Category: Archive

Dublin Report: Millennium Spike goes the way of Nelson’s Pillar

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By John Kelly

"Are ye getting up or what!" the landlady shouted. "Call yerself a reporter! Yeh’ll never get any class of a job in Dublin. Did yeh not hear the news, yeh larragawn?"

I switched on the radio, gingerly. I had just spent the weekend in Dublin, dancing with honey gold blondes and luscious brunettes in the Metropole ballroom, which, like vast tracts of the Dublin that existed in the swinging 1960s, is no longer there.

It was a Monday morning and I was back in Carlow. It was time to go to work. What I heard on the Radio Eireann (It was not titled RTE then) knocked all thoughts of breakfast out of my mind.

Nelson Pillar had been blown up.

That incredible heap, topped by its one-eyed admiral, was now nothing more than a pile of rubble. The heroic statue of Horatio Nelson, the indomitable seaman and accomplished adulterer, now lay strewn in smithereens over O’Connell Street, adjacent to the Metropole.

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"They got the oul’ bugger at last! That’s Dublin for yeh," the landlady cackled, as I gulped down the watery egg. "I’m off!" I shouted, sprinting through the hall before I even hit the street.

Dublin was the place to be.

I never imagined, as I collected a few souvenir bits of rubble later in O’Connell Street, along with the entire Irish population, it seemed, that Michael O’Nullain would ever come into the picture.

O’Nullain has become a friend of mine in the most peculiar fashion. I first met him many years ago and told him that I had what was probably the last lines ever penned by his brother.

He was no ordinary brother, mind you. Brian O’Nullain was best known in Dublin as Myles na gCopaleen, better known to the international world of literature in which he still flourishes, although long dead, as Flann O’Brien, author of the classic "At Swim Two Birds" and "The Third Policeman."

He was one of the greatest writers in 20th century Ireland, a contemporary and occasional friend of other scribblers like Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh, J.P. Donleavy, and Benedict Kiely. In short he was respected among the most respected and proved that James Joyce was not the only bull in the pasture.

Michael is also quite well known — and justifiably so — in the world of the arts. He is an accomplished painter. The mischievous wit he inherited genetically along with his later brother, the most famed columnist ever in the Irish Times, among all of his many other accomplishments, surfaced in Michael’s case through his caustic career as a cartoonist, better known as "Kilroy" in the Irish Independent.

If ever you saunter through the foyer of the Abbey Theatre, you will see one of his better-known canvasses, an almost life-size painting of Brendan Behan, swaggering from out of the folds of a billowing tweed coat, his head tucked in that characteristic birdlike fashion, on his shoulder.

One of Brian O O’Nullain’s best character creation was "The Brother," the man who knew almost everything. He was immortalized by Eamon Morrissey, especially, in his famed one-man show.

What the brother didn’t know was not worth knowing. He could tell you about every ailment that man, or woman, ever suffered. He could tell you about the history of Mongolia, the complicated topography of Tibet and the best cure for the morning after.

It is no secret to Michael O’Nullain that I find a great deal in common with him in real life and the fictional "Brother."

But now he has really gone one better than even the fictional character could.

He has spiked the "Spike," as Dubliners, with customary wit, have already labeled the award-winning design for the edifice that was to replace Nelson Pillar in the center of O’Connell Street, the city’s most famous thoroughfare. The towering slim pillar was supposed to be the central feature of the Millennium Year.

The designer saw it as the expression of the new and the old Ireland, tied to the earth but soaring optimistically and awesomely into the heavens, or something to that effect.

Michael, who took part in the international competition, has described the design as being both impressive and effective. However, he considered that it would be more suitable to the open space of the Phoenix Park rather than the more confined space of O’Connell Street with its traditional statues and smaller scale buildings, dominated as it is by the historic General Post Office, the main focus for the 1916 Rising.

Whatever about all of that, he did not consider that Dublin Corporation had carried out an environment study of the impact of the structure, as obliged under statute. So, he took Dublin Corporation to court — and won. An injunction has now been served, stipulating that the "Spike" cannot be erected in O’Connell Street

An appeal is pending. But no matter what the eventual outcome may be, Michael O’Nullain has certainly proved that the little man can win against the most powerful institutions.

The big brother would have been proud of him.

One of his principal arguments was a highly telling one, in my view. The most famous aspect of Nelson Pillar, unlike its counterpart in London’s Trafalgar Circus, was that you could climb up its winding staircase, leading to a reasonably sizable viewing platform. From there, you could see almost all of Dublin.

The city has grown apace since then and it would hardly be possible to view all of it in the round, so to speak. But many a child yet to come into the world would feel very badly deprived compared to his forebears if any new "pillar" in Dublin does not have a viewing platform.

What use would the Statue of Liberty be if it did not also provide some of the most spectacular views of the Big Apple and the Hudson?

Michael O’Nullain won his point about the conduct of Dublin Corporation. It really has a checkered history in the development of such city enterprises, extending all the way back to the 19th century and the "Wide Streets" controversy, which even managed to involve the great Daniel O’Connell.

The victory leaves Dublin and Dubliners with a problem.

What are we going to do for the millennium?

Can anybody think of anything better than a 400-foot metal spike?

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