New bridge will need a name: A chance to honour the forgotten

For many decades, maybe too many, our forefathers were consistent in naming buildings or infrastructure.

New bridge will need a name: A chance to honour the forgotten

For many decades, maybe too many, our forefathers were consistent in naming buildings or infrastructure.

Bridges, railway stations, roads, roundabouts, schools, bus stations and, especially, GAA grounds, were named after figures from the generations that gave so much to create this State.

If a new bridge, say, was not named after someone who took part in the Civil War — and that could only happen if that individual’s legacy party was in power — it was more than likely it would be named after a member of the Catholic hierarchy.

Like any society midwifed by revolution, this one used that opportunity to remember and honour, to encourage and inspire those who might benefit from our newly-established independence.

Placenames were used to bookmark our history, but also as signposts to our future — or at least a future that now seems far narrower, far more monochrome than the one that actually — thankfully— arrived.

We have, in or near Cork City, Bishop Lucey Park, the Christy Ring Bridge, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the Jack Lynch Tunnel, Terence MacSwiney Community College, and Gaelscoil Uí Ríordáin.

We also have Thomas Davis Bridge, which the vernacular defiantly calls Wellington Bridge.

You can visit each of these if you travel by train from outside Cork and arrive at Kent Station.

If, after your train journey, you want to take a bus to visit these places, you must cross Brian Boru Bridge to get to the Parnell Place Bus Station.

It is as if we have given our cityscapes, and every Irish town or city is the same on this, the obligation to sing our past, to ensure that we remember the consensual version of it that convention clings to with fervor.

That there is, in every Irish town, a near-permanent campaign to rename streets that recall our long-gone colonial rulers, shows how politicised naming rights are.

Like those south of America’s Mason/Dixon line who would remove statues honouring the Confederacy, a certain kind of revisionist equates removing with changing.

The past can never be changed, but maybe our impression of it, our understanding of it, and, most importantly, our response to it, can be.

Last evening, Cork City Council began a process that will conclude with the naming of a footbridge crossing the Lee from Merchants’ Quay to Harley St.

As the centenaries of our War of Independence and Civil War approach, it might be tempting to dust off the lists of the half-forgotten, but maybe this time it should be different.

Maybe our instinct to celebrate, to remember, should be tempered with some unemotional honesty about what went on in this society after independence.

Maybe we should name the bridge after one of the women who, against her will, spent years in the city’s Magdalene laundry or maybe one of the awkward babies spirited away from one of the city’s adoption homes to live in a faraway place under a made-up name.

Maybe this bridge could be The Bridge of the Unknown Orphan — our needling version of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

This tiny gesture would be a step along the road to accepting our warts-and-all history.

It would also ensure that these victims, our own people, are not forgotten — as they had been for far too long.

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