seamus dubhghaill

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


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Placement of the First Section of the Spire of Dublin

The first section of the Spire of Dublin, alternatively titled the Monument of Light, is lifted into place on December 18, 2002. The spire is a large, stainless steel, pin-like monument 390-feet in height, located on the site of the former Nelson’s Pillar and statue of William Blakeney on O’Connell Street in Dublin.

The Spire is designed by Ian Ritchie Architects, who sought an “elegant and dynamic simplicity bridging art and technology.” The contract is awarded to SIAC-Radley JV and it is manufactured by Radley Engineering of Dungarvan, County Waterford, and erected by SIAC Construction Ltd & GDW Engineering Ltd.

The first section is installed on December 18, 2002. Construction of the sculpture is delayed because of difficulty in obtaining planning permission and environmental regulations. The Spire consists of eight hollow stainless steel cone sections, the longest being 66 feet, which are installed on January 21, 2003. It is an elongated cone of diameter, 9.8 feet at the base narrowing to 5.9 inches at the top. It features two tuned mass dampers, designed by engineers Arup, to counteract sway. The steel undergoes shot peening to alter the quality of light reflected from it.

The pattern around the base of the Spire is based on a core sample of rock formation taken from the ground where the spire stands and the DNA double helix. The pattern is applied by bead blasting the steel through rubber stencil masks whose patterns are created by water jet cutting based on core sample drawings supplied by the contractor. The design around the 33-foot lower part of the Spire is created by the architects making a 3D pattern model combining the core sample and double helix and then digitally translated to a 2D image drawing supplied to the contractor and used by specialists for cutting the masking material.

At dusk, the base of the monument is lit and the top 33 feet is illuminated through 11,884 holes through which light-emitting diodes shine.

The monument is commissioned as part of a street layout redesign in 1999. O’Connell Street had been in decline for a number of reasons such as the proliferation of fast food restaurants and the opening of bargain shops using cheap plastic shop fronts which were unattractive and obtrusive, the existence of derelict sites and the destruction in 1966 of Nelson’s Pillar following a bombing by former Irish Republican Army (IRA) members.

The Anna Livia monument is installed on the site for the 1988 Dublin Millennium celebrations. In the 1990s, plans are launched to improve the streetscape. The number of trees in the central reservation, which had overgrown and obscured views and monuments, are reduced dramatically. This is controversial, as the trees had been growing for a century. Statues are cleaned and in some cases relocated. Shop-owners are required to replace plastic signage and frontage with more attractive designs. Traffic is re-directed where possible away from the street and the number of traffic lanes is reduced to make it more appealing to pedestrians. The centrepiece of this regeneration is to be a replacement monument for Nelson’s Pillar, the Spire of Dublin, chosen from a large number of submissions in an international competition by a committee chaired by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Joe Doyle. The Anna Livia monument is moved to make way for the Spire in 2001.

Some opposition initially greets the monument. Supporters compare it to other initially unpopular urban structures such as the Eiffel Tower, while detractors complain that the Spire has little architectural or cultural connection to the city. It has inspired a number of nicknames, as is common with public art in Dublin, including the nail in the Pale, the stiletto in the ghetto, the pin in the bin, the stiffy by the Liffey, the spire in the mire, or the spike.


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Irish Protests of the War in Iraq

iraq-war-protestOn the evening of March 20, 2003, up to 2,000 people take part in a protest outside the United States Embassy at Ballsbridge in Dublin to voice their opposition to the war in Iraq. This is one of numerous protests held in response to the Irish Anti-War Movement‘s call on Irish citizens to mount mass protests against the U.S.-led war in Iraq. The group says thousands of workers, students and school pupils had taken part in stoppages and walk-outs throughout the day.

Richard Boyd Barrett, the chairman of the IAWM, says, “The complicity of the Irish government in this murderous war through providing facilities for the U.S. military at Shannon Airport is an absolute disgrace. “This war has little support among ordinary people and has provoked a wave of anger and revulsion. We call on the people of Ireland to come out in their thousands at 6:00 PM tonight to their town centre demonstrations to show this carnage is not being mounted in our names.”

Earlier in the day, several hundred protesters gather outside Dáil Éireann to protest the Irish Government‘s decision to continue allowing U.S. military aircraft use Shannon Airport. The Dáil is holding a six-hour debate on a Government motion which, among other topics, contains a clause permitting U.S. forces continued use of Irish airspace and facilities.

A 10-minute work stoppage at noon is observed by thousands of people, the IAWM claims. They say hundreds of students in University College Dublin, Dublin City University, University of Limerick and the Waterford Institute of Technology walked out, as did secondary school students in several schools in Dublin. Up to 1,000 students from second level colleges in Derry take part in an hour-long city centre protest. Around 50 health workers at Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown, staff at the National Museum of Ireland in Kildare Street and Collins Barracks and workers at the Motor Taxation office in Cork also stop work.

The NGO Peace Alliance says it is “extremely disappointed” at the Government’s refusal to condemn the attack on Iraq. “We call upon thousands of Irish people to reject this shameful position by thronging the streets of Dublin and other cities and towns next Saturday” said the alliance’s co-ordinator, Brendan Butler.

SIPTU‘s National Executive Council also interrupts their monthly meeting. “This war is not only unnecessary but illegitimate in the context of international law”, says Joe O’Flynn, SIPTU General Secretary.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions organises peace vigils on March 21 at the Spire of Dublin and other locations in various town and cities. Weekend anti-war protests take place in Dublin, Cork, Derry, Belfast, Galway, Sligo and Waterford.

(From: “Thousands protest against war at US Embassy” by Kilian Doyle, The Irish Times, March 20, 2003)


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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.