seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Construction of Royal Hospital Kilmainham Begins

royal-hospital-kilmainhamThe first stone of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in Kilmainham, Dublin, is laid by James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde, on April 29, 1680. Completed in 1684, it is one of the finest 17th-century buildings in Ireland.

The hospital is built by Sir William Robinson, official State Surveyor General of Ireland for James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to King Charles II, as a home for retired soldiers of the Irish Army and continues in that use for over 250 years. The style is based on Les Invalides in Paris with a formal facade and a large courtyard. The Royal Hospital Chelsea in Chelsea, London is completed two years later and also has similarities in style. A priory, founded in 1174 by Strongbow, exists on the site until the English close it down in the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s.

The Richmond Tower at the end of the formal avenue leading to the Royal Hospital is designed by Francis Johnston, one of the leading architects of the day. This gateway originally stands beside the River Liffey at Bloody Bridge (now Rory O’More Bridge), but has to be moved after the arrival of the railway in 1844 increases traffic congestion. Johnston places his personal coat of arms above the arch, concealed by a piece of wood painted to match the stone, his idea being that his arms would be revealed to future generations after the wood becomes rotten. However, his little trick is uncovered when the gateway is taken down for removal. The coat of arms currently on the gateway is that of the Royal Hospital.

The Royal Hospital Kilmainham graveyards, including Bully’s Acre, are 400 metres to the west. A cross-shaft in the former cemetery may be the remains of a boundary cross associated with a ninth-century monastery located at this site.

Following the creation of the Irish Free State the Royal Hospital is considered as a potential home for Oireachtas Éireann, the new Irish national parliament. Eventually it is decided to keep parliament in its temporary home in Leinster House. The Hospital remains the home of a dwindling number of soldiers, before being variously used by the Garda Síochána and as a storage location for property belonging to the National Museum of Ireland. The large statue Queen Victoria which used to stand in the forecourt of Leinster House, before its removal in 1947, is stored in the main courtyard of the Hospital, as are various state carriages, including the famously spectacular State Coach of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland. The Royal Hospital Kilmainham is finally restored by the Irish Government in 1984 and controversially opens as the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA). Some people working in heritage organisations criticise the decision to demolish the eighteenth-century barrack rooms in one section of the quadrangle to create open spaces for the IMMA.

Every year on the National Day of Commemoration, the Sunday nearest July 11, the anniversary of the Truce that ends the Irish War of Independence, the President of Ireland, in the presence of members of the Government of Ireland, members of Dáil Éireann and of Seanad Éireann, the Council of State, the Defence Forces, the Judiciary and the Diplomatic Corps, lays a wreath in the courtyard in memory of all Irishmen and Irishwomen who have died in past wars and on service with the United Nations.

In recent years, Royal Kilmainham Hospital has become a popular location for concerts during the summer months. Acts such as Blur, Leonard Cohen, The Flaming Lips, Jack White and Public Enemy have played within the grounds in the past.

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The Bombing of Nelson’s Pillar

nelsons-pillar-bombingA powerful explosion destroys the upper portion of Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin in the early morning hours of March 8, 1966, bringing Nelson’s statue crashing to the ground amid hundreds of tons of rubble. All that is left of the Pillar is a 70-foot high jagged stump. The pillar is seen by many as an anachronistic monument to English occupation of Ireland, especially as 1966 is the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Nelson’s Pillar is a large granite column capped by a statue of Horatio Nelson, built in the centre of what is then Sackville Street (later renamed O’Connell Street) in Dublin. It is completed in 1809 when Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. Its remnants are later destroyed by the Irish Army.

The decision to build the monument is taken by Dublin Corporation in the euphoria following Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The original design by William Wilkins is greatly modified by Francis Johnston, on grounds of cost. The statue is sculpted by Thomas Kirk. From its opening on October 29, 1809 the Pillar is a popular tourist attraction, but provokes aesthetic and political controversy from the outset. A prominent city centre monument honouring an Englishman rankles as Irish nationalist sentiment grows, and throughout the 19th century there are calls for it to be removed, or replaced with a memorial to an Irish hero.

During the Easter Rising in 1916 an attempt is made to blow up the pillar but the explosives fail to ignite due to dampness. It remains in the city as most of Ireland becomes the Irish Free State in 1922, and the Republic of Ireland in 1949. The chief legal barrier to its removal is the trust created at the Pillar’s inception, the terms of which gave the trustees a duty in perpetuity to preserve the monument. Successive Irish governments fail to deliver legislation overriding the trust. Although influential literary figures such as James Joyce, William Butler Yeats and Oliver St. John Gogarty defend the Pillar on historical and cultural grounds, pressure for its removal intensifies in the years preceding the 50th anniversary of the Rising, and its sudden demise is, on the whole, well received by the public. Although it is widely believed that the action is the work of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the police are unable to identify any of those responsible.

After years of debate and numerous proposals, the site is occupied in 2003 by the Spire of Dublin, a slim needle-like structure rising almost three times the height of the Pillar. In 2000 a former republican activist gives a radio interview in which he admits planting the explosives in 1966, but after questioning him the Gardaí decides not to take action. Relics of the Pillar are found in Dublin museums and appear as decorative stonework elsewhere, and its memory is preserved in numerous works of Irish literature.