Walter Raleigh

(29/10/1618)

Nestled within the streets of Crumlin, Dublin, Raleigh Square stands as a stark reminder of the contentious legacy of Walter Raleigh, a figure whose actions continue to spark debate and reflection. Born in Devon, England, around 1552, Raleigh’s life was characterised by exploration, exploitation, and the introduction of tobacco to Europe, leaving a troubling mark on both sides of the Atlantic.

Raleigh’s relationship with Ireland is fraught with conflict and colonisation. His participation in the Siege of Smerwick in 1580, where hundreds of Irish rebels were ruthlessly slaughtered, epitomises the brutality of English rule in Ireland. Despite later contributions such as introducing the potato, Raleigh’s involvement in the exploitation of Irish resources reflects a darker aspect of his legacy.

However, Raleigh’s most enduring impact lies in his role in bringing tobacco to Europe. During his voyages to the New World, Raleigh encountered indigenous peoples who smoked tobacco as part of their rituals. Recognising its potential for profit, he introduced tobacco to England, where it quickly became a sought-after commodity among the elite.

Raleigh’s introduction of tobacco to Europe laid the foundation for the global tobacco industry, which would later wreak havoc on public health and communities worldwide. The Imperial Tobacco Company, established in the early 20th century, shamelessly capitalised on Raleigh’s legacy, naming itself after him as a testament to his pivotal role in promoting tobacco consumption.

Raleigh’s name thus became synonymous with exploitation and addiction, linking Crumlin to an industry built on the suffering of countless individuals. Raleigh Square, built by the Imperial Tobacco Company for its employees in 1925, stands as a grim reminder of this legacy, a monument to the exploitation of labour and the promotion of harmful substances.

As we confront Raleigh’s legacy, it is essential to acknowledge the profound harm he inflicted on both Ireland and the wider world. While his contributions to agriculture and trade may have left a lasting imprint, they also underscore the enduring consequences of imperialism and colonialism. Raleigh’s story serves as a cautionary tale, a reminder of the insidious nature of exploitation and the need to reckon with the darker chapters of history. His name serves as a stark reminder of the enduring impact of greed and exploitation on communities and cultures, urging us to confront the uncomfortable truths of our shared history.

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Connection with area: English adventurer and writer for whom Raleigh Square was named after which housed workers from the Imperial Tobacco Company.