Given the never-ending controversies that came with his O’Connell Street column, many Dubliners may be surprised to hear there is a Nelson Street in the city today, named in honour of Horatio Nelson. Located in Dublin 7 in the north inner-city, I walk by it on an almost daily basis, though Sráid Nelson didn’t catch my eye for quite some time.
The renaming of streets in the Irish capital was already long underway by the time Irish independence was achieved in 1922, with an increasingly nationalist Dublin Corporation from the late nineteenth century onwards attempting to reflect nationalist history on the streets of the city. A 1921 ‘Report of the Paving Committee’, contained within the minute books of Dublin Corporation, advocated the following changes among others:
That Capel Street be renamed Silken Thomas Street.
That Beresford Place, home of trade union headquarters Liberty Hall, be renamed Connolly Place.
That Gardiner Place and Row be renamed Thomas Ashe Street.
Some suggested street name changes put before the Corporation at the time were accepted, for example renaming Great Brunswick Street to Pearse Street.
Certainly, the issue of renaming particular streets and locations in Dublin continues to pop up to this very day. In recent years some have advocated for example that the quays be renamed after Irish writers, something that was proposed by Gay Mitchell in 2006. This was something Mitchell had first proposed in 1991, and speaking in support of the plan at the time, Tony Gregory remarked “I feel that most Irish people have a pride in their own cultural heritage and very few would have any great interest in the old imperial legacy of Wellington and Essex. I don’t think Burgh Quay is named after Chris de Burgh!”
While the Corporation has proven quite willing to rename streets historically, a few interesting ones like Nelson have survived long into the days of independence.
That Nassau Street managed to retain it’s name is surprising, as the street was only thus named in the eighteenth century, after the coming to power of King William of Orange, who belonged to the House of Orange-Nassau. J.T Gilbert in his classic history of Dublin wrote that in the eighteenth century a life-sized bust of King William III was to be found on this street.
Very oddly, the Irish language name for this street has appeared as both Sráid Nassau and Sráid Thobar Phadraig, with the later reflecting the streets historical name of St.Patrick’s Well Street, after a 12th century well found there. It’s unusual that both names have appeared in street signage historically, and indeed at the very same time on different ends of the street!
One family who are more than honoured in Dublin are the Wellesley’s, and in particular Arthur Wellesley, better known as the Duke of Wellington. Wellesley Place, Wellington Road, and Waterloo Road, after the Battle of Waterloo, all reflect the contribution of this family to history. While Dublin folklore suggests Wellington remarked “being born in a stable does not make one a horse”, nowhere on record did he actually make this remark, so perhaps he would actually approve of streets named in honour of him and his family in this city!
It is likely that sheer familiarity alone prevented many streets in the city from being renamed, for example Talbot Street, named in honour of a former Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the third Earl of Talbot Charles Chetwynd. We’ve previously looked at the movement to rename this street in the 1940s after Irish republican Sean Treacy, a campaign which led to a sustained campaign of flypostering the proposed name over the streetsigns in the area and interruptions of Corporation meetings.
On November 1st 1943, members of the Ailtirí na hÁiseirghe organisation created uproar at a meeting of Dublin Corporation, by shouting from the public galleries while the Corporation was sitting. At the time of the interruptions, the Corporation was discussing the planned removal of Queen Victoria’s statue from Leinster House. One man rose and shouted: “Get rid of all the symbols of slavery in the streets! We demand that Talbot Street be renamed Sean Treacy street. Young Ireland is awakening.”
Often we walk down our streets without knowing who or what their names commemorate, but in a city with such a troubled relationship historically with monuments and statues – it’s interesting that our British past is still often commemorated in the street names around us. Something to think about as you walk down Horatio Nelson’s street.