THE PILLAR

On the evening of March 1st 1966, a medium sized man in a grey trench coat and trilby hat unlocked the main door of Nelson's Pillar and entered unnoticed. Using two other keys he then opened two iron gates, giving him access to the pillar stairway. Within half an hour he had allowed in three other men, all carrying small parcels.

Nelson's Pillar

These contained an Amatol based concoction and gelignite. The Amatol had been stolen some time earlier from Flemings Fireclays in Athy, Co Kildare.

The gelignite had come from a quarry store in North Dublin the previous month, after five raiders had arrived at ten o clock in a pick-up van. They dragged a number of oxyacetylene bottles some distance to the reinforced store and placed a canvas cover over the front of the building to shield the sparks from the roadside below. The cutter, a tall gaunt man, secluded himself inside the cover and began to work. He had some difficulty in lighting the torch which made a series of loud bangs, each one scaring the daylights out of the four watchers.

Eventually he succeeded in lighting the torch and proceeded to shower sparks all over the inside of his canvas tent. The watchers moved back to a safe distance. Every now and then the cutter had to turn off his torch and emerge from the canvas for air, at which he would be greeted with encouraging remarks like:

"Hey Frankie, do you believe in the Big Bang theory?"

"I'd swear I saw yer guardian angel legging it down the road."

By midnight the cutter ran out of gas with the door still intact. The other four summoned up the courage to inspect the vandalized door.

"She'll go with a sledge," announced one authoritatively.

Two of them duly went off for a sledgehammer and arrived back an hour later. The other three were freezing and, to warm themselves, took it in turns to work on the door with the sledgehammer, with little success.

The two who brought the sledge watched these futile attempts and made sarcastic remarks: "I'd do more damage with me mickey."

"Stick to the fountain pen, office boy."

This was too much for the man on the sledge and he turned and threw it towards the two commentators. How dare these people treat him as if he was dirt: as if he could be bludgeoned with blather: his people had been in Dublin for generations and his finely attuned Dublin ear was quick to pick up a culchie accent amongst his tormentors.

"Go on then, Galway," he urged.

The Galway man turned to his accomplice.

"You go first and I'll follow."

"There'll be nobody following this kid."

The sledge was picked up with supreme confidence and a cursory inspection was made of the door in the watery moonlight.

"Just as I thought, you're hitting the fucking thing in the fucking wrong place."

"Oh, so that's the reason," said the Dublin man sarcastically.

The accomplice drew back the sledge and swung wildly. It missed the door completely and continuing in a smooth arc crashed into the chest of the Dublin man. The victim uttered a deep groan, clutched his chest and collapsed to the ground. The others gathered round the prostrate figure and helped him to his feet.

The sledge swinger was staggering around and yelling and it was only then that the others realized that he was drunk, having brought a bottle of whisky with him which he had been furtively slugging from unnoticed by the others. Two of the men levered in the door while the injured man, who was puking all over the quarry, was helped by the drunk and the van driver onto the back of the pick-up. A small amount of gelignite was filched. On their way to store this with the Amatol in a veteran Republican's coal yard off Mountjoy Square, they dropped the injured man and the drunk at the Mater Hospital.

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The keys to the Nelson monument had been copied when one of the four had taken part in a student occupation of the pillar the previous year.

The four proceeded slowly up the stone steps, until thirty feet up Murphy's law came into operation. The bulb in the single torch they carried blew. The men cursed and looked at each other, a futile exercise in the inky blackness. The plan had been to climb to the top and send the stone Admiral into orbit over Dublin.

"Joe will have our knackers for onion soup if we don't go to the fucking top."

The conspirators cursed again but continued to grope their way up in the darkness, sweating and panting.

At between seventy and eighty feet, one, who began to suffer from claustrophobia, refused to go further.

"Set the fucking thing off here," agreed another, "I think I can feel Nelson's conjockelors," he shouted as he groped out in the darkness.

"Get yer maulers off me balls, yah fucking queer," ordered the fourth man.

"If we go any higher we'll be like those cunts in the fucking Tower of Babel. We'll all start talking through our fucking arses."

"We'll be banished to the Gaeltacht."

Time was beginning to become a priority with the conspirators. The bomb had to be detonated before the late night dances finished to minimize the danger of civilian casualties.

The man in the trench coat took out his matches and took the three Evening Presses from the other men. They had been pretending to read these studiously when they stood outside the pillar entrance earlier, while waiting for the chance to slip in unnoticed.

As the other three proceeded slowly down, the explosive expert set to work priming the gelignite. He did this in total darkness. Every so often he checked his work by striking a match and setting fire to some rumpled sheets of the Evening Presses. Those groping below looked up anxiously as the eerie glow threw weird shadows around them. Each successful inspection was announced with a shout of "Bombs Away", as he tossed the burning paper down the echoing column.

"If we don't get out of here soon that cunt will blow us all to fucking bits."

"We'll get the bollocks blown out of us," declared the fourth man who was still preoccupied with the possibility that one of the other three was a closet homosexual.

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Joe looked at the antique carriage clock on his mantelpiece in Rathmines and cursed the silence. "I knew he was just a bummer," he muttered to himself.

"They're all just arseholes," he groaned to Murphy the following day. "We should have called in Liam Sutcliffe."

