Today, accompanied by my Pretani Associates colleague Helen Brooker, and on the invitation of the Board of the Glasnevin Trust, I was present at the official opening of the newly reinstated staircase of the O’Connell Tower in Glasnevin, Dublin. This was performed by Paschal Donohue, TD, Minister for Finance &Public Expenditure and Reform. I was delighted to meet my old friends and colleagues Sir Jeffrey and Kingsley Donaldson, Bertie Ahern, John Green and George McCullough of the Glasnevin Trust and Eugene Keane of the Office of Public Works. The 55-metre round tower was built in the 1850s to commemorate the life of Daniel O’Connell and has reopened – 47 years after being damaged in a bomb blast by Loyalists in 1971, in retaliation for the 1966 IRA bombing of Nelson’s Column.
Known as the Liberator, O’Connell founded Glasnevin cemetery in 1832 and was laid to rest there after his death in 1847 as he travelled to Rome on a pilgrimage. O’Connell’s remains were later exhumed and interred in a crypt at the base of the memorial tower built in his honour, which I first visited with my friends Dr Ian and Eileen Paisley on the invitation of Bertie Ahern.
The granite tower was a popular visitor attraction for more than century but was forced to close when it was badly damaged by the gelignite bomb.The blast shot up through the tower, destroying its staircase and blowing out the windows. A large crack caused by the bombing is still visible on the structure. There was only one casualty, a pigeon who was nesting there.
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe (right) and chairman of the Glasnevin Trust John Green take in the view at the top of the tower (Brian Lawless/PA)
The crypt was refurbished a decade ago and in 2016 the Glasnevin Trust, in partnership with the Office of Public Works (OPW), began work to restore the tower and install a new 198-step staircase.Visitors can now climb to the top and access a 360-degree panorama affording views across Dublin, Meath, Wicklow and the Irish Sea.
The reopening of the O’Connell Tower was marked by the laying of a time capsule at the base by students from the O’Connell School in Glasnevin.When the foundation stones of the tower were laid in 1854 a lead time capsule containing medals, documents and objects relating to O’Connell’s life was placed within it.
Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe, attended the reopening ceremony. “In recent years, Glasnevin Cemetery has become a unique and unmissable Dublin attraction,” he said. “Developing from a traditional cemetery, and the resting place of more than one million people, to the home of the wonderful museum and visitor centre and an exceptionally engaging and entertaining tour, it draws tens of thousands of visitors every year. The restoration of the iconic O’Connell Tower, with a newly installed staircase that promises unparalleled views, adds yet another string to the already fulsome Glasnevin Cemetery bow. It is a privilege to be here today, alongside the students from the local school that takes O’Connell’s name, to see the results of the extraordinary work undertaken by the OPW and the Glasnevin Trust. It is testament to the man we refer to as the Liberator and one of the seminal figures in Irish political life.”
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern (right) attended the tower´s reopening (Brian Lawless/PA)
Chairman of the Glasnevin Trust, John Green, said: “The reinstatement of the stairs in the O’Connell tower will allow us to experience the full magnificence of this mausoleum. Of course, we remember O’Connell through the bridges, streets, and squares named after him, but as we approach the centenary of the founding of our state we must remember how important O’Connell is in our nationhood. “O’Connell lit a beacon for the peaceful parliamentary political process, a beacon carried on by (Isaac) Butt, (Charles Stewart) Parnell, (John) Redmond and, perhaps more significantly, every Taoiseach since the end of the civil war. Hopefully the exhibition inside the tower will not only enhance the climb but also help to reinstate Daniel O’Connell to his rightful position in the pantheon of Irish leaders.”