Long Island town rids itself of Oliver Cromwell's crest

Huntington named after birthplace of English ruler, historians say

August 28, 2003|By Alfonso A. Castillo | Alfonso A. Castillo,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

HUNINGTON, N.Y. -- Irish eyes have not been smiling in Huntington, N.Y., lately.

After the revelation that the town's official coat of arms includes the family crest of Sir Oliver Cromwell -- the former English ruler who led the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Irish Catholics more than three centuries ago -- the town board voted unanimously recently to discontinue use of the symbol.

Although the coat of arms had been in use since the town commissioned its design in 1976, its association with Cromwell did not come to light until recently, as officials played up the town's roots as part of Huntington's 350th anniversary celebration.

Town Supervisor Frank Petrone even visited Cromwell's hometown during the Fourth of July weekend.

"That's offensive. That's going to honor somebody who tried to wipe out a race of people," said David Ring, the historian for the Suffolk County Ancient Order of Hibernians and the dean of students at Dowling College on Long Island, N.Y. "That's as offensive as a swastika would be to Jewish people."

Huntington, historians said, was named after the city of Huntingdon -- the birthplace of Cromwell, who ruled England when the British settled the town in 1653.

Ring said that after seizing control of the English Parliament in the 1600s, Cromwell led his armies in the genocide of Irish Catholics -- killing about 40 percent of indigenous Irishmen and then selling their women and children into slavery in the West Indies.

"He was just brutal, even for his time," said Ring, adding that Cromwell destroyed entire communities, including burning down churches.

Although the town board adopted a resolution to make it the official symbol of the town's public safety department as recently as 1996, Huntington officials said they have had little use for the coat of arms over the years, until they began planning for the 350th anniversary.

The logo, which features a "rampant lion" -- the Cromwell crest -- above an image of a shield, a Pilgrim and an American Indian and a banner reading "The Town Endures," has since been splashed all over stationery, signs and other materials promoting the anniversary.

The logo's newfound prominence caught the attention of William Farrell, a Hibernian and Huntington resident, who wrote a letter to Petrone asking for an apology and for the town to "quickly get rid of all traces of the Cromwell coat of arms."

"The kindest explanation is that this is a class A, Technicolor blunder, and you were not intentionally offering insult to the descendants of those to whom Cromwell brought misery and early death," Farrell wrote.

Petrone initially balked at Farrell's request, noting that the logo "merely documents the origins of the town's name" and did not celebrate nor condone Cromwell's actions.

"It was very innocent on people's parts," Petrone said this week.

However, town board member Marlene Budd did apologize to Farrell and convinced Petrone that the logo was potentially offensive and worth eliminating.

Petrone then created a seven-member commission, which includes Irish activists and historians, to consider the issue.

"The people who came to Huntington are from there, according to history. That's something we can't escape from," said town board member Mark Capodanno, who co-sponsored the resolution to drop the emblem.

"But once you find out who this leader was ... maybe you have to take a step back and draw the line."

Commission chairman and town board member Mark Cuthbertson, who is of Irish descent, said that while the current administration should not be blamed for a logo designed almost 30 years ago, it was little to ask to do away with the offensive image.

"To have him honored and acknowledged by being part of our town crest, I don't think is something we want to perpetuate," said Cuthbertson, adding that in the interim the town would use its official seal instead of the coat of arms.

Town spokesman Don McKay said the town will immediately begin "phasing out" the logo, although a few may turn up from time to time.

Alfonso A. Castillo is a reporter for Newsday, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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