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by Gail Clifford MD (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer and photographer traveling the world, often following my daughter. Visit our site at and follow us on Instagram @ABLETravelPhoto
Published August 21st 2022
Where is Horatio Nelson's head in Dublin City?
Where is Horatio Nelson's head in Dublin City? The City Library and Archives, of course.

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Horatio Nelson's Head at the Dublin City Library & Archives

When travelling through historic cities, it's an excellent idea to take a tour to get the lay of the land and a walking tour to get up close and personal to things that are just too far away to see from a bus.

Such was the case when I spent last month in Dublin, dedicated to packing in as many tours as I could. Many of the things I hadn't explored all the times I'd visited previously were on my radar. And I still couldn't get them all in, so I have a new list of what to do upon my return. That's the advantage of a 1400-year-old city. Not only can you get history at the supermarket (that story coming soon!), but there's always more to discover and explore.

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Dublin City Library & Archive on Pearse Street

Chasing down a lead for another story in search of Bang Bang's key, I went to the Dublin City Library and Archives on Pearse Street and was asked, "Would you like to see Horatio's head? It's here."

Swallowing a nervous laugh, I've seen the bog bodies, after all, I said, "Yes, of course."

Never let it be said I'd pass up a photo opportunity.

I did a quick search on Google since the only Horatio I could think of was Horatio Hornblower. And found: "Horatio Nelson is generally regarded as the greatest officer in the history of the Royal Navy. His reputation is based on a series of remarkable victories, culminating in the Battle of Trafalgar where he was killed in his moment of triumph. The poet Byron referred to him as 'Britannia's God of War'." [Source: Royal Navy]

Okay, then. The history lesson continues, and I'm escorted upstairs to the Archives. After speaking with the reference librarian, she's a gem, and seeing Bang Bang's key and hearing the story of her late colleague's first-hand experience, she told me a little more about Horatio.

Horatio Nelson led the Royal Naval Fleet, approximately one-third were Irishmen, to defeat both the French Navy and the Spanish Navy at the Battle of Trafalgar, on October 21, 1805. Nelson was fatally wounded and died aboard his flagship HMS Victory. The restoration of free movement of goods and people across the seas was reason enough for the Irish nobility and merchant classes to celebrate.

Placed in the early 1800s, the Nelson Pillar celebrated a time when Vice Admiral Lord Nelson was considered the "defender of harp and crown," that is, Ireland and England.

But by the mid-1960s, Irish politics had moved well beyond hero worship of a Brit. On 8 March 1966, as the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising approached and the Troubles in Northern Ireland intensified, having a monument in the middle of O'Connell Street that honoured an Englishman was problematic.

"After the pillar was bombed by the IRA (probably, no charges were ever filed) in the 1960s, Nelson's head was passed from bar to bar for a time before someone thought to bring it to us. We've kept it safe ever since," The Archives librarian shared.

After the destruction of the Nelson Pillar, a trust prevented the complete removal of the stump until decades later. Its references in literary works also kept it alive, by James Joyce in "Ulysses" (1922), Yeats "The Three Monuments" (1927) referencing Parnell, Nelson, and O'Connell monuments, and Oliver St. John Gogarty in "As I was Going Down Sackville Street" (1937). Sackville Street was the name of O'Connell Street before it was changed.

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Dublin Millennium Spire on O'Connell Street, Dublin 1

It wasn't until the contest that led to the Millennium Spire, completed in 2003, that the place was taken by the slim, needle-like sculpture that presides over O'Connell Street at the place of Nelson's Pillar today.

When in doubt about a city's oddities and remnants, don't forget to check out the City's Library and Archives.

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Where: 144 Pearse St, Dublin 2, D02 DE68, Ireland
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