A dreary Dublin day on O’Connell Street is never an extraordinary thing: the grey colour of slightly run down buildings, bustling people, a walkway peppered with Jim Larkin, the Virgin Mary, O’Connell, and the odd bit of greenery. Conor Tobin tries to find some meaning in the gigantic metal spike that defiantly rises above them all.
No, it is not an antenna, not some steel pylon that you imagined to be much smaller and much closer. It is, instead, Dublin’s largest monument. But a monument to what, by whom, for what purpose?
A giant metal spike, protruding out of O’Connell Street, the bullet ridden pillars of the GPO across the road, and Jim Larkin standing in front, arms outstretched, as if to will the Irish to rise out of apathy, poverty, subjugation and their own despair and disappointment.
As if in answer to Larkin’s statue the spire rises up, beyond all expectation, to meet his demands. When standing right beside it, looking straight up, it seems like a path to the sky. Like the monolith in 2001 a Space Odyssey, it beckons us forward, in the film towards the development of tools, and the emergence of modern man. What does it mean that, during the height of the boom, we built this thing on one of Dublin’s most famous street?
The obvious conclusion is that the monument stands for Ireland’s new-found confidence. After centuries of hardship, followed by a less-than-prosperous Republic of the twentieth century, finally Ireland was booming. It was the success story of Europe. Flooded with cash, we could allow ourselves a monument, of such grandeur, such confidence, erect and proud, onwards and upwards.
It was also modern, and retains the ambiguity and elemental factor of many contemporary monuments. A steel spire, emerging from a circular base, golden and rippled, shooting up into the sky. There is a primal aspect to the monument, as if it represented some kind of primal urge, free, as it is, of any of the usual political, religious, or ideological imagery.
So, what is this primal urge which it represents? It embodies the Celtic Tiger and the emergence of Ireland on the world stage as a prosperous country economically. And yet, I don’t think that this is the primal urge which it speaks to. Certainly not now, since we have seen the collapse of this vision of Ireland. There is a vision of Ireland inherent in its towering steel point. And it is one of confidence. But it is a confidence which lies in the future, a vision for the future. It has yet to be realised. We are dealing with desire itself.
Ireland and desire have always had a strange relationship. The power of the Church is most certainly a factor in this. Sexual desire was repressed, condoms banned, and worse. The spire represents Ireland entering an age of modern liberalism, where what was once taboo with regard to desire could be talked about, marketed, sold as a commodity. It thus represents an ambiguous sort of desire, as if the pendulum swung from one end of the spectrum to the other, where sex, once vilified, all of a sudden could be seen in advertisments, on the TV, and was openly talked about in public debate. While this swing of the pendulum didn’t happen over night, other countries saw a more gradual releasing of this potent sexual energy than Ireland did.
The spire is, more than anything, a symbol for a drive which, while linked to sex, stretches beyond it, towards money and power, and beyond them even. So it represents Ireland’s emergence as a modern country, prosperous with a new-found boldness. But it also represents a shock, as it towers abruptly and unnaturally over O’Connell Street. It represents an unleashing, not simply of sex, but of desire itself.
Consequently, it becomes emblematic of corruption in politics, of the mad desire of the bankers but also of the average person. It represents desire unchecked, and thus desire without purpose: desire for the sake of desire. Perhaps then it stands as a perfect symbol for the excesses of the Celtic Tiger.
But there is also hope present, the hope of a future beyond and in the sky. That aspect of the spire is still present. As you stand beside it looking straight up at the unending path you are struck by a certain feeling of awe. Such are the ambiguities of the spire, and such are the ambiguities of post-bailout Ireland.
People wait around it now, as it is one place in the city that is instantly recognizable. Dublin’s pigeons fly past it. For all its abruptness, it has become a natural landmark of our capital. Like Ireland itself it remains ambiguous, lying in that netherworld between right and wrong, positive and negative. For this reason, it is truly awesome.