The column before the storm
The Times We Lived In – Published: early 1960s. Photograph: Eddie Kelly
A quiet day on Henry Street in the early 1960s. Actually a very quiet day: there’s not a shopper in sight. The Arnott’s clock says 6.30. If that’s correct, perhaps it’s early in the morning rather than early evening. Even so, the street does seem deserted to an almost apocalyptic degree.
And what’s that weird chunky hulk lurking at the junction?
No, it’s not an errant alien spaceship. It’s Nelson’s Pillar, shortly before it was blown up in March 1966.
This photograph didn’t actually appear in the paper, and we don’t know why, or even exactly when, it was taken. At the time the image would have seemed entirely unremarkable. To our eyes, though, it’s fascinating because it shows Nelson on a normal day. Not being blown up or being knocked down. Just being there.
And for this viewer at least, it brings home – more than any other shot I’ve ever seen – exactly how massive was the English admiral’s effect on the streetscape.
It wasn’t just that Nelson was tall – at 40 metres he was a squib compared to the rocket that is the 120-metre Monument of Light, aka The Spire of Dublin. But he was extraordinarily solid, some 626 cubic metres of black limestone and 207 cubit metres of granite having been used in his construction.
Poor old Nelson. Loved and hated, his pillar was a considerable draw for tourists, offering a fantastic view of Dublin from its platform as well as a sure-fire pre-Google-maps meeting place. When he finally came down from his pedestal, he turned out to look not at all like a conquering hero, but more of a confused pensioner.
If he were still standing today, what would he be called? The Gollum on the column? The chiller on the pillar? The squint on the plinth? On the basis of this image, I don’t miss him. But if you do, you can go to Pearse Street Library and say hello to his baffled old head.
These and other Irish Times images can be purchased from: irishtimes.com/photosales. A book, The Times We Lived In, with more than 100 photographs and commentary by Arminta Wallace, published by Irish Times Books, is available from irishtimes.com and from bookshops, priced at €19.99.