Earlier this week, RTE broadcast a very well made documentary on the history of Nelson’s Pillar. The programme contains amazing archive footage along with contributions from Des Geraghty, Jimmy Magee and David Norris. If you missed it, viewers in Ireland can watch it on RTE Player until Monday, 15 February.
Though it focuses on the bombing of 1966, the documentary tells also tells the fascinating story of how in 1955 a group of UCD students, involved with the Irish National Student Council (INSC), occupied the pillar. Dropping a banner of Kevin Barry over the edge, they tried to melt Nelson’s statue with homemade “flame throwers”. Gardai used hammers to break into the pillar and tried to arrest the students but they had to be released after the gardai were attacked by sympathetic members of the public.
After the statue was blown up in May 1966, Nelson’s head was stolen by NCAD students from a storage shed in Clanbrassil Street as a fund-raising prank to help clear their debts. Wearing sinister black masks, they held a very civil press conference explaining their motives. The head made several secret appearances over the next six months including making its way onto the stage of a Dubliners concert in The Olympia Theatre!
Nelson’s head now rests peacefully in the Gilbert Library in Pearse Street.