O’Connell Street is very different from the original plans of Irish aristocrat Luke Gardiner. When he bought the land in the mid-18th century, Gardiner envisioned a grand residential parade with an elegant mall running along its centre. Such plans were short-lived. The construction of Carlisle (now O’Connell) Bridge in 1790 transformed the street into the city’s main north-south route.
Also, several buildings were destroyed during the 1916 Easter Rising and the Irish Civil War. Since the 1960s many of the old buildings have been replaced by the plate glass and neon of fast food joints, amusement arcades and chain stores.
A few venerable buildings remain, such as the General Post Office (1818), Gresham Hotel (1817), Clery’s department store (1822) and the Royal Dublin Hotel, part of which occupies the street’s only original town house.
A walk down the central mall is the most enjoyable way to see the street’s mix of architectural styles and take a close look at the series of monuments lining the route.
At the south end stands a massive monument to Daniel O’Connell, unveiled in 1882. The street, which throughout the 19th century had been called Sackville Street, was renamed after O’Connell in 1922.
Higher up, almost facing the General Post Office, is an animated statue of James Larkin (1867–1943), leader of the Dublin general strike in 1913. The next statue is of Father Theobald Mathew (1790–1856), founder of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Movement. At the north end of the street is the obelisk-shaped monument to Charles Stewart Parnell (1846–91), who was leader of the Home Rule Party and known as the “uncrowned King of Ireland”. A new addition to O’Connell Street is the Monument of Light, erected on the site where Nelson’s column used to be. It is a stainless steel, conical spire which tapers from a 3-metre diameter base to a 10 cm pointed tip of optical glass at a height of 120 metres (394 ft).
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