Glasnevin tomb’s round tower to come back from dead

The tower above O'Connell's tomb in Glasnevin cemetery
The tower above O'Connell's tomb in Glasnevin cemetery
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Restoration work is soon to begin on what may be one of the most unusual targets of Troubles violence – a gigantic round tower at a Dublin tomb.

Labourers are poised to start rebuilding the staircase inside the structure, which stands above the crypt of Daniel O’Connell, the 19th century Catholic political reformer.

George McCullough expects work on the tower to be completed by early next year

George McCullough expects work on the tower to be completed by early next year

The 170ft-tall tower in the city’s Glasnevin cemetery was bombed at 4am on January 18, 1971, and although nobody has ever been brought to book for the attack it is believed by many to have been the work of the UVF.

The blast failed to destroy the tower, but the tall spiral staircase which led visitors to the top of the monument was wrecked.

“Very little damage was done to the fabric of the tower,” said George McCullough, CEO of the Glasnevin Trust.

“It acted like a huge cannon and shot most of the debris out through the top windows; it directed the blast upwards and outwards through a large door 30ft up.”

It has been suggested that the bombing may have been a kind of “revenge” for the demolition of Nelson’s Column by the IRA.

That towering British landmark, which had stood in the city’s O’Connell Street, was bombed in 1966.

For decades the whole of O’Connell’s tomb was blocked up completely for fear of a repeat attack, but in recent years the basement-level part which houses the renowned barrister’s body was opened.

In the next two weeks, work will start on the new stairway so that visitors can once more ascend the round tower – which is understood to be the largest structure of its kind in Ireland.

“We have all our material in situ,” said Mr McCullough, adding that the new iron staircase will be based on a fragment of the old one which was discovered as scrap.

“We hope to be finished and operational by January or February in time for next year’s season.”

Conor Dodd, tour guide and historian at Glasnevin cemetery, said: “It’s a beautiful view up there. We’re at sea level here, and you can see right around.

“It’s remarkable that it’s going to be back there for people to see again.

“It has been a bit of a delay, but it’ll be well worth seeing.”

Although the bombing has been credited to the UVF, he himself is not entirely convinced, citing the fact that by that stage five years had passed since the Nelson’s Column incident.

“Whether it was one particular unionist group or another, nobody really knows,” he said.

“I suspect it would have been a group of some description, but who that group was and what their reason was would be unknown. It’s definitely one of those mysteries that remains unsolved.”