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Man details destruction of Nelson’s Pillar in ’66

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — A group of IRA dissidents were responsible for blowing up Dublin’s most famous landmark, Nelson’s Pillar, on the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising Easter Rising, one of its members has confessed for the first time.

Who was responsible for the blast that toppled the statue of British Admiral Lord Nelson from the top of the pillar on O’Connell Street had remained a mystery until Liam Sutcliffe, 67, broke his 34-year silence on RTE last Sunday.

Various republican groups have been blamed for the blast over the years. It had been widely speculated an OAS demolitions expert had been brought in from France in 1966 to set the charges.

The explosion occurred at 1:32 a.m. on March 8 and cleanly cut the top third off the 134-foot-high granite monument.

Much more damage was caused afterward when an army demolition team demolished the stump of the pillar with explosives.

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The pillar, which had stood for 157 years and had survived the bombing of the nearby GPO in the 1916 Rising, had been a favorite meeting place for Dubliners. It had a viewing platform at the top.

No one was injured in the blast. The IRA disclaimed responsibility at the time and no one has ever been charged.

Speaking on the program "Voices of the 20th Century," Sutcliffe said he was now an old man and was confessing for the sake of history.

He said the plan to topple the hero of the Battle of Trafalgar arose out of a conversation in a pub among republicans.

They deplored the fact that a British admiral remained on the pillar in the central location in the city’s main street 50 years after the country had won its freedom.

The five strong group from the republican splinter group called their attack "Operation Humpty Dumpty."

Sutcliffe revealed there were two attempts to topple Nelson.

A week before the successful blast, one of the team had panicked and had bungled the setting of the timing device.

He had reset the explosive, a homemade bomb composed of gelignite from friends in the building industry and ammonia left over from the 1950s IRA campaign.

"I felt a great exhilaration and I was glad he was gone," Sutcliffe said.

Program host Colm Keane said he had checked out Sutcliffe’s story and has no doubt it was genuine.

A £3-million, 400-foot high stainless steel needle, designed by London-based architect Ian Richie to last 500 years, is under consideration to replace the pillar as millennium project for Dublin.

The design was chosen following a worldwide competition for a monument that would represent the capital in the same way that the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty symbolize Paris and New York, respectively.

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