• Former President of Ireland Mary McAleese unveils historic plaque  at Embassy Gardens

Former President of Ireland Mary McAleese unveils historic plaque at Embassy Gardens

Ireland’s former President Mary McAleese joined Ballymore Chairman and founder Sean Mulryan today, unveiling a new commemorative plaque in honour of Anglo-Irish suffragette Charlotte Despard – a pioneering figure in the realms of social activism, suffrage, and humanitarian efforts.

Former President of Ireland Mary McAleese unveils historic plaque  at Embassy Gardens

Donated by Ballymore’s founder Sean Mulryan, the plaque was unveiled at a public ceremony at Embassy Gardens in London. The event featured a reading of ‘What has Mrs Despard ever done for us?’ by the poet Hilaire, as well as music performances from award-winning music charity World Heart Beat, whose concert hall and academy is based at Embassy Gardens.  

Mary McAleese, who served as the eighth 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. 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.”

Added Sean Mulryan: “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. 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.” 

Known as "The Mother of Battersea” and one of Nine Elms’ most esteemed historical figures, Charlotte provided welfare facilities for the local community, many of whom were Irish, from her home at 2 Currie Street between 1890 and 1922, where landmark development Embassy Gardens stands today. Despard defied societal expectations of her time by dedicating her life to advocating for social justice and equality: the unveiling of a special plaque is testament to her contributions to the local community.

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, Charlotte decided to dedicate the rest of her life to helping the poor, moving to Nine Elms where she offered welfare support to the local community. She spent a great deal of time in Ireland and in 1908 joined Hanna Sheehy Skeffington to form the Irish Women’s Franchise League, settling in Dublin after World War I. 

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

Former President of Ireland Mary McAleese unveils historic plaque  at Embassy Gardens

The unveiling ceremony was attended by Irish Ambassador to the UK, Mr Martin Fraser, broadcaster Ryan Tubridy, Mayor of Wandsworth Councillor Sana Jafri, as well as Lady Lucy French OBE, Despard’s great-niece, who 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. I could not be more proud to see her recognised in Nine Elms, a fitting tribute to the Mother of Battersea.”

The installation of the plaque represents the ongoing commitment of Sean Mulryan and Ballymore to honouring the historical significance of Nine Elms, and those who have lived, worked and contributed to the local community. 



Related Articles