Festival is Catalyst for Renaming of Park

Festival is Catalyst for Renaming of Park

City, Ballyshaners pay tribute to the Irish.

Alexandria held its 23rd and final Irish Festival Saturday. According to festival organizer Pat Troy, "This day from now on will be known as John Fitzgerald Day."

Troy then announced to the crowd assembled at Waterfront Park, "We have petitions, and we want you to sign this petition."

Troy's aim is to get Waterfront Park, which he dubs "No Name Park," to be renamed “John Fitzgerald Park” after one of the city's founders. This has been a personal crusade of Troy's for several years. Now he is taking his plea citywide.

"If this man does not deserve to have this park named after him, who does?," Troy asked rhetorically as Alexandria’s Mayor William D. Euille, Vice Mayor Redella S. "Del" Pepper, and newly elected Councilman Paul Smedburg sat on the stage behind him.

"I have been trying to get this park renamed for this great man for several years. This city was settled by three groups — the English, Scottish and Irish," Troy said. "I tried the last night of the last Council. They wouldn't listen, and they wouldn't do it."

Troy then read off the many accomplishments of Fitzgerald from his 1769 arrival in Alexandria from County Wicklow, Ireland. Some of those included the following:

. 1776-82 — Washington's aide de camp and secretary,

. 1785 — founding director with Washington in the establishment of the Potomac (canal) Co. and its president 1793-96,

. 1786-87 — mayor of Alexandria,

. 1787 — elected alderman,

. 1788 — established the first Catholic church, St. Mary's,

. 1792 — one of the founders of the Bank of Alexandria,

. 1795 — commissioned a U.S. naval officer for the fortification of Alexandria.

ON DEC. 2, 1799, Col. John Fitzgerald died within 12 days of his friend Gen. George Washington. His pall bearers included some of Alexandria's most recognized leaders — Col. George Gilpin, Col. Ramsey J. Taylor, W. and T. Herbert, and Charles Alexander, according to Troy.

To drive the point home that this event will now be held on "John Fitzgerald Day," Troy named the first recipient of The John Fitzgerald Award. It went to Alexandria historian, T. Michael Miller.

Receiving the award on Miller's behalf from Troy and Ed Ryan, president, Ballyshaner's Inc., was Douglas Thurman, co-chairman, John Fitzgerald petition drive.

The inscription on the plaque read: "Thanks for all your contributions to our city in telling the history of the Irish contributions. Especially for John Fitzgerald that our city has ignored for too long."

Troy plans to circulate the petition throughout the city urging all residents to sign. It states: "We the undersigned ... urge the mayor and City Council to consider renaming Waterfront Park after Col. John Fitzgerald, patriot, visionary, and founder of St. Mary's Catholic Church. A fitting tribute to Col. Fitzgerald long overdue."

WHEN EUILLE came to microphone, he said, "We are going to work with Pat on renaming this park. That's all I can say today." He then urged attendees to have "a great day" and make sure they visited "the rest of Alexandria."

After the opening ceremonies, Euille did recognize that "this is the right procedure, to have this petition. Up until now it has been Pat bringing this matter to Council. Now it will be backed by other Alexandria citizens."

Euille verified, "Pat hasn't lobbied me at all on this. But I'm sure he'll be back and going through the process again." That process involves submitting requests for naming or renaming any area or object within the city under municipal control to the "Naming Committee" of Council, according to Euille.

"I have just appointed [Councilwoman] Del [Pepper] and [Councilwoman] Joyce Woodson to that committee," Euille said. Pepper's reaction to Troy's request was, "We're going to look at it. But, we've been looking at it. Founders Park is named for the city's founders. The last Council felt that was the appropriate place to honor John Fitzgerald."

FOLLOWING THE opening ceremonies, people were flocking to the Festival's official table to sign the petition. Each then received a sticker indicating support for Troy's proposal.

As with each Irish Festival, the day included entertainment by various groups, Irish arts and crafts, Irish-American food, and cold refreshments. There were also stands to buy various Irish products, and a genealogy booth to check family heritage, Irish or otherwise.

In addition to City officials, Troy was joined on stage by state Del. Marian Van Landingham (D-45th); Edward Semonian, clerk of Circuit Court; and leaders of various Irish organizations. The festival opened with a noon parade led by the colors of the United States and Ireland and the Alexandria Pipes and Drums Corps.