Battle Lines drawn on Wexford's Upper George Street

By dAVID TUCKER

Published 23/01/2016 | 00:00

Clockwise from top left: George Ryan, Brian Cleary, Nicky Furlong and Eithne Agar, all in favour of renaming Upper George St.
Clockwise from top left: George Ryan, Brian Cleary, Nicky Furlong and Eithne Agar, all in favour of renaming Upper George St.
Clockwise from top left: George Ryan, Brian Cleary, Nicky Furlong and Eithne Agar, all in favour of renaming Upper George St.
Clockwise from top left: George Ryan, Brian Cleary, Nicky Furlong and Eithne Agar, all in favour of renaming Upper George St.
Clockwise from top left: George Ryan, Brian Cleary, Nicky Furlong and Eithne Agar, all in favour of renaming Upper George St.
Brendan Roche and Kevin Byrne at the bricked up doorway of what they say is Robert Brennan's old house in Abbey Street. They are opposed to Upper George St being renamed.

battle lines are being drawn about whether or not to rename a historic Wexford street after one of the heroes of the 1916 Uprising.

One the one side are residents who do not want to change the status quo and who say this third attempt to rename Upper Georges Street is a step too far.

On the other side are those who would like to see Upper George Street renamed Robert Brennan Street honouring the revolutionary they say once lived there.

The 'No' camp say that they too would like to see Brennan honoured, but through a permanent exhibition of his life and works, and those of his author daughter Maeve, at nearby Wexford Library.

And they claim their latest research reveals that Robert Brennan never lived in Upper George Street, but around the corner in Abbey Street, and they have the census records from 1901 and 1911 to prove it.

'The 1901 census shows Brennans living in Abbey Street and the 1911 shows the same, but there is no mention of Brennans living in George Street,' said Kevin Byrne, one of those who wants to retain the street's historic name.

'His mother had a shop, the shopfront of which was in Upper George Street, but the family home was around the corner in Abbey Street,' said Kevin.

A plebscite is due to take place in the coming days following a proposal by Cllr Tony Dempsey, which was adopted by the council. A total of 118 people on the electoral register are eligible to vote, with 60 'Yes' ballots required for the change to be made.

'It's time for the people of Wexford to stand up and tell the council to leave our street names alone,' said Mr Byrne.

This will be the third time that Upper George Street has been at the centre of a controversy over its remaing.

The street, named after St George - a name first attributed to it in the 1600s - was renamed Oliver Plunkett Street in 1920. The original name was restored after a public clamour which prompted a plebiscite in 1932. In the 1980s, the council attempted to change the name again although this was rejected by residents.

Some locals say that there are strong reasons to retain the name of George in the street, once the home of Dr Sinnot's Christian Brothers Primary School and St. Mary's School and it was where the Loreto Convent was founded (albeit in Lower rather than Upper George Street) on August, 1866. In 1798, the United Irishmen's leaders met there and in 1807 John Colclough from Tintern Abbey was waked at a house in the street, and the Mercy nuns lived there from the 1840s to 1929 when they acquired the freehold for what became the Mount George Guest House.

'Why should anyone destroy one history to commemorate another history?' said another resident Brendan Roche.

Brennan, took part in the 1916 Rising, was a prominent writer and journalist and became the Irish Free State's first minister to the United States, yet his name has been virtually airbrushed from the town's history.

The ad hoc Brennan Street Committee which wants the street renamed comprises: Eithne Agar, Frank Clancy, Nickey Furlong, Peter Hussey, Sean Kearney, Brian Ó Cléirigh, George Ryan and Greg Walshe.

Eithne's grandfather, Sean Sinnott of Mount John, Grogan's Road, was OC of the Wexford Battalion, Irish Volunteers, their most senior officer in Wexford town.

The pro-change committee says, Brennan, 'native of Upper George Street', Wexford, held the command in Enniscorthy in 1916'.

A death sentence was commuted and he was jailed in Dartmoor where his ability was spotted. He became National Director for the 1918 General Election, developed the Dáil's counter-propaganda Irish Bulletin, and established the Department of Foreign Affairs.

As Ambassador in Washington (1938-1947) he worked very effectively to preserve Irish neutrality. Journalist, playwright and novelist, he wrote a hugely successful detective series for Ireland's Own.

He married Úna Bolger of Oylegate, an early nationalist-feminist and journalist. Úna joined Cumann na mBan and with two other women hoisted the Tricolour on the Athenaeum.

Their daughter Maeve was an iconic columnist with the New Yorker Magazine. Maeve's short stories are of Dublin and her granny's corner house in George Street, is a huge potential asset for tourism and Wexford's Culture Mile.

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