A campaign will be launched tonight to rename some of Cork City’s best-known streets which commemorate British “aristocrats and war criminals” after Irish heroes.
Political and Irish language activist Diarmaid Ó Cadhla invited people to attend a public meeting on the issue tonight with a view to forming a committee to drive the campaign forward.
Mr Ó Cadhla said he can’t understand why certain streets are named after people like the Duke of Marlborough (Marlboro St), who in 1690 led 9,000 soldiers of the Williamite army as they laid siege to Cork City.
He said Marlborough directed canon fire over the city’s inhabitants before his army proceeded to sack the city, indiscriminately murdering and pillaging as they went.
“We have streets in Cork named after such criminals and aristocrats. We even have streets named after those who committed genocide against our ancestors — for example Victoria,” he said.
“A modern nation should have self-respect and put in places to honour our own values. Cork has no shortage of heroes in every field, including sport, science, medicine, and also in our patriotic traditions.
“Where have we a street named after General Tom Barry? How have we honoured patriot Tadhg Barry — he received the biggest ever funeral in the history of Cork — but he is virtually unknown?
“We must never forget the past or our history under British conquest — but we should do so in a fitting way, not by honouring past horrors.”
Historian Tom Spalding, who charted the history of Cork street name changes over the last 250 years in his 2013 book, Layers: the design, history and meaning of public street signage in Cork and other Irish cities, welcomed the debate.
He said his research has found that 16% of Cork City street or place names have a British connection — 12% named after British figures and 4% after British places.
He said people have a right to debate the issue and said maybe some street names should be changed. But he cautioned against any attempts to try and rewrite, or whitewash, history.
“It’s part of who we are, part of our contested history,” he said. “If we erase the name of the Duke of Marlborough, or the Duke of Grafton, the illegitimate son of Charles II who was killed during the siege by a sniper’s bullet, then people who have a view on the siege, for example, can’t point to that place and say: ‘do you know that story?,” he said. “And then the question arises about what name do you replace it with. Who has a spotless record?”
A spokesman for City Hall said a formal process is in place to govern the naming of new streets or bridges, and the renaming of existing ones, and that it is a function of elected members to sanction the decision to name or rename.
Mr Ó Cadhla invited people to attend a discussion on the campaign at 7.30pm tonight at Ionad an Phobail, 99 Douglas St.
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