There used to be a joke about why no street in Dublin is named after Eamon deValera.
“It’s because there isn’t one long enough, narrow enough or crooked enough,” came the reply.
I never laughed Dev being, like me, a ‘Rock boy. Ok. I tittered once.
It seems now that every city and town in the world has to rid itself of reminders of historical figures who turned out to be not quite as heroic or squeaky clean as was once thought.
A few years ago, students at Oxford University demanded a statue of Cecil Rhodes be removed. They’ve renewed that demand now and it seems that if it isn’t removed by the authorities there are plenty of people willing up to do the job.
It’s hardly surprising. The man after whom Rhodesia was named believed that the Anglo-Saxon race was, to quote his will, “the first race in the world.” And he believed that “the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race.”
Then there is the statue of Silent Sam, a Confederate soldier which stood at the University of North Carolina from 1913 until it was pulled down two years ago.
This week, the statue of slave owner Edward Colston was pulled down in Bristol. Though he was generous to his home town, he made his money from slavery. Churchill’s statue in London was vandalised by those believing, correctly, that he was a racist.
But is that destruction right?
Do the statues celebrate what these people did or just remind us?
Sure, when the statues went up, it was because, at the time, the men – it’s generally men – were thought heroic.
But is it a good idea to take away these reminders that not all our heroes are what we thought they were?
I think Colston’s statue and those of Silent Sam and Cecil Rhodes should have been preserved in museums to remind us of human failings in the past.
If we’re to wipe out such memories, where will it end?
Henry Moore Earl of Talbot has four Dublin Streets named after him. There are plenty who believe we should’t be celebrating “British aristocracy.”
Grafton Street after another member of the British aristocracy – though it is long, narrow and a little bit crooked so maybe it should have been DeValera Street!
Westmoreland Street is named after John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmoreland and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, D’Olier Street is named after the founder of the Bank of Ireland for God’s sake!!
And Bachelor’s Walk is named after a property developer! Sure we’ll have a Johnny Ronan Street before long if we’re not careful.
Prussia Street is named after Frederick the Great who wasn’t known for the craic.
Portobello might be a trendy spot but it was named in celebration of the British victory at the 1739 Battle of Porto Bello.
What about Wicklow, Waterford, Wexford and Leixlip – just some examples of place names left to us by the Vikings who we’re told Brian Boru kicked out of the country at the Battle of Clontarf though that’s not actually what happened.
And then there’s the Royal Dublin Society, the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, the Royal Hibernian Academy.
What do we do with them? The Republican Dublin Society? The Republican Hospital? The Republican Hibernian Academy? Don’t think so.
We did change some names in fairness…
Charleville was renamed Rath Luirc, Donegal was renamed Tirconaill, Kells was renamed Ceannanus Mór, Navan became An Uaimh – but they didn’t. catch on. A few did like when Queen’s County became Laois and Queenstown became Cobh.
But we’re hundreds of names all over the place left to us by, well, invaders.
So maybe we should have another go?
I mean, Exchequer Street celebrates money and greed and capitalism doesn’t it? How would Fallon & Byrne and like being on James Connolly Street instead?
Well, if the Shinners get in you never know. And that’s despite the fact that the 1916 rebels had nothing to do with Sinn Féin not that you’d know the way thy go on.
And when they’ve renamed all the Brit streets, they could have a big parade to celebrate with VIP stand outside the GPO on Mary Lou Street.
Well, Daniel O’Connell was a bit of a wimp, wasn’t he?