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A proposal to name a new apartment complex Gardiner Court was rejected by councillors, as they pushed back against naming places in the city after aristocratic landlords.
The developer, Kavco, proposed the name Gardiner Court because the area in Phibsborough has historical links to Charles Gardiner, the Earl of Blessington, says a council report. “Blessington Street and all surrounding streets formed part of the vast Gardiner Estate.”
Independent Councillor Nial Ring said, at a council meeting on 13 December, that the council should stop naming new streets or developments after aristocratic landlords, especially if they may have profited from slavery.
“The Earl of Blessington is currently under investigation by the National Gallery of London for involvement in enslavement,” he said.
Nassau Street should be considered for renaming, because the name derives from one of William of Orange’s titles, he says, and William of Orange is also under investigation for profiting from the enslavement of people.
Ring says the council should audit all the street names in Dublin to check if any of them commemorate people who profited directly from the enslavement of others.
Some definitely do, says Richard Carson, who runs a tour of the north inner-city exploring issues of race. La Touche bridge in Portobello is one example, he says.
Who Is in Charge?
“It is mad that we would be commemorating English lords when we have plenty of local heroes,” said independent Councillor Cieran Perry at the council meeting in December.
Local councillors agreed. None of them spoke in favour of the name “Gardiner Court” at the meeting.
Green Party Councillor Janet Horner said that she would like proposed namings to include women. Few places in the north inner-city are named after women, said Horner.
Labour Councillor Declan Meenagh said that to try to redress the imbalance, the next few place-names in the Central Area should commemorate women.
Although councillors can choose to rename streets, in the case of a private development like an apartment complex, they can only ask the developer to look at it again, says Ring, on the phone on Monday.
Lately, councillors have rejected several names for apartment complexes, he says. When they do, the council’s heritage officer will discuss the matter with the developer, but if the developer wants to go ahead councillors can’t stop them, says Ring.
A Dublin City Council memo issued in April 2022 says the developer should suggest two potential names. That didn’t happen at the December meeting of the Central Area Committee, when only the name Gardiner Court was proposed.
If councillors reject the name, the developer can refer the matter to An Bord Pleanála, or start again with two new names, says the memo.
Councillors have more power when it comes to street names. Working together with local people, they can get streets renamed, says Ring.
Recently they renamed Love Lane in Ballybough as Joseph Traynor Way, he says, to commemorate a young Volunteer who was killed on Bloody Sunday in 1920.
Colonialism, Slavery and Street Names
New place-names should not commemorate aristocratic landlords, Ring says.
But he isn’t suggesting the council change all the existing ones that do. That would require a lot of changes, and could cause confusion, he said.
However, any streets that are named after the owners of enslaved people should be examined by councillors with a view to changing them, Ring says. “We would have to look at that very carefully.”
“Whatever about their relationship with Ireland and what they did, and maybe they made their money out of Ireland,” he says. “But certainly if they were involved in the slave trade, you would have to question that.”
Nassau Street, now commemorating William of Orange, was previously called Patrick’s Well – and the council should consider changing that name back, Ring says.
In a written question to the council’s chief executive ahead of the full council meeting next week, Ring asked that the council carry out an audit of all street names in the city.
“Can the chief executive commission a study to find out if any of those after whom the streets are named have any links to the enslavement of people,” he says.
Carson, who runs a tour of Gardiner Street, entitled Race and Place in the City readily cites places in Dublin named after people who profited from the enslavement of people.
The La Touche Bridge in Portobello is named after William Digges La Touche, a member of a slave-owning family, he says. They also owned the Marlay Estate, now Marlay Park.
William’s brother went to Jamaica and became a slave owner and when he died his property was left to William, meaning that William would have profited from slavery.
The Le Touche family also opposed Catholic emancipation. Discussions around race in Ireland shouldn’t ignore sectarianism, says Carson. The penal laws were a formal system for “othering” people and they informed almost everything that happened in Ireland.
“The British racialised the Irish and that was done with a sectarian lens,” he says.
It is good to open up the question of who we commemorate in street names, says Carson.
Historians looking at the relationship between Dublin and the Atlantic slave economy have said it is important to go beyond the symbolism of names and try to understand how wealth flowed back into and shaped the city.
Some in the congregation at the Dublin Unitarian Church on Stephen’s Green, reflecting on how it benefited from slavery, have spoken of the importance of trying to live ethically and fight injustice in the present.
Ring says he doesn’t think it is contradictory that he is trying to wipe slave owners off the city’s street signs, while also attending recent protests against a centre for asylum seekers in East Wall.
Ring said he only backs those protests because they are raising concerns about the condition of the building.
“That building isn’t fit for purpose,” he says. “I’ve been to a good few of them and I go down because I know the people who are protesting.”
“They don’t go near the centre, they are making the point that the building isn’t fit for purpose,” he says.
If he thought there was any other motivation for the protests he would not attend them, he says.
In November, q102 radio recorded Ring as saying that the problem was a lack of consultation and that locals had fears about the asylum seekers.
“We don’t know who’s in there, how long they’re going to be there,” he said.
Carson would like to see theologians and historians get together with activists and others to debate how to remember the streets of Dublin. The voices of Black Irish people should be central in that debate, he says.
“Let’s tell a story and talk about it,” he says. “To do history well is to reflect and remember and ask the questions.”