Walking to the supermarket on a very warm September evening, I wandered absent-mindedly into a cul-de-sac. Had I not done so, I would not have proceeded to take careful note of the names of each of the streets I took. Nearing the shopping centre, Google Maps, told me that I was walking along Cromwellsfort Road.
“Why?” I thought.
Not why was I walking along the road, but why was it called “Cromwellsfort?”
An online search for the origin of the name initially only brought a list of properties for sale. Eventually, I found a site that explained that the name derived from the tradition that the Parliamentarian army under Oliver Cromwell had camped here during Cromwell’s military campaign in Ireland in 1649-50.
The tune of the old Republican song, The Men Behind the Wire surfaced in my mind. It was an anti-internment song from the 1970s and it expressed the deep resentment felt by the Irish nationalist community at there being British troops on the streets of Belfast.
Round the world the truth will echo
CromweIl’s men are here again
England’s name again is sullied
In the eyes of honest men
There was no need to explain to the hearers of the song the significance of the name of Cromwell. Mention of him was enough to evoke stories of slaughter and oppression in centuries past.
Among my own forebears in Somerset, the Crossman family were Parliamentarians, they fought with the Parliamentary forces against the Royalist army at Langport in 1645. The Roundhead victory was greeted with delight by Cromwell, the “Naseby mercy” had now been joined by the “Long Sutton mercy.”
Cromwell seemed fond of describing military victories as “mercies.” Defeating the Royalist armies at Rathmines, then a place outside of Dublin, Oliver Cromwell called the battle “an astonishing mercy, so great and seasonable that we are like them that dreamed.”
Sadly, Oliver Cromwell was not a man who regarded mercy as a quality to be shown as well as received. However much one might seek to parse and nuance the histories of his campaigns in Ireland, he was a brutal man with little regard for human life. There could be no justification for the murder of innocent civilians in towns like Drogheda, nor could there be excuse for the ethnic cleansing of much of Ireland, nor could there be defence of the extreme sectarian laws he introduced.
Were I living on Cromswellfort Road, I think I should petition the city council for a change.