Former Irish president Mary McAleese unveils plaque honouring Anglo-Irish suffragette in London

Former Irish president Mary McAleese unveils plaque honouring Anglo-Irish suffragette in London

MARY MCALEESE has unveiled a plaque honouring the Anlgo-Irish suffragette Charlotte Despard.

The former Irish president was in London to reveal the tribute with Sean Mulryan, chairman and founder of property developer Ballymore.

The commemorative plaque is located at Ballymore’s Embassy Gardens development in Nine Elms, near Battersea, which was once the site of Despard’s home.

Mary McAleese and Sean Mulryan unveil the plaque to Charlotte Despard

Known as ‘The Mother of Battersea’, Despard is an esteemed historical figure within the Nine Elms neighbourhood, where she provided welfare facilities for the local community - many of whom were Irish - from her home at 2 Currie Street between 1890 and 1922.

Roscommon native Mulryan said his firm was determined to honour the "important legacy" of the former resident of its Embassy Gardens site.

“I have always been a passionate advocate of both the important heritage and future potential of Nine Elms, where our Embassy Gardens development has established a new, thriving community,” he said.

Roscommon native Sean Mulryan is the chairman and founder of Ballymore

“We are proud to play a role in recognising and honouring Charlotte Despard, who contributed so much for people living in Nine Elms, and tirelessly worked for a more fair and equitable society – an important legacy to take forward.”

Charlotte married Maximilian Carden Despard, an Anglo-Irish businessman and banker who was heavily involved in the early days of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation - now known as HSBC - from 1865.

When her husband died in 1890, she decided to dedicate the rest of her life to helping the poor.

She moved to Nine Elms, where she offered welfare support to the local community, and later moved in Ireland, settling in Dublin after World War One.

Broadcaster Ryan Tubridy and Irish Ambassador to Britain, Martin Fraser attend the event in Nine Elms

In 1908 she joined the Irish suffragette Hanna Sheehy Skeffington to form the Irish Women’s Franchise League.

In 1920 Despard toured Ireland as a member of the Labour Party Commission of Inquiry, and during the Irish War of Independence, together with Irish republican revolutionary, suffragette and actress, Maud Gonne, she collected first-hand evidence of army and police atrocities in Cork and Kerry.

ENGLAND - JUNE 05: Former Irish President Mary McAleese spoke at the event

The two women also formed the Women's Prisoners' Defence League to support republican prisoners and in 1921 Despard shared a house with Gonne, who was also the muse and long-time love interest of Irish poet W. B. Yeats.

Speaking at the plaque unveiling, Ms McAleese, who was President of Ireland from 1997 to 2011, said: “We all owe Charlotte Despard, and it is so important that her name is known, not for its own sake but for the sake of all she championed and all that still remains undone.

“She led by example - formidable, challenging example,” she explained.

Margaret Mulvihill and guest pictured with Lady Lucy French, Mary McAleese, Bernadine Mulryan, Sean Mulryan, Jeanne Rathbone, Cllr Sana Jafri and Martin Fraser at the Embassy Gardens event

“I hope today is a call to action that she would be proud of, and I am very grateful for being allowed to be part of this event, grateful to those who have made it happen and to those who will make it their business to finish what she started,” she added.

The ceremony was also attended by Irish Ambassador to Britain, Martin Fraser, as well as Despard’s great-niece Lady Lucy French, broadcaster Ryan Tubridy and Mayor of Wandsworth, Councillor Sana Jafri.

Speeches were also given by Humanist celebrant Jeanne Rathbone of the Battersea Society, and Despard’s biographer Margaret Mulvihill.

Sean Mulryan and Mayor of Wandsworth, Cllr Sana Jafri pictured at the plaque unveiling

Speaking at the event, Lady French said: “Growing up and listening to tales of my great aunt Lottie, I was always filled with immense awe.

“She was a woman so ahead of her time: a visionary in her support of the vulnerable, and the cause of women's rights.”

She added: “I could not be more proud to see her recognised in Nine Elms, a fitting tribute to the Mother of Battersea.”