Edward Carson, ‘No one on earth is so clearly the “typical Irishman”‘

Edward Carson rose in the Lords on December 3 1929 and made a number of points about the Irish Free State and the Privy Council, the legal forum the young Irish state was seeking to do away with. Interestingly, he called the Anglo-Irish Treaty the “Treaty of surrender and betrayal”. 

On the matter of his identity, he said:

“I am very proud as an Irishman to be a member of the British Empire.”

He also said:

“I was born and bred an Irishman and I’ll always be one. The happiest days of my life were in Trinity College, Dublin and at the Irish Bar.”

On February 11 1914 the House of Commons debated the Government of Ireland Bill and the proposed Amendment (10th February), Edward Carson rose and spoke about the Unionists of what is now the Republic of Ireland: 

“Ulster looms very largely in this controversy, simply because Ulster has a strong right arm, but there are Unionists in the South and West who loath the Bill just as much as we Ulster people loath it, whose difficulties are far greater, and who would willingly fight, as Ulster would fight, if they had the numbers. Nobody knows the difficulties of these men better than I do. Why, it was only the other day some of thorn ventured to put forward as a business proposition that this Bill would be financial ruin to their businesses, saying no more, and immediately they were boycotted, and resolutions were passed, and they were told that they ought to understand as Protestants that they ought to be thankful and grateful for being allowed to live in peace among the people who are there. Yes, we can never support the Bill which hands these people over to the tender mercies of those who have always been their bitterest enemies. We must go on whatever happens, opposing the Bill to the end. That we are entitled to do; that we are bound to do.”

Carson said in 1914:

“We’re both [Tom Kettle, Home Rule nationalist] Irishmen, and that is what matters.”

Carson’s contemporary and political adversary, the famous Irish Parliamentary Party politician Tim Healy, said:

“Although a Unionist, [Edward Carson] was never un-Irish.”

Edward Carson said in a speech in Torquay, January 30 1921:

“There is no one in the world who would be more pleased to see an absolute unity in Ireland than I would, and it could be purchased tomorrow, at what does not seem to me a very big price. If the South and West of Ireland came forward tomorrow to Ulster and said – “Look here, we have to run our old island, and we have to run her together, and we will give up all this everlasting teaching of hatred of England, and we will shake hands with you, and you and we together, within the Empire, doing our best for ourselves and the United Kingdom, and for all His Majesty’s Dominion will join together”, I will undertake that we would accept the handshake.”

Carson and others wrote in their open letter to Woodrow Wilson:

“To us as Irishmen it is a matter of poignant regret that the conduct of the Nationalist leaders in refusing to lay aside matters of domestic dispute, in order to put forth the whole strength of the country against Germany should have cast a stain on the good name of Ireland.”

Carson inverted the tradition republican proverb:

“England’s difficulty is not Ulster’s opportunity, England’s difficulty is our difficulty.”

John Redmond said in the House of Commons, July 31 1916:

“I think that I am not doing the smallest injustice when I say that his [Edward Carson’s] desire, just as much as my desire, is to see in the future a united Ireland. The difference, however, in arriving at that goal which exists between us is largely one of method. But that difference is one which, in my opinion, is not only capable, but is certain one of these days of a peaceful settlement.”

In a letter to The Irish Statesman, January 10 1920, George Bernard Shaw wrote:

“England has gone too far this time. She has done what I thought impossible. She has rallied me to the side of Ulster. Now I suppose I shall be shot; but I cannot help that. Am I not a Protestant to the very marrow of my bones? Is not Carson my fellow townsman? Are not the men of Ulster my countrymen?”

In ‘Sir Edward Carson and the Ulster Movement‘, St. John G. Ervine wrote in 1915:

“Sir Edward Carson is a stage Irishman… Sir Edward Carson is the last of the Broths of a Boy. He has a touch of Samuel Lover’s “Handy Andy ” in him. He is the most notable of the small band of Bedadderers and Be jabberers left in the world; the final Comic Irishman, leaping on to the music-hall stage or the political platform, twirling a blackthorn stick and shouting at the top of a thick, broguey voice (carefully preserved and cultivated for the benefit of English audiences): “Bedad, bejabers and begorra, is there e’er a man in all the town dare tread on the tail of my coat, bedad, bejabers and begorra!”

No other Irishman speaks with so deliberate a brogue or says “What” so obviously “Phwat!” No one on earth is so clearly the ” typical Irishman” (that is to say, the Irishman of the muddy imagination) as Sir Edward Carson is.”

Tomás O’Riordan said:

“Carson was an Irish patriot but not a nationalist.”

It was reported in the Irish Independent:

“In 1925, at Westminster, Carson argued against erecting a statue of Oliver Cromwell outside the mother of parliaments. He believed it was insensitive to his fellow Irishmen. (He lost the debate and the Lord Protector’s statue stands outside the Commons to this day.)”

