The story behind the Spire of Dublin, O’Connell Street’s iconic landmark

Ever wondered why Dublin built a big spire in the heart of the city? Here we break down the story behind the iconic monument.

The story behind the Spire of Dublin, O’Connell Street’s iconic landmark

If you’ve ever been to the city of Dublin, you’ve no doubt seen it: a towering, stainless steel, pointy monument standing 120 metres tall on O’Connell Street. It’s hard to miss.

What you may not know, though, is the story behind it. Here we unpack the history of the Spire of Dublin, from why it was built to what it means, so that the next time you walk by the monument, you can truly appreciate its significance.

The Nelson Pillar

The Nelson Pillar in the 1840s
The Nelson Pillar, as depicted by William Henry Bartlett in the 1840s

The bombing of the Nelson Pillar in 1966 left a gaping hole in O’Connell Street in the heart of Dublin City Centre. The imperial monument had overseen the affairs of Dublin’s main street since 1809 and suddenly was in need of a replacement.

However, despite the
destruction, it was not until 22 January 2003, another 37 years later, that the
hole left by the bombing was finally filled.

The foundation stone of the
Nelson Pillar was laid by the Duke of Redmond, Lord Lieutenant, on the 22
February 1808 and cost £6,856 to build. The Pillar was designed by an Irish
sculptor named Thomas Kirk, and was blown to rubble in March 1966 in a powerful

Early proposals

Many proposals came in for the replacement of the Nelson Pillar

The Pillar needed replacing, and early proposals in the 1970s argued for the erection of a monument of Irish revolutionary and Easter Rising leader Padraig Pearse to coincide with his 100th birthday.

The proposed monument would
have been worth £150,000 and would have stood higher than the neighbouring GPO,
where Pearse had fought in 1916, but the plan fell through.

However, by 1988, Dublin’s
millennium year, proposals for a replacement had accelerated and led to the
establishment of “The Pillar Project.”

The Pillar Project

The Pillar Project preceded the building of the Spire of Dublin

The Pillar Project was a
scheme that brought artists and architects together to devise a monument that
could replace Nelson’s Pillar.

Ambitious proposals included
a “Millenium Arch,” similar to that of the iconic Arc de Triomphe in Paris,
with an eternal flame at the top to symbolise the city’s indistinguishable

Other proposals in the early 1990s included restructuring the pillar with James Joyce at the top of it, who was thought to be a non-political, non-military, and non-divisive figure.

However, much like the plans
a decade before, the Pillar Project and other plans were fruitless and it was
back to the drawing board for O’Connell Street.

International competition

An international competition led to the Spire of Dublin

An international competition
was launched in 1998, and potential contestants were told: “The monument shall
have a vertical emphasis, an elegant structure of 21st century contemporary
design, which shall relate to the quality and scale of O’Connell Street as
represented by the late 18th and early 20th century architecture.”

205 entrants answered
O’Connell Street’s call, and the shortlist was eventually narrowed down to
three; two British-based firms and the other a Dublin-based firm.

Ian Ritchie Architects

Ian Ritchie Architects won the competition

The winner of the competition
was Ian Ritchie Architects, a London-based firm, and it was they who devised
the creation of what is now the domineering Spire of Dublin.

The Spire was put up in six
different sections, and was originally expected to be done by 2000. Due to
difficulty securing planning permission and a High Court case, the first
structure was only built on 18 December 2003 and was completed by January 2003.

Thousands gathered in
O’Connell Street on a cold January day to witness the erection of the last
section of the Spire, which has since become emblematic of this historic city.

The Spire of Dublin

The Spire of Dublin as seen from Henry Street

The Spire of Dublin, which reached a total cost of 4 million euros, stands at an incredible 120 metres (400 feet) high, without doubt the tallest structure in Dublin city centre, with a 3-metre-wide base acting as the Spire’s foundation.

The head of the Spire is 15
centimetres wide and is lit by a small amount of LEDs and moves slightly when
the wind blows. It is alternatively named An Túr Solais (The Monument of

Despite what was originally
believed, the Spire is not self-cleaning and has to be cleaned every eighteen
months. The first clean cost around 120,000 euros.

The magic of the Spire is
engrained in its design. During daylight, the life of the city can be seen on
the stainless steel surface of the Spire as it passes by, while the dawning of
dusk is reflected on the steel as day passes into night.

The stationary buildings that
flank the Spire are also visible throughout the day, while its illuminated
structure lights up the city at night.

Meaning of the Spire

The Dublin Spire is also called the Monument of Light

Pointing like a needle towards the sky above, the Spire of Dublin is a landmark that has truly pierced the hearts and minds of the city and country’s inhabitants, and it is the first thing that you notice as you make your way into Dublin city centre.

The beauty of the Spire is
that it commemorates nothing but toasts Dublin’s bustling present and points
forward towards a limitless, brighter, and more prosperous future.

Dive in and explore the city like a local.

Read our tips on where to go, what to do and what not to miss…

In compact Dublin, you can easily cover a lot of ground on your own

From nocturnal pub crawling (for educational purposes) to high-adrenaline outdoor activities to fun family-friendly pursuits, choices abound.

You might start with the capital’s supremo tourist attraction, the Guinness Storehouse. Most people do.

Prefer being under the watchful eye of a knowledgeable guide?

There are tons of tours – walking, traveling by bicycle or bus, amphibious vehicle or horse-drawn cart…or even by boat or kayak.

However you choose to get about, you can also experience the true spirit of traditional Irish culture and history through architecture, dance, storytelling, music, theatre, museums and galleries.

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