Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 25, July 4, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Taking a Stand against British Imperialism

Signs of Change in Ireland

Citizens' committees are removing or renaming British imperialist figures and institutions in Ireland as part of the movement for empowerment and against British colonialism.

Streets surrounding Belfast City Hall including May Street and Donegall Square were renamed after three Irish patriots, the hunger strikers - Joe McDonnell, Bobby Sands and Kieran Doherty - who laid down their lives inside the H-blocks of Long Kesh internment camp in 1981 for the rights of political prisoners and the cause of Irish freedom. Another street honours James Connolly, the Communist leader at the centre of the 1916 Rising for independence. Queen's University was renamed "Mairead Farrell University Belfast" with signage erected across its prominent front gates after the former student and IRA volunteer, killed in Gibraltar on active service in 1988. The names also serve as an important reminder of the ruthless brutality of the British government in Ireland under the leadership of then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

For years there has been sharp criticism of the way the colonial period is remembered in the Republic of Ireland. Some statues have been removed officially and others "unofficially". One such case was the statue of Horatio Nelson, built in the centre of what was then Sackville Street (later renamed O'Connell Street) in Dublin. Erected in 1809 when Ireland was forced to be part of the United Kingdom, it survived for more than 40 years until March 1966. It was frequently pointed out that a statue to the British admiral had no place in Dublin after Irish independence was achieved and signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921 which divided the island. After years of inconclusive discussion the issue was dealt with when the statue was finally toppled with gelignite, as was that of a large statue of George II and his horse brought to ground at Stephen's Green in 1937. Nelson's remnants were later destroyed by the Irish Army but its head is preserved in a museum.

The Statue of the British Admiral which had no place in Ireland toppled with gelignite in March 1966

Recently campaigns have been underway in Ireland, like that in Cork, to remove the name Queen Victoria, known as the "Famine Queen", from street signs. That her main statue at Leinster House in Dublin survived until 1948 (26 years after the creation of the Free State) is something of a miracle. She was monarch when Ireland was beset by a famine organised by filthy-rich landowners, and millions starved or emigrated. After gathering dust in Ireland for some years, Victoria got a trip to Sydney, Australia, to be "planted" outside the Queen Victoria Building despite some bids from Canadian buyers. Writing in the Irish Times the following month, Myles na gCopaleen (Brian O'Nolan/Flann O'Brien) was not overly bothered with its removal - her statutes were more harmful than her statues, as he put it. "Besides, look at it this way," he wrote. "Time has given the mere Irish their revenge. The fact is that Victoria has turned green. Of hue she approaches our decent Irish letterbox. And it is the price of her."

George II and his horse brought to the ground at Stephen's Green in 1937
In Belfast, the spokesperson for the current committee changing street and place signs in Belfast, Pól Torbóid, said their list of place names from across the city featured "prominent individuals responsible for historic abuses in Ireland".

"Belfast's streets, littered with the poverty of its people, its homeless and jobless; are also littered with the names of those whose attitude to Ireland was one of subjugation, and who, by force of arms, forced a political and economic system upon our people, which became the foundation for partition, and for the current economic struggles faced by the Irish people, Torbóid said. "These street names, monuments to those who delivered misery across our nation in one form or another, also serve as monuments to the political and economic system that they helped to build in Ireland."

"These street names, the symbols of oppression, hate and servitude, must be stripped away." he emphasised. "They must be replaced with the names of those who sought to build a better Ireland, the names of those who fought against oppression, against hate and against servitude. They must be replaced with the names of heroes: of normal people. Not lords. Not kings or queens; but rather those who weren't the heirs to vast riches. Those whose only inheritance was that which they tried to carve out of a political system that railed against them. It is our inheritance as Republicans to end the oppression immortalised in these street names and statues. It is our duty to end colonialism, to end the normalisation of imperialism and, consequently, the political and economic system that maintains it."

(TML Weekly, June 27, 2020)


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