’Tis the season for pulling down the statues of historical figures. The destruction of the statue of Confederate leader Robert E Lee sparked off the troubles in Charlottesville, Virginia, and other Confederate figures are being similarly dethroned from their public position.
It might be argued that the current fashion for such iconoclasm began when the IRA blew up the statue of Lord Nelson, atop Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin in 1966. Technically, dynamite experts said it was a superb job: done clandestinely, in the middle of the night, the 134-foot pillar was left as half a stump. And no lives lost or people wounded.
My recollection is that this was considered, at the time, “hilarious”. It was as if it had been a brilliantly executed student rag week stunt. I knew Londoners who flew to Dublin to acquire bits of the wreckage as trophies.
Actually, many older Dubliners regretted the passing of “the Pillar”, which had marked the centre of the city, in O’Connell Street, and features as a hub in Joyce’s Ulysses. You could mount the pillar from the inside (price: sixpence) and see, from the top, the whole panorama of the city.
And the “Pillar” might have been saved had wiser counsels prevailed. The removal of Nelson as a symbol of the ancien régime had been advocated since the 1920s and in the 1930s there were various suggestions for his replacement. The trouble was, there was little agreement as to who should be placed on the plinth instead. Catholic voices suggested Our Lady. Nationalists wanted Patrick Pearse, the 1916 leader. And those embracing “inclusivity” advocated St Patrick, the national saint honoured by all Christians and recognised throughout the world.
What a pity that these ideas fell apart for want of consensus. Because had St Patrick been atop the “Pillar”, it would surely not have been dynamited. The monument itself was a splendid piece of architecture.
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