10 September 2005

Severed head of Nelson's statue returns to Dublin


By David McKittrick, Ireland Correspondent
10 September 2005 00:37

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The granite head of Horatio Nelson, severed from its statue by a republican bomb almost 40 years ago, has gone on show at a new home in Dublin.

In 1966, his statue was toppled from Nelson's Pillar, the 120ft column which had stood for 150 years in Dublin's main street as one of the city's most prominent landmarks.

Interest has grown rapidly recently in Nelson as the bicentenary of his victory over the French at Trafalgar approaches next month. Most of the 13ft statue has long disappeared, but the head has been kept at several venues. It has now been put on display in Dublin City Archive, near its original location in O'Connell Street.

Its destruction was regarded at the time as something of a nocturnal jape by IRA members acting individually, and probably not with the sanction of the organisation.

No one was killed or injured and damage to property other than the pillar was minimal. The remaining stump was blown up by the Irish army, local traders complaining that the second explosion had caused more damage than the first.

An even larger monument to another British hero of Napoleonic times stands in Dublin's Phoenix Park, the largest obelisk of Europe, in memory of the Duke of Wellington.

Although massive, it is almost lost in the park's sprawling acres. It is made of solid granite and is not prominently labelled as a memorial to Wellington. Its sheer size may have helped protect it.

Less formidable statues have not been so fortunate. In the 1920s, a statue of King William III was blown up; in 1937, King George II's memorial was dynamited and others were destroyed in the 1950s. After Nelson's pillar was destroyed, much debate followed on how to replace it, but it was not until two years ago that a stainless steel spire, 130 metres high, was erected on the site. The pillar had stood in the city centre since 1808, surviving the huge damage to the street caused by the Easter rising of 1916.

Several years ago, a republican, Liam Sutcliffe, then 70, claimed he had blown up the pillar. He said: "I was having a drink with an old friend at the time. The 1916 rising was being marked with functions and dinners and the campaign was fizzled out. We thought the rising should be marked with something a bit more dramatic. So I said we should remove it." He was arrested but no charges were brought.

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