Rewind - The Wellington Monument

By Sean Heffernan 

For this week’s Rewind, we are taking a short 450m walk from the Zoo towards Parkgate Street, and stopping at The Wellington Monument.

This is one of the pivotal structures in Dublin, and can be seen for miles around, especially if you were somewhere like the Hell Fire Club.


(Pic: Ben Ryan) 

It was built to honour the military victories of Arthur Wellesley, who is more commonly known as the Duke of Wellington.

Many people reading this will be surprised to learn that he was in fact born in the Irish Capital on May 1st 1769.

It is the largest obelisk in Europe, measuring 205 feet, and would have been even bigger, but for the lack of funds to take it higher.

It is a toddler compared to the biggest of its type in the world, The Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. which is an impressive 554 feet tall.

The structure has four bronze plaques attached to it, and they are cast from cannons that were captured in the famous Battle of Waterloo.

Construction started in 1817 and took 44 years before it was officially unveiled in June 1861.

It was designed by one of the foremost architects in history Sir Robert Smirke.

The British Museum and Covent Garden Theatre are two of the most notable buildings in British Capital, and they were both the work of the London born professional.

The statue on top was made by Thomas Kirk who also designed the one on the top of Nelson’s Column.

Made using Irish limestone, it had originally been planned to locate the Obelisk in Merrion Square, as it is widely claimed Wellesley was born in 25 Merrion Square (now part of the Merrion Hotel).

His parents were the Earl and Countess Mornington and he was very much born with a golden spoon.

'Because a man is born in a stable, does not make one a horse'

But he hadn’t much time in Dublin, as he was shipped off to the exclusive Eton school near Windsor Castle in England, but he didn’t like it at all.

Concerned at his falling grades, his parents sent him off to Brussels in Belgium for one-to-one private tuition and then to Angers in France.

His true love was in music and he had designs on becoming a composer, but he eventually gave into his mother’s pleading and signed up to the Highland Regiment.

When he was once asked about the fact of him being Irish born, he infamously replied “Because a man is born in a stable, does not make one a horse”.

At the age of 20 he became an MP in the Irish Parliament, in an age when only a very small minority with lots of money and clad could even contemplate running for public office, and would hold that position for five years.

In 1794 The Duke fought in his first war on Flanders, and he was outraged at what he saw as the terrible tactics that were employed by his superiors as the British Army was effectively routed by the French.

He then began reading vast amounts of literature to do with military tactics, and began to put some of his ideas into play in 1976 as he directed troops battling insurgencies in India.

It is worth pointing out that the Governor General of the massive Asian land mass was his very own brother Richard the Marquess of Wellesley, and again we see someone being made a general because of their nobility not ability.  

Napoleon Bonaparte was intent on making France the ruler of all of Europe, and it was up to Wellington and his British troops allied this time with Field Marshal General Gerhardt Lebrecht von Blúcher and his Prussian forces to nip his plans in the bud as early as possible.

With the French mustering 4000 more men than the combined enemy forces, the Irishman knew the odds were very much stacked against them.

However he realised they had more of an upper terrain, and that there were buildings with excellent defensive capabilities the Blue coats would have to pass if they were to be ultimately successful.

So despite being numerically outnumbered, the never say die attitude, helped by Mother Nature ensured Bonaparte was sent back to Paris with his tail firmly between his legs.

When news of the victory reached home, massive crowds took to the streets in celebration, and The Duke of Wellington was feted as a national hero, and his status as one of the greatest British icons of all time was well and truly set in stone.

There is also reputed to be over 100 public houses named after him too.

Upon his retirement from the army, he was also to twice assume the role of Primer Minister in Westminster as a member of the Tories, firstly in 1928 to 1830, and for a few months in 1834.

His time in the hot seat of power was to be a mixed one.

While he was hailed by many for seeing off the threats of the King and bringing in emancipation for Catholics which meant members of that fate were no longer discriminated against due to their religious persuasion.

On the other hand he fiercely resisted efforts to open the vote to a wider section of the population, essentially declaring that only the elite had the wherewithal to make important decisions; be it placing a piece of paper in the ballot box or holding ministerial office.

Arthur Wollesly, the Duke of Wellington passed away in 1852 after suffering a bout of seizures, and thousands came to his lying in state in London prior to his burial inside Saint Paul’s Cathedral.

So the next time you pass by ‘the big pointy thing in the Park’, you might stop to reflect on the Irishman who in many ways, was more British than the Brits themselves.

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