Irish continue to fight for naming of Fitzgerald Square at Alexandria waterfront

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What’s in a name?

From 2012 until this past March 17, the name Fitzgerald was front and center at the Alexandria waterfront plaza, which included the Old Dominion Boat Club, King Street Park and the boat club parking lot. The sign was a nod to Irishman Col. John Fitzgerald, a Revolutionary War aide de camp to George Washington who helped found St. Mary Church in Alexandria in 1795.

Now, Alexandria officials say the park was never formally named for Fitzgerald. Some locals believe naming the park after him means the city would be glorifying a slave owner, though debate continues on the veracity of that.

“We’ve never found evidence that he owned slaves, but (the opposition) has decided to use that as the narrative,” said Billy McCarthy, a parishioner of the Basilica of St. Mary in Alexandria. 

Both sides expressed their hopes and concerns at a public hearing at the Charles Houston Recreation Center in Alexandria Nov. 15.

The room was divided down the middle, with those in favor of Fitzgerald on one side, and those who wanted any other name on the other.

For Bernadette Troy, attending the meeting was an effort to convey the wishes of her husband Pat, an Alexandria legend who died in March.

“Pat was instrumental in getting this park started in 2012 and I'm glad to see the support here to name the park Fitzgerald,” she said. “That's the one thing he hoped to get done before he passed away.”

Craig Fifer, director of communications and public information for the City of Alexandria, apologized at the outset of the meeting, saying the city could have done a better job with the renaming process.

“I want to say on behalf of the city that we could have and should have done a better job of explaining it at the time,” said Fifer. “It would have avoided some of the confusion that we have had in the last four or five years that the name had not formally been adopted.”

During his presentation, Terry Riley, president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, said he hoped for transparency from the new city council on the waterfront name. “We believe that Alexandria Founding Father Col. Fitzgerald deserves the rightful historic recognition in today’s Alexandria,” he said. “If the square is to be renamed, it should be for someone who matches or exceeds Fitzgerald’s many contributions to the city of Alexandria, our commonwealth and our country.”

Riley said the group continues to be concerned there is a city effort against recognizing Irish Catholics in Alexandria.

“As far as the meeting, we were successful in that we were allowed to give our position for the first time,” Riley said. Recommendations by the City Naming Committee and recommendations from the online survey  will be sent to the City Council, which could vote on the name as early as Dec. 15. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018

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