Column Right

You can see it for kilometers: an immense Corinthian column, towering up nearly 30 meters toward the sky, its massive pedestal set on a high rocky outcrop some twenty-minutes’ drive to the west of Wexford, in the southeast corner of Ireland. The country possesses many grand ornamental landscape structures, dating usually from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. But this can surely claim to be one of the most spectacular, having been inspired by the celebrated “Pompey’s Pillar” in Alexandria (which in fact has nothing to do with the Roman general whose name it bears, but was erected in a.d. 296 to celebrate a victory by the Emperor Diocletian). The Wexford version, a good three meters taller than its Roman original, is now—since the tragic disappearance some years ago of the magnificent Nelson Column in Dublin—the only remaining commemorative monument of its kind in Ireland. It was built in 1839, to a design by the English architect Thomas Cobden, by General Robert Browne-Clayton. Robert Browne—who adopted his second surname in 1829 when he married Miss Henrietta Clayton—was a member of a wealthy Anglo-Irish family whose principal seat was at Browne’s Hill, near Carlow. Early in his military career, while stationed with his regiment, the 12th Light Dragoons, near Rome, he was received in audience by Pope Pius VI, who ceremoniously crowned him with a Dragoon helmet and a prayer that truth and religion might prevail over injustice and infidelity—a poignant if somewhat improbable event which was later immortalized by James Northcote R.A. in a picture which now hangs in London’s Cavalry Club. Later, as a lieutenant-colonel, he fought with distinction against Napoleon in the Egyptian campaign of 1801. During that campaign he is reported to have taken more than 600 French prisoners, together with 300 horses, Bonaparte’s entire Dromedary Corps and 500 camels. Unquestionably, he had something to commemorate with his column, but, as he was at pains to emphasize, he also intended it to be a memorial to his commanding officer, General Sir Ralph Abercromby, who was killed in action during the campaign.

Open PDF