O’Connell Tower opening soon at Glasnevin Cemetery Museum

198 Steps, 1 Incredible View

Visitors to Glasnevin Cemetery will soon be able to climb the iconic O’Connell Tower, Ireland’s tallest round tower, for the first time in over 45 years. Reconstruction of the staircase that was blown up in the early 1970s is almost complete.

The tower was built to commemorate the life of Daniel O’Connell (1775 – 1847) who was one of Ireland’s greatest political figures and who died in Genoa whilst on his final pilgrimage to Rome in Italy. His final words “My body to Ireland, my heart to Rome, my soul to heaven” are inscribed in the elaborately designed walls of the crypt which are located at the foundation of the building and contain the tomb of O’Connell.

In 2016 work began with the reinstatement of the staircase that once graced the tower. Its completion was an achievement in its own right, using the original plans and traditional methods employed by the carpenters and skilled tradesmen who first constructed it.

A solid silver trowel that was used to lay the foundations stone was placed in a time capsule hidden somewhere within the structure, a beautiful silver casket designed by John Donegan and encased in lead and placed in a specially prepared space within the foundation. The ornate wrought iron gates to the rear of the crypt form the entrance to the base of the tower where a spiral staircase marks the start of the ascent.

History at a Height

198 steps, comprised of a wrought iron spiral staircase followed by hand carved wooden steps, 6 landing platforms, exhibits, and four windows at the top affording breathtaking views to the north, south, east and west across all of Dublin, Meath, Wicklow and the Irish Sea.

In order to build a monument suitable for O’Connell, the Dublin Cemeteries Committee, which administered Glasnevin Cemetery, sought the help of the well-known Irish antiquarian, George Petrie. His design arose from his work preserving and promoting early Irish Christian art and architecture. It comprised of a round tower, a chapel and a Celtic cross. His plans were displayed at the Great Industrial Exhibition of 1853.

Work began on the monument in 1854 and Sir John Power, a member of the Dublin Cemeteries Committee and an old friend of O’Connell, laid its foundation stone on 23rd Sept. The elaborately decorated silver trowel used to lay the foundation stone was made by John Donegan, one of Ireland’s greatest jewellers who is buried in the Old O’Connell Circle in Glasnevin Cemetery. A hole was made in the foundation stone and within it was placed a lead time capsule containing medals, documents and objects relating to O’Connell’s life along with gold and silver coins.

The height of the tower from the foundation to the apex of the cross is 180 feet or 55 metres. The cross at the top of the tower is cut from one piece of solid granite and is over 7 feet high.  Weighing some 3 tonnes, its hoisting to the top of the tower was a remarkable achievement. The total cost of construction came to £18,000 or the equivalent of €15 million today.

In 1991 it was decided to open the O’Connell crypt for the first time in 20 years and a programme was put in place to restore it to its former glory. Since then work has been ongoing in the maintenance and restoration of O’Connell’s monument and culminated in 2016 with the reinstatement of the staircase that once graced the tower.

 

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