Geoffrey Lewis wrote in his biography, ‘Carson: The Man Who Divided Ireland’:

“In 1886, [Edward] Carson knew next to nothing of the northern province of Ulster.”

Donal Fallon who writes on the social history of Dublin teaches with the Adult Education Department of University College Dublin and is a regular contributor to Newstalk and RTE Radio. He wrote that Carson was “the father of Irish loyalism” who “represents a great diversity of Irishness.”
Ian paisley said:

“Edward Carson was a life-long Irishman, as well as being a life-long unionist, and that made all the difference… On this 28th day of September [2012], 100 years after his pen touched parchment, we salute the man who taught us all how to be true Irishmen and women.”

Peter Robinson said in a 2012 speech to Iveagh House:

“Edward Carson was unquestionably an Irish unionist, and while the legacy of Edward Carson lives on, it may be regretted that the idea of ‘Irish unionism’ in any meaningful sense, as historically defined, does not…

Edward Carson would not be what in today’s terms could be considered a stereotypical unionist. 

Though he became the leader of Ulster Unionism his origins are, of course, in Dublin. He defined himself as a “liberal” unionist. He had a thick Dublin brogue. He had leading nationalists among his close friends. Though leading the cause of Ulster he was proud to call himself Irish. 

He wanted to keep Ireland united and within the Union and he repeatedly sought accommodation with his nationalist fellow-countrymen.”

Chris McGimpsey, UUP councillor, said:

“Carson knew exactly what he was, Edward Carson was Irish. He was an Irish unionist.”

Former Belfast Lord Mayor and historian Dr Ian Adamson described Carson as “an outstanding character in Ireland and the British Isles”:

“He was a politician in an Irish sense but also in a British sense and certainly was one of the most outstanding characters at the early part of the 20th century so I would have thought that would have been enough.”

Manchán Mangan presents the TG4 series, ‘Cé a chonaigh i mo theachsa?’, which looks at houses of Ireland with links to Irish fugues of historical fame. One episode feature Edward Carson who had a connection with Castle Ellen in Athenry. Mangan spoke with Gordon R.E. Lucy who said:

“The problem is that people in the south equate patriotism with nationalism. Carson was a patriot but he was not a nationalist. He was patriot with a sense that you could be simultaneously Irish and British. And I think that many people on this island that’s an idea that they cannot really get their heads around.”

Gordon also said:

“There’s a great irony about this. A lot of people see that [the Edward Carson statue at Stormont] as a symbol of triumphalism. Far from it. In many respects for Carson, his statue outside a Home Rule parliament was actually a symbol of defeat. After all what he wanted was one parliament for the whole United Kingdom.”

William Plum Smith said:

“I think he was an Irishman, ironically.”

Mr Justice Hardiman said

“Carson wanted the whole of Ireland to remain under British rule. His main aim was to have Ireland as part of the UK.”

Manchán Mangan who had suggested that Carson was “anti-Irish”, with study and consideration had a conversion. Mangan said himself:

“A divided Ireland may not have been what he wanted… I’m beginning to think that Carson loved Ireland more than the Union. And that it broke his heart that the country was divided. If he were alive today would he still support the Union? Or would he want a United Ireland?”

He later said:

“The most significant thing about this is Edward Carson. My understanding of him is that we don’t fully understand him here in Ireland. He loved Irish culture. We often think of him as a bête noir or an enemy. He loved Irish sport and its spirit. The most interesting thing is that he brought hurling to Trinity College. It’s not that he had no interest in Ireland.”

Michael Keaney who owns Castle Ellen in Athenry said:

“In some ways he was like the Normans who came to Ireland. They became more Irish than the irish themselves. They say in Athenry that Carson was “a sound man”. He was fair and straight with everyone.”

On the Union in his own words Carson wrote in 1912:

“It is not possible for the living needs of two prosperous countries to be bound indefinitely by the “dead hand” of an ancient statute, but we maintain that geographical and economic reasons make a legislative Union between Great Britain and Ireland necessary for the interests of both. We see, as Irish Ministers saw in 1800, that there can be no permanent resting place between complete Union and total separation.”

He later wrote:

“I fought to keep Ulster part of the United Kingdom, but Stormont is turning her into a second-class Dominion.”

Peter Cottrell wrote in ‘The Irish Civil War 1922-23’:

“That is not to say that all Ulster Unionists were content with partition. Many would have preferred to remain Irish unionists within the United Kingdom.”

