Modern Chichester Street

“I burned all along the Lough, (Neagh) within four miles of Dungannon and killed one hundred people, sparing none of what quality, age or sex soever, besides many burned to death; we kill man, woman and child; horse, beast and whatsoever we find.”
These are the words of one Arthur Chichester, 1st Baron of Chichester who enjoyed a spot of ethnic cleansing when he first came to Ireland at the end of the 16th century, “first to plough and break up those barbarous people (the native Irish) and then to sow them with the seeds of civility,” all in line with Queen Elizabeth 1’s policy of subjugating the Irish.

Nowadays, Chichester would be deemed a war criminal or a terrorist. Cathal O’Byrne called him “a monster” in his book, As I Roved Out.

Later Chichesters would bear the title Earl of Donegal or Marquess of Donegall hence the numerous street names bearing their names.

I thought of Chichester when I heard the raic about the naming of a playpark in Newry after the Hunger Striker, Raymond McCreesh.

Now, I am against any kind of militarism being connected to a children’s playpark but Unionists are beside themselves with anger and the SDLP is embarrassed by the fact that some of their councillors to have been part – although they are distancing themselves from the decision.

You can understand unionists to a certain degree. In a Historical Enquiries team report, Raymond McCreesh was found in possession of a gun used in the killing of 10 Protestants at Kingsmills in 1976, the murders of RUC Constable David McNeice and rifleman Michael Gibson (Royal Jackets) at an ambush at Meigh in 1974 and the attempted murder of Protestant farmer Samuel Rodgers at Camlough in 1975.

But Unionist political parties are using the naming of the playpark in a bout of “whataboutery” in the wake of, not the removal of the Union Flag over City Hall, but on its being flown on designated days in line with common practice in Britain.

They say the step is an intolerable diminution of their British identity and have been brought out onto the streets to vent their interminable anger but, as Danny Morrison has pointed out, Belfast city is overflowing with British identity. He’s even invented a new board game to reflect it.

“A new board game, folks. Tiddlywinks, played on a map of Belfast. Four can play. North, South, East and West.

Royal Avenue in the 1890s

Each of you have to get your four tiddlies into Royal Avenue without being brainwashed.

“You can’t use the Queen Elizabeth Bridge, the Queen’s Bridge, the Albert Bridge, the King’s Bridge, Victoria Street, Prince’s Street, Queen Street, King Street, Albert Street, the grounds of the Royal Victoria Hospital, a helicopter from the Kings Hall, Lower Windsor Avenue, the fields behind the Royal Academy.

“Nor can you be disguised as a prostitute from the Albert Clock, a student from Queen’s, a worker with Royal Mail, a violinist with the Royal School of Music, a Queen’s Counsel, a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, a screw of Her Majesty’s Prison Service, a soldier with Her Majesty’s armed forces, a Crown Court judge.

“Nor by boat up Victoria Channel to Albert Quay, Victoria Wharf or Alexandra Jetty. You must use the Queen’s English on the Queen’s Highway or else you’ll be in breach of the Queen’s Peace.”

At a recent lecture by historian Jimmy McDermott, he pointed out the number of streets named after various British military campaigns, in the heart of the Falls Road – Balaclava, Inkerman, Servia, Sevastopol, etc and the area where I grew up in Clonard had streets named after Kashmir, Benares, Lucknow and Cawnpore (all in India). There was nothing better to ingratiate yourself with the British Army in the hope of getting some building contracts than to name a street after one of their victories or after a city of the British Raj.

India has taken to returning some of its towns and cities to their former pre-British names – Cawnpore is now Kanpur and Benares is now Varanasi – and in 1996 the good people of the New Lodge did something similar to the names of blocks of flats named after British military men, re-Christening them with names from Irish mythology, so Alamein became Eithne, Alanbrooke became Finn, Alexander became Oisín, Artillery became Gráinne, Churchill became Cúchulainn, Dill became Fianna and Templar became Maeve.

That was 16 years ago and Peter Robinson’s attitude to the democratic wishes of the people of the New Lodge back then was predictable.

“This is part of the government’s process of removing the British identity from Northern Ireland and forcing an Irish ethos on the British people of Ulster,” he said.

At the weekend, former UUP leader Tom Elliott said he would try to introduce a leagal ban on “naming publicly funded property after convicted terrorists.”

Methinks we will hear more about names in the future.

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