Calls for Confederate plaque removal in Tuam

A Galway councilor is calling for the removal of a memorial plaque honoring an Irish Confederate hero from Tuam town hall.

Richard “Dick” Dowling was an immigrant from Tuam, Co Galway, who would go on to become a hero for the Confederacy when he and a handful of fellow Irishmen held off a Union invasion of Texas in 1863, forcing 5,000 Union soldiers to retreat at Sabine Pass.

However, he also rented black slaves from a Houston slave owner including one African American boy just 12 years old, documents held at Rice University archives reveal. An IrishCentral investigation discovered the slavery link.

A plaque featuring a relief of Dowling and an inscription honoring his “feat of superb gunnery" in fighting off the Union troops was unveiled at the town hall in Tuam in 1998.

Co Galway councilor says he has "gut feeling" about removing memorial

The Times reports that Shaun Cunniffe, a Tuam-based member of Galway county council, said his “gut feeling” was that the memorial should be removed after the violence that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, by white supremacists during a protest against the removal of a confederate statue. Cunniffe plans to raise the issue at the next council meeting next month.

“I’m very conscious of the fact that it’s on a civil building in the very centre of Tuam. If a mistake was made by the town council, then a mistake was made and that needs to be recognized,” he said.

Read More: Ireland's has only one pro-slavery Confederate memorial --Is it next to fall?

Cunniffe told The Times that he did not want to sanitize the past nor did he want the plaque destroyed.

“I would like to see it moved to a museum or somewhere we can place it in context and where people can learn from the mistakes of the past,” he said.

Speaking of when the plaque was installed in 1998, he said: “I wasn’t in politics at the time. It was more a case of ‘local man does well’ rather than glorifying the slavery of the confederacy."

He added that he did not want to be on the same side as President Donald Trump who has decried the removal of “beautiful” confederate statues from public places in the U.S.

Billy Connelly, another independent Tuam member of Galway county council, said he knew about Dowling primarily from the Dick Dowlings bar in the local Ard Rí House Hotel.

“The hotel presents him in a very positive light. I’d really have to study it more before I make a full comment,” he said.

In Houston, Texas, where a re-enactment of his military victory is held every September, Dowling has also become a source of contention.

In January, Houston city council voted to change Dowling Street to Emancipation Avenue, and more than 350 people have signed a petition calling for the renaming of Tuam Street, which intersects with Dowling Street and is also named in the lieutenant’s honour.

There have also been calls for the removal of a statue of Lieutenant Dowling from a public park in Houston.