Wednesday, March 09, 2016


Nelson's Head (actual)
Click on any image for a larger version

Admiral Nelson vacated his perch on The Pillar on the morning of 8 March 1966. At the time his demise almost overshadowed the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising.

There is no fear today of Nelson, absent from his perch for the last 50 years, overshadowing the 100 year commemoration of the Rising. In fact we are nearly in danger of forgetting about Nelson altogether this year with all the 1916 events taking place and the consolation of the ever beautiful Spire in our hearts.

So it is great that the Dublin City Library & Archive have stepped in and organised a Nelson's Pillar seminar for the day. They are the custodians of the most significant bit of the oul admiral to survive the fall: his head (above)

Mary Clarke

It is hardly necessary for me to remind readers of this blog of the pivotal role of City Archivist, Mary Clarke, in preserving and sharing the City's heritage over the years. Well, she was at it again, and it was she who kicked off the seminar.

Alastair Smeaton

First on was a reading by Alastair Smeaton from the Evening Correspondent of 16 February 1808, the year before The Pillar was built. I was initially concentrating on taking his photo, not realising how brief the extract would be, so he was already finished when I started listening. I assume it must have been about the plans for The Pillar and the public subscription by which it was financed.

As I'm only going to give him one photo, I should mention that he returned to the stage later in the show to bring us a few prophetic lines from Louis MacNeice about Dublin falling down.

Tony Fitzpatrick

We were then sung a ballad called Lord Nelson, written by Tommy Makem and performed by Tony Fitzpatrick. As he's also only getting one photo, I should mention here that he gave us another one later on: Nelson's Farewell written by Joe Dolan from Galway.

Donal Fallon

Next we had a potted version of the Nelson Pillar story from the ubiquitous nelsoniser, Donal Fallon. Donal has written the definitive book on the subject, but in his relatively short piece, he concentrated on the run up to the explosion and the immediate aftermath, which was appropriate given the day that was in it. You can catch up on a summary through the piece he had in the Irish Times earlier in the morning.

Luke Cheevers

Luke Cheevers, himself, wrote a ballad on the day of the explosion. It is a mighty ballad and he gave us a fine rendering of it in sean nós style.

A Packed House

The packed audience reacted to all of this with wild enthusiasm and it was over all to soon. It was some consolation that all were invited to meet with the Head upstairs and, in keeping with modern custom, take selfies if they were overcome with a desire to do so.

This was a change from some years ago when I was not allowed to photograph the Head as I would have been in competition with the sale of postcards of same at €2 each.

So, this time, I headed upstairs to take my long sought after photo.

Nicking a photo from Donal's book

When I got there I found a tv newsteam from RTÉ who were doing a piece on the Head for insertion into the TG4 news later in the evening. So, once again I went on air to recount my encounter with the Head on Killiney Beach some fifty years ago.

As it happened, I had Donal's book with me and the team copied the photo of the students stuffing the Head back into the boot of their Austin Mini after a fashion photoshoot at the shoreline.

Tony Fitzpatrick & Luke Cheevers

Then the team decamped downstairs to film Tony and Luke singing in front of the marvellous model of the Piller in the 1916 exhibition.

Tony & Luke

There's no doubt about it, but it takes a fierce amount of concentration to project the casual look. Great performance lads.

Mé féin agus an Ceann eile ar nuacht TG4

I must say I enjoyed observing the RTÉ team in action. Very professional. Presenter/Director was Peadar Mac Gaoithín (from Baile na Finne, unofficially known as Fintown, in Donegal) and Ian Mac Murchaidh, from where I know not, but they were both ag stealladh Gaeilge for the duration.

If you want to catch up on all you ever wanted to know about The Pillar you can take a peek here.

The final TG4 news item is here (as long as it lasts).

Or you can try for the direct TG4 link here, but you may need to go manually to 14 minutes & 19 seconds in, and I think you have only a month from the date of this blog to look at it.

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