My mother, Yvonne Voigt Molloy, is an American who worked in Irish Radio. And my father, the actor John Molloy, was a seventh generation Dubliner. So I grew up in a house bursting with stories. Here’s one, well it’s really an event that became family legend. .
Nelson’s Pillar was a famous Dublin landmark topped by a statue of Lord Horatio Nelson, the British Admiral who lost an arm in battle. Nelson stood pompously clutching a brass sword atop his Pillar on O’Connell Street for 158 years until the IRA loaded him with dynamite and blasted Oul Lord Nelly home by air.
Our story goes: early one crisp March morning, my father pulled my mother from sleep, forcing her downstairs where he leapt upon what looked like a metal rocker from a rocking chair.
“Guess what it is, guess.” He started rocking madly.
“A bent tramtrack?”
“No. G’wan guess.”
“It’s four in the morning,” Mam said. “I have no. Idea.”
“Nelson’s Pillar got blown sky high. I’ve brung you home a bit of it. This is Lord Nelson’s sword.”
When my father hid the sword under our couch, a rumor moved swiftly through the family. All the kids knew it was under the couch but we weren’t supposed to know, do yeh know.
When the Irish newspapers demanded, “Where’s the sword? Where is Lord Nelson’s Sword?”
My father, the actor, did what any greedy actor would. He held a press conference. He appeared with the sword on…
The Late-Late Show with Gay Byrne
Well-em. I was walking down O’Connell Street when the explosion knocked Nelson off his pedestal. I came along to see the collapse while the dust was still rising from the ground. I saw the tangled mess of railings from the top of the Pillar and there was this other object, which I at once recognized as the sword. I just took it up and carried it away. I merely borrowed what Nelson has no further use for.
Incidentally, I’ve written an act specially for the sword. In me act, I’ll tell how the Pillar was blown up. Who dun it. How they dun it. And why.
On the second anniversary of the blasting, my mother did a Radio Talk on BBC:
The Sword m’Lord
Being a foreigner myself on this independent isle, I never enter into the politics. But I am intrigued by the unsung lads who plot and plan to demolish these enemies of the people, these statues that remind them daily of bitterness. It’s unfathomable that such a mighty landmark as Nelson was successfully blown up. And nobody seems to be responsible. It’s as though the banshees came along at one in the morning, and, seeing no one passing, decided to get their own back on all past injustices. Such a skillful job. Not a soul injured, not a window broken.
Except one person, called a Man About Town, who just happened to be passing by when that awful explosion occurred. It was my husband, innocently returning home from an appearance in a late night cabaret. Having been a Royal Navy man, he felt both proud and justified with his finding. He said that he’d packed Nelson’s head in the boot of a Taxi, but that the Corporation wanted it so they commandeered it.
When word ran through Dublin that the pillar was down, everyone collected some of it to keep as souvenirs. People made rockeries from the blocks and stones. Coming up to St. Patrick’s Day, the market dealers, who formerly sold shamrocks at the base of the Pillar, bawled out, “gallstones. Nelson’s Gallstones. Get yer gallstones.”
It’s two years on, the excitement of Nelson’s Pillar has died down. There is still much conjecture surrounding the daring deed. And the Sword, m’Lord? If Nelson only knew. It’s a bridge for Matchbox cars to run over and back. It’s a toy for a baby who wasn’t yet born when Nelson’s monument was blown to bits.
My whole life I’ve been intrigued with telling my version of my da snaking home with Nelson’s sword. In September 1999, John Molloy died. Shortly after that, I wrote a play with the sword deep in the heart of the story.
Scene Seven: Bent Words
March, 1966. A shitheap on Crackskull Row, down the backlanes of Dublintown.
BASHER enters, wheeling a black pram that holds a bent sword.
GET UP GET UP AND GET DOWN HERE.
I’m home from the wars. And look what I brung youse.
BASHER pulls the sword from the pram. He cuts capers and ramps about the room, drunkenly impersonating Lord Nelson.
The sword. Sword of all.
I’m king, I’m king. King of the dead, king of the land,
king of the deadlands below you.
GET UP AND GET DOWN. GET YOU DOWN HERE.
DOLLY fumbles into the room.
Look at the wife. Me scar in the sty.
Star. You’re my star in the sky.
My hundred thousand treasures.
M’ere to me, till I kiss the length of your backlegs.
Ah, Basher. What’re you into this night?
Get in the pram, Missus. Get in and get in,
till I stroll you round the town this fine morning.
RASH, GET DOWN HERE.
YER DA IS AFTER NICKING SOME POOR BABBY’S PRAM.
I commandeered it. T’were a military action.
HE’S GONE THE MADS WITH HIS PORTER.
For the world’s coming down.
RASHER, the lank of 16, rolls into the room and leans grumpy in the doorway.
I’m up, I’m up. Stop your screeching.
There’s bombs going off in Dublin.
If it isn’t the geezer back on us again.
Some mad lot of dynamitards put splosives up Nelson’s Pillar
and ba-doom, bam-ba-damn, blew him all to pieces.
Heh-heh. How many, how many year?
He’s up on O’Connell Street with his down-the-nose sneer
at the little country.
But he’s down now. He’s down now and he’s done.
The paving stones beneath his teeth.
Oul Nelly’s grin chipped toothless.