Dear Friends and Fellow-Sailors, an introductory blog from Nelson's Head

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Nelson's PillarDear Friends and Fellow-Sailors

I have recently been celebrating my 10th anniversary in Dublin City Library and Archive, where I have very comfortable quarters. I have a stout plinth for my head and a view across the Reading Room – it’s my job to keep my one good eye on the students – who are all very hardworking - maybe thanks to my supervision! They tell me I’m a valued member of staff and they couldn’t do without me – good to know I’m still so useful as I’m 207 years old.

Image of Nelson's Pillar from O'Connell Street, Fáilte Ireland CollectionI must tell you what happened to me fifty years ago – you won’t believe it! I used to stand on top of a pillar in Sackville Street – which is known today as O’Connell Street. Now that was a grand view! The whole of Dublin city laid out before me and people paying good money to climb up and stand as near to me as possible. The only drawback was the wind and rain – I was made of Portland stone which weathers easily, so I soon looked just as weather-beaten in stone in as I had been in life. Alas, my days were numbered. My friend Henry Grattan, who lived in City Hall, told me that Dublin City Council was planning to get rid of me but they just couldn’t decide who should replace me. The hero of the working classes Jim Larkin? The leader of the 1916 Rising Patrick Pearse? I wondered and worried about what they were going to do with me. My sculptor was the famous Thomas Kirk. Would they put me in the National Gallery as an example of his craftsmanship? Or would they take me down and sell me? In the end, we were all overtaken by events.

Image: Nelson's PillarFáilte Ireland Tourism Photographic Collection (click to view larger image)

I was having a snooze in the early morning of 8 March 1966 when I had a rude awakening. A bomb planted by a dissident group went off underneath me. I shot into the air and fell all the way down to the street – lucky for me my Head was intact although I did lose some of my nose. Half of the Pillar was gone, but the other half was blown up by the Irish Army a week later. Meantime, my Head had been rescued and placed in a Dublin Corporation depot.

Nelson's Pillar, 1966, Dublin City Council Photographic CollectionYou might think that was exciting enough, but my adventures were only beginning. One night I was spirited away by five students from the College of Art – fine strong fellows, as I’m told that my Head is very heavy. One of these students later achieved fame as the character ‘Eamon’ in the television show The Riordans. Off we went to my old stomping ground in London. There the lads lent me to an antiques shop for a monthly fee – they were trying to clear the debts of their students’ union. I was the centrepiece of the window display but after some months the students reclaimed me. They did offer me to Lady Nelson but she must have thought I was too battered to take in. Anyway, we all returned to Dublin, where I took part in a fashion shoot on Killiney Beach. This cheered me up a lot, as clearly my rugged features were just right for modelling! My next engagement was on stage with the Dubliners in the Olympia Theatre. Man, that was just great! I love sea-shanties and ballads so I had a marvellous time. The Dubliners even had songs about me – famous again.

Image: Nelson's Pillar, 1966, Dublin City Council Photographic Collection (click to view larger image)

But soon a halt was put to my gallop. Dublin Corporation sent An Garda Síochána to reclaim me and I returned to the depot for a while. My next stop was the Civic Museum and then, in 2005, my move to Dublin City Library & Archive. As I said earlier, I have a grand time here – we have 70,000 visits a year and everyone can see me free of charge. Every five years, we have a commemoration of my downfall, with talks, songs, plays and poetry. After all, I’m a real Dublin icon and it makes people happy to think of me and remember their childhood and youth.

Well, good-bye for the moment – I’m branching out into social media now – modern me! – and will bring you a monthly blog/tweet called ‘News from Nelson’ where you can find out the latest from the collections at Dublin City Library & Archive.


I was watching him watching me.

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