A Half Nelson

For more than 150 years, one of the most prominent landmarks in Dublin was Nelson’s Pillar. Erected in 1809 and rising 134 feet, the fluted limestone column was crowned by a statue of Horatio, Admiral Nelson; visitors could ascent an internal staircase to a viewing platform just below the figure of the Battle of Trafalgar hero. In March 1966 Irish Republicans decided to mark the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising by attempting to blow up the pillar, a botched job but one that did so much damage to the monument that government forces had to finish the job. Various parts of the pillar have turned up over the year, but one interesting portion – 16 granite blocks each measuring two feet square which once formed part of the base carved with the names of Nelson’s most notable victories – can now be seen surrounding a circular pool in the garden behind Butler House in Kilkenny city. Various explanations have been given for how the stones ended in this location, one being that in the 1960s William Walsh, head of  Córas Tráchtála Teoranta (the Irish Export Board) and the man responsible for establishing the Kilkenny Design Workshops, saw the pieces, admired their fine lettering and brought them to the city to provide inspiration for graphic designers. Alas, the government short-sightedly closed down the Kilkenny Design Workshops in 1988, but the stones still remain.*

*See Susan Mosse’s comments below for more information about how these stones came to be in their present location. 

8 comments on “A Half Nelson

  1. Susan Mosse says:

    For the record, graphic designer Damian Harrington urged KDW to collect the stones, after which they lay hidden in a back area. They were supposed to have been used as they are now, but were not put into use until the Kilkenny Civic Trust restored the garden in 1999/2000. I know all this for sure as I was the one who oversaw the garden restoration.
    Susan Mosse

  2. Vincent Delany says:

    These stones described the battles which Nelson won against the French and others.

  3. soanian says:

    What happened to Nelson ?

  4. Brendan Grimes says:

    I was a student working in an architect’s office in Milan when the pillar was badly damaged. I remember reading about it in Corriera della Sera. I felt ashamed when my boss told me that ‘you Irish are barbarians’. The pillar should have been restored.

  5. Kieran White says:

    I remember having a conversation with the late Damien Harrington about the acquisition of the stones.
    As an aside my late uncle, Commandant Liam White had the unenviable task of organising the demolition of the remaining stump of the pillar.
    The “easy” part was blowing the top of the pillar with relatively little collateral damage.
    Because Liam had to deal with the much lower stump he unfortunately got more collateral damage than the original bomber.

  6. Máirtín D'Alton says:

    Liam Sutcliffe is the man who publicly claimed responsibility on liveline, but changed his story when he was visited by the Gardaí

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