Pearse and the Pillar

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By Donal Fallon (Come Here to Me)

The afterlife of the Nelson Pillar on O’Connell Street is every bit as interesting as its lifespan, and from the late 1960s onwards various committees and campaign groups lobbied with the aim of placing a monument in the location where Nelson had stood.

One reoccuring proposal was to replace Nelson with a monument to Patrick Pearse. Indeed, the idea of putting Pearse on top of the monument was even floating around before the destruction of the Pillar, with a motion calling for Nelson to be removed and replaced by the revolutionary leader brought before Dublin Corporation in August 1948.

In 1979, architect Yann Goulet brought forward a controversial model (pictured, right) for a proposed Pearse monument to the City Council.

Higher than the GPO, and containing over 150,000 pounds worth of bronze, the proposal was ridiculed when brought towards the City Council, with Councillor Frank Sherwin stating “it should be thrown in the Liffey”, while Councillor Hanna Barlow described it as “the yoke”. The proposed 100-foot-high abstract monument did not enjoy significant support from any quarters, but it is was just one proposed monument in honour of Pearse for the site. An earlier proposal in the same year came from the Pearse Commemoration Committee, who proposed a much more traditional style monument, to be carried out by sculptor Gary Trimble. The Irish Independent newspaper totally opposed any monument to Pearse in an editorial which noted:

If anything is to replace the Pillar, it should be something which will bring people together, and not something which will caused divisiveness and bitterness, as the proposed Pearse statue is clearly destined to do.

There were wild scenes at one meeting to discuss a proposed Pearse monument, when Lord Mayor Paddy Belton condemned the Pearse Commemoration Committee as “a bunch of Provos”, insisting that members of Sinn Fein were to the fore of the campaign to honour Pearse on O’Connell Street. This was a hugely controversial remark, as the Pearse committee had come from a very broad spectrum of Irish society, including Gael Linn and other Irish language groups. Bord Failte also objected to any planned memorial to Pearse, a surprise blow to the campaign, on the grounds that “it may interfere with the view of the GPO which is the vocal point of O’Connell Street.”

Trimble’s proposed monument (left) was comparable in size to the monument to Parnell, and would show Pearse reading from a book, surrounded by children.

Various points of view on any proposed monument to Pearse were reported in the media, ranging from over-the-top praise (“The messiah of the nation’s revival” in the words of Frank Sherwin) to calls for a monument that would be inclusive of the other 1916 leaders. Tomas Mac Giolla for example noted that James Connolly should not be forgotten in any monument at the site. The Pearse pressure group continued to campaign for the placing of a monument to Pearse on O’Connell Street, even if the Pillar site itself was off-limits. Councillor Pat Carroll reportedly pondered if it would be possible “to take down one of the monuments in O’Connell Street, such as that of John Gray, which did not seem to be too important.” However with Gray’s leading role in establishing a clean water supply for much of Dublin, I’d argue today he is far from unimportant!

Today, James Connolly remains the only one of the seven signatories of the proclamation with a statue in Dublin city centre.

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