Thursday, March 10, 2016

Óglaigh na hÉireann


Click on any image for a larger version

OK. Liam Sutcliffe blew up Nelson's Pillar so neatly he didn't disturb a butterfly. Then the Irish army came along to finish the job and broke every window in O'Connell Street.

So goes the urban myth, retailed with increasing glee by Dubliners for the last fifty years without a break.

It's driving me mental, because it is untrue. It exaggerates the competence with which the original explosion was carried out, and I don't deny for a minute that it was an almost unbelievably competent job. And it is a gross calumny of the Irish army's explosives people.

Ten years ago, Colonel Michael Cleary, Director of Engineering with the Defence Forces, wrote a letter to the Sunday Independent pointing out how little damage the army did, despite their task being immeasurably more challenging than that of the original bomb setter.

His clincher was to point out that compensation claims on foot of the first explosion were four times higher than those resulting from the army job. You'd think that would have scotched the urban myth on the spot, but clearly it had already got too strong a hold on the imagination for a few facts to spoil a good story.

Donal Fallon, in his definitive book on The Pillar, recalls the compo evidence but still the myth persists. Last Saturday (5/3/16) Hugh Linehan, Culture Editor of the Irish Times, retailed the myth as fact, provoking Colonel Cleary to come out of retirement to take him to task, quoting the same facts he had put in the public domain a decade earlier. Hugh has had the grace, on social media, to accept the Colonel's version.



One of the bits of damage, which was noted by the civilian expert observer on the night the army blew up the stump, was a broken window in Burton's men's clothing shop at the northern corner of Nth. Earl St. and O'Connell Stret. You can clearly see the shop in question in the photo above and there is no doubt that the window has had it.

But retired Colonel Cleary should not carry this sorrow to his grave. This is a photo taken after the FIRST explosion and you can see the additional damage done to the traffic light by falling masonry. Sure, the compression from the blast went up and out over the rooftops, but tons of granite and limestone came tumbling down to ground level, consisting of a third of the column, the viewing platform itself and its own central pillar with Nelson himself on top of it.



And the first explosion cracked this window of a shop further down the street towards Clerys.

So, fellow Dubliners, would yiz ever give the army a break and a few cheers when they pass the reviewing stand at the GPO and the site of a job well done half a century ago.



Meanwhile the full text of the Colonel's original letter of ten years ago is a great read, so I have reproduced it below:

Sir - In the course of his article under the heading, 'Whatever happened to . . . Nelson's Pillar', in last Sunday's edition, your correspondent Rory Egan stated: "Army engineers were brought in to remove it [the stump]. Their 'controlled' explosion caused more damage than the original blast, much to the amusement of Dubliners."

Could I refer you to the 2004 Review of the Journal of Irish Mining and Quarrying Society (Extractive Industry Ireland 2004) and an article written by its editor, Tony Killian, titled Exploding the Myth: the Truth about the Demolition of Nelson's Pillar. Mr Killian is a member of the Institute of Explosive Engineers and worked as a technical engineer with the explosive supply industry since 1951, specialising in the design and supervision of blasting operations in the quarry and civil engineering fields. He has carried out numerous building and chimney stack demolitions in Ireland and the UK throughout his career.

Following the first blast on March 8, 1966, Mr Killian, who at the time was the technical representative with the main commercial explosives supplier in Ireland, was asked by the Gardai to inspect the remains of the monument, with a view to giving an opinion on methods and quantities of explosive used by the perpetrator, whoever he or she might have been.

He carried out an in-depth survey of the scene and asked permission to attend the army demolition of the stump at 0300 hours on the following Monday, March 15. The Army Engineer in charge of the operation, Comdt Jim Seward, later to be Colonel and Director of the Corps, one of my predecessors, outlined to Mr Killian the technique he intended to use to demolish the stump, and Comdt Seward incorporated a suggestion by Mr Killian in relation to additional protection to dampen flying material during the blasting operation. Mr Killian then took cover in a doorway in North Earl Street, about 70 yards away.

After the blast of the stump he walked about the site and observed one windowpane on the first floor of the GPO; upstairs windows on Worth's jewellery store at the corner of Henry Street; the window of Burton's shop - all broken. And a burglar alarm going off. He did not see any other broken windows, while admitting that air overpressure may have caused others to shatter. From an explosive engineer's perspective, he said that Comdt Seward had carried out the demolition in a very competent manner, despite extreme difficulties.

There were technical problems in relation to the boring of holes for the explosive charges, which had to be carried out from the outside and at street level, whereas the perpetrator of the first blast had the luxury of blowing from the inside of the column and above street level. The central layer of six inches of sand between the inner 24 inches of limestone and the outer eight inches of granite and the spiral stone staircase would have cushioned and deflected the blast outwards and upwards. Poor old Nelson didn't have a chance. The proof of the pudding lies in the subsequent claims for damage. At a City Council meeting on November 7, Matthew Macken, City Manager, said that in relation to the first blast, 36 claims had been received for malicious damage, totalling £18,864 19s 3d, and that 33 claims for damage to property totalling £4,180-9-10 had been received after the Army demolition. The latter claim may have included a claim for scaffolding used during the operation, of £995-17-10.

Mr Killian defines the myth as: "The first blast was an expert job which did no damage to property, but the Army blew up half of O'Connell Street." He asks if he should apologise for spoiling it with facts.

Not to me, Mr Killian, not to me. Colonel Michael Cleary, Chartered Engineer, Director of Engineering, Defence Forces
(Published in Sunday Independent on 19 March 2006)

You can see some army-broken windows here.

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