Here in the city centre it is easy to forget that Dublin was for a long, long time the second city of the empire. The city’s main thoroughfare O’ Connell Street used to be called Sackville Street back in the 19th Century after the Lord Lieutenant Lionel Sackville. After Irish Independence the street was named after the Catholic Emancipator Daniel O’Connell.
Indeed a lot of the street names were changed after Irish Independence. Some monuments were too. The most famous or infamous monument on this street was Nelson’s Pillar where the Spire is today. It was a granite column with a statue of Horatio Nelson; the Hero of Trafalgar, on top. Finished in 1809 it lasted until 1966 when Irish Republicans blew it up. Following Nelson’s famous victory at Trafalgar, Dublin Corporation decided to honour him. It was controversial from the start for Republicans. In fact during the Easter Rising of 1916 an attempt was made to blow it up but the explosives used were damp. So ‘Nelson’ lived on, towering over Dubliners.
Eventually on the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising a successful attempt was made to blow it up. Republicans cycled the explosives into the city centre, planted and then detonated it. The base was left intact however and a decision was taken to have the army blow it up and remove it. The army needed a second go to blow it up. The locals were furious with the soldiers as they succeeded in blowing out loads of windows up and down the street. Nelson’s head is in the Dublin City Library on Pearse Street. Most locals weren’t too sad to see it go. Songs recording the events such as ‘Up went Nelson’ were very popular in the aftermath.