Nelson Pillar, Dublin
Architect: William Wilkins (1808)
Photograph: Edwin Smith (1965)
Source: RIBA British Architectural Library Photographs Collection
Long before London had Nelson’s Column, Dublin had its own version: The Nelson Pillar. Designed in 1808 by the English architect William Wilkins (1778-1839), the pillar was topped by Thomas Kirk’s statue of Admiral Nelson. Some forty metres high it was, at the time, the tallest Doric column in the world. An early work by Wilkins, who was already making a name for himself as a leading Greek Revivalist, it was the greatest monument of Georgian Dublin, with the finest public viewpoint in the city.
One year after this fine photograph was taken, Nelson Pillar was blown up. The Pillar had long been an unpopular symbol of British rule. The IRA decided to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising against the British with its destruction. The headquarters of the Rising was the General Post Office, through the columns of which the Pillar is seen here. The General Post Office was another building in the Greek Revival style, this time by the Irish architect Francis Johnston (1760-1829), who had supervised the construction of Nelson’s Pillar for Wilkins.
Now standing on the site of the Pillar is a 120-metre tall stainless steel needle designed by Ian Ritchie and built 2003-4. Officially called The Spire, like its predecessor, it has attracted much controversy, and alternative names.