch the news. British Pathé was at the forefront of cinematic journalism, blending information with entertainment to popular effect. Over the course of a century, it documented everything from major armed conflicts and seismic political crises to the curious hobbies and eccentric lives of ordinary people. If it happened, British Pathé filmed it.
Now considered to be the finest newsreel archive in the world, British Pathé is a treasure trove of 85,000 films unrivalled in their historical and cultural significance.
For more than you would ever want to know on the life and after-life of Nelson’s Pillar have a look at Póló’s wonderful Photopol Blog, a mine of information on this subject and much else:
Today O’Connell Street is not quiet the elegant monumental boulevard it was in its heyday and the Pillar has been replaced with the Spire of Dublin. Local wags refer to it as The Spike and suggest it is there to hold Ireland’s IOU’s in the dog days after the heady days of the Celtic Tiger. More tellingly since Nelson’s Pillar was blown up O’Connell Street has lost much of its lustre, indeed it must be the only main street in a European Capital which has a derelict site for over 30 years on the site of what was the rather fine Gilbey’s building. Perhaps the moral of the story is that Irish Republicans are better at blowing things up rather than building things up?