The Gladstone Streets of Ireland: a short note

In 2022, both Clonmel, in County Tipperary, and the city of Waterford have a Gladstone Street.  They reflect a wave of support for the leader of Britain's Liberal party that swept Ireland in the aftermath of the defeat of his first Home Rule bill.

In July 1886, Clonmel's municipal council unanimously decided to rename the Johnson Street, a major thoroughface in its central business district, "as a compliment to the Prime Minister, and as an expression of the gratitude to him upon the part of the people of Clonmel for his efforts to obtain the restoration of our Irish Parliament". General Henry Johnson had commanded the loyalist forces at the bloody urban battle of New Ross in 1798: D. Murphy, "Johnson, Sir Henry", Dictionary of Irish Biography tactfully omits the comment by Lord Cornwallis, reported in the Dictionary of National Biography, that Johnson was "a wrong-headed blockhead". His removal from the streetscape was no doubt overdue, although it had the effect of replacing an Irishman (although, in the opinion of the Nationalist council, one of the wrong type) with an Englishman. The point was forcefully made three months later when Waterford Corporation decided to rename Little Georges Street (a short street leading from the Quay). The report in the Irish Times of the Waterford Council debate suggests that the adoption of Gladstone Street was an almost incidental part of a package of name changes, which included the renaming of Beresford Street after Parnell. The family of the Marquess of Waterford were evidently not popular in local Nationalist circles: "the Beresfords had never done anything for Ireland that the Irish people should in any way perpetuate their memory in any street". One member disrupted the meeting by demanding that Great Georges Street, at right angles to the proposed Gladstone Street, should henceforth bear the name of Michael Davitt. When urged by a fellow member to sit down, he replied: "Not for a little bantam cock like you; you are always crowing over there." Order was eventually restored, the Council voted by 15 to 3 to consult Davitt himself on the propriety of the change. Presumably he discouraged the idea, for Great Georges Street (now a handsome pedestrian precinct) remains a feature of the city's central area in 2022. (Nearby Dungarvan has a Davitts Quay: in recent years, a local streetplan assumed that it was named after a Saint Davitt.) In the local press, an objector pointed out that, after the disestablishment of the Irish Church in 1869, boroughs across the country had conferred distinctions upon Gladstone, "yet he afterwards gave us 'Buckshot' [W.E. Forster, an unpopular Chief Secretary, associated with Coercion]". It seemed unwise to name a street after a politician who "before the winter is past ... may find himself in the Government lobby voting for a Coercion Act for Ireland. He has done so on more than one occasion before, and may do so again". In any case, there were plenty of Irish heroes after whom the streets of Waterford might be named. "I cannot for the life of me see the necessity of hunting up English names for Irish streets". Both Clonmel and Waterford conferred the freedom of their municipalities upon Gladstone shortly afterwards. In 2022, no other Irish town has a Gladstone Street. Freeman's Journal, 20 July; Munster Express, 4 September; Irish Times, 11 September 1886. [Cork City also had a Great Georges Street. With a certain impish humour, in 1918 Corkonians renamed it Washington Street, undoubtedly honouring a great George.] 

For a list of material relating to W.E. Gladstone on this website, see "Gladstone on" (