"Now you're sucking diesel Joe," said Murphy.

Liam Sutcliffe

Sutcliffe joined the IRA in 1954 when he was eighteen years old. It was just after the IRA raid on Gough Barracks in Armagh.

"Go missing for three months," said his IRA recruiting officer. "Tell nobody, not even your family."

"But sure if I tell nobody, sure me family will go to the police and report me missing," reasoned Sutcliffe.

Within a few months of him becoming an IRA volunteer he had also joined the Royal Irish Fusiliers in the British Army and became an IRA intelligence agent in Gough Barracks. He later joined Saor Ulaidh and was active in the 1956-62 military Border campaign carried out by both Saor Ulaidh and the IRA.

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Secure behind a wall of snores, beneath a heavy confusion of blankets, in the upstairs bedroom of his Rathmines G. H. Q., Joe lay sleeping.

He was a fierce veteran of Irish revolutionary struggle whose very ferocity had led the Irish Republican Army to expel him in June 1956. Leaving then Joe had taken most of the Dublin Brigade and many country volunteers with him to join Liam Kelly's recently formed Saor Ulaidh organisation.

Ten years had passed. Operation Harvest, which the IRA leadership had been planning just at the time they kicked him out, had begun prematurely in the blaze of fires Joe and Liam lit along the Border later that same year. Like those fires it fizzled out all too quickly.

Now, with the failure of that campaign still weighing on his mind, with himself well wrapped up against the ravages of an Irish night, Joe lay dreaming.

Joe dreamed he was cycling at speed, houses on the Clontarf Road flashing past and he heading in the lead for the finishing line of this stage of the Ras Tailteann, with all the world and its photographers waiting to greet his victorious self.

This was all Joe's life's joys of a dream, but his military training, and his sceptical, not to say paranoid, state of mind, reminded him of the active principle of his filled to overflowing life.

"A bicycle race," he had often said, "does not begin as such. It never ends. All it does is this: it continues and, as it does, sometimes along the way it changes form."

And so he was not in the least surprised when a horde of Vikings in dragon-headed ships and horned helmets descended upon the beach and began to fight in a confused battle that involved other Vikings and Irishmen on both sides of the contest. It was 1014, and this was the Good Friday Disagreement.

"Sure isn't that always the way of it in these parts," he thought. "West Brits and the wealthy fighting on the side of the foreigner, upholding the invaders' cause, shower of bloody traitors that they are!"

Along the beach Joe saw the guard around King Brian dwindling as warriors ran off in pursuit of defeated enemies. Looking more closely he noticed the long cadaverous figure of the sneakedy Branchman known as Pah Wah circling the King's position.

Pah Wah was disguised as one of the Viking leaders, the sorcerer Brodir from the Isle of Man.

"Jaysus!" Joe realised, "Pah Wah's lookin' to do for King Brian what de Valera and his mates did to Charlie Kerins."

As a life-long Republican Socialist Joe normally didn't have much time for monarchy. But any man wielding steel on behalf of Ireland was a comrade of his. Crying, "Heroes, form the shield wall!" he threw himself into the fray.

Too late! Before Joe could reach him Pah Wah had stabbed King Brian in the back. With a howl of fury Joe clocked the treacherous Branchman with an uppercut that clove his jaw in two.

Determined upon vengeance he dragged Pah Wah to a nearby copse where he slit open the wretched traitor's belly, pulled out his intestines from the wound and wrapped them round and round the trunk of an oak tree. Exulting in the Branchman's dying screams he turned, dripping blood, and…

Woke, dripping sweat, gasping for breath in the still tumultous darkness. Greatly relieved to find himself alone, in one piece and in his own bed, he took a moment or two to collect his thoughts. Then he phoned Murphy and said: "Get Sutcliffe."

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The following night, Sutcliffe, normally tall and erect, slouched down and slipped in to the Nelson column. While there he quickly defused and removed the dud bomb.

Three nights later Sutcliffe again arrived at the Pillar. He stood in front of the entrance and found himself among a number of women, some of whom were on blind dates.

One man with heavily brylcreemed hair approached a woman in a fawn overcoat. "Are you Bernadette, the daily communicant from Rathmines?"

Sutcliffe raised his eyebrows as he watched the couple cross towards the GPO and disappear among the crowds. He noticed, to his left, a small girl with peroxide hair brushed into a beehive style. She wore a black leather mini-skirt which, he thought, exaggerated the shape of her bum to an alarming degree. Sutcliffe glanced down and shook his head. He thought that the tall woman to his right had the best chance of a date lasting the evening. Then, like a ghost, unnoticed by either woman, he seemed to dissolve into the small entrance of the tomb-like pillar base.

The street was deserted when he emerged from the shadows of the silent stone column. The relationships which had formed and those which had failed earlier in the evening were now part of history. He lit a cigarette and walked casually towards the Parnell Monument. A short time later a massive explosion shook the centre of Dublin and the top third of the Nelson column landed on O'Connell Street.

A nearby taxi driver said "There was a big bang. I thought it was the fucking end of the world." Three hours later Special Branchmen raided the homes of Noel Redican, Paul Gleeson and two other men. They were all released without charge a day later.