Iain E. Johnston wrote as a PhD student at the University of Cambridge that Carson “spoke with a southern Irish brogue”, and with more detail wrote:

“There was for Carson, however, no reason why an Irishman, Catholic or Protestant, should not also be British (he was, after all) and therefore display the same dual identity as a proud British Scotsman. Unlike many of his peers, Carson defended the Catholic cause on several occasions, for instance over the right to education. Moreover, his opposition to nationalism was based on the union and little more; his opposition to Home Rule was not motivated by racial or religious factors.”

He continued:

“The evidence suggests that maintaining the union for a united Ireland remained his first hope—but the impossibility of that target, a position only exacerbated by the post-war loss of British Conservative support and the outrage caused by the Easter Rising, meant that Carson did what he could for Ulster and simultaneously preserved what he could of the union. He believed that this was the best thing he could do for his Ulster unionist movement and for his country, and therefore perhaps Carson was the most unlikely figure of all—Ulster unionist and Irish patriot.”

Declan Healy, history teacher said:

“There were other ways of looking at maybe the same thing. I always remember giving an essay, ‘Carson, Irish patriot.’ I remember on boy came to say, ‘Sir, that doesn’t make any sense.’ I said, ‘How do you mean it doesn’t make any sense?’ I said ‘Carson wanted the Union of Ireland and Britain he wanted, for him, what was the best thing for Ireland. Now can you say he’s not a patriot because he doesn’t agree with you?”

David Murphy (BA(Hons), BSC (Hons), MA) wrote:

“As an admirer of Pitts’bIrish Policy Carson declared himself to be a Unionist and British Irish.”

He also said:

“The minute books of the Historical Society further illustrate Carson’s range of debating subjects. He denounced the memory of Cromwell, argued for the French Revolution and supported the rights of women. Carson as a student strikes me as a free thinker with liberal even radical views as some ardent students have today.”

The Irish Times’ obituary for Carson in 1935 read:

“He was a Southern Irishman in every fibre of his being. To the end of his days he preserved a rich Dublin brogue, and in many ways he was typical of the South; yet he is being buried in Belfast.”

C. D. C. Armstrong wrote:

“Edward Carson was a Protestant Phineas Finn.”

Interestingly, in spite of Carson’s clearly and unambiguously avowed Irishness, his stoutest successors don’t share his self-identification as Irish.

Brian is a writer, artist, political cartoonist and legal blogger.

Actively tweeting from @brianjohnspencr. More information here: http://www.brianjohnspencer.com/

  • Anglo-Irish

    What I keep doing is repeating facts and what you keep doing is refusing to accept them because they don’t suit your ridiculous theories.

    You have shown an inability to think logically and a tendency to conclude what suits your argument on this subject.

    A few examples;

    You tell me that I can’t claim something unless I KNOW it, then in the same post you make a claim that you can’t possibly KNOW.

    When I provide you with an example of British ruthless brutality a hundred years after the Famine in order to illustrate the capability of the authorities for such behaviour you infer from that that I hold a bias against the English, conveniently overlooking the fact that I’m half English because it suits your point of view.

    You state a couple of posts ago that a few regiments couldn’t undertake massive projects such as famine relief for millions.
    During the course of the famine 71 British regiments sent troops to Ireland.
    Those troops were sent to all parts of the country and were present whilst crops and livestock were loaded onto various forms of transport in order to be exported to England.

    The troops were housed, fed, paid, clothed and their medical needs seen to whilst in Ireland.

    The loading, transporting, unloading at the docks, loading the ships and transporting to England where the whole process was repeated in reverse was apparently not too much of a problem seeing as how it was repeated thousands of times over the six year period.

    However according to you what was simply too complicated and onerous a task was to have taken a portion of that food and rationed it out in order to prevent millions starving in a land of plenty.

    You keep believing in your fairy stories if they comfort you in some way and I’ll accept the truth of the matter.

    I am satisfied that a significant number of highly intelligent people who’s views I respect agree with my opinion on this subject and therefore I see no point in continued discussion on the matter.

    You appear incapable of looking at the straightforward facts of the matter and want to over complicate it to suit your own agenda.

    Could the British authorities have prevented it if they so wished?

    Yes, the food was already in the country before they had it removed.

    No amount of ducking diving obfuscation and excuses can alter that simple fact.

    They chose to let people die, it’s as simple as that.

    It was genocide.

  • SeaanUiNeill


  • Anglo-Irish

    Look ..At ….The …Actual….Facts !!!!!!!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Your factoids, AI, really? The evidence I’ve pointed you to is what provides the reliable facts.

  • Anglo-Irish

    No Seaan,

    Over one million dead and a further million displaced in a country adjacent to the seat of power, and which was populated by British subjects is a reliable fact.

    The on record statements prior to the ‘Famine ‘ by members of the British ruling class that Ireland had a ‘surplus ‘ of people and they needed to be reduced is a reliable fact.

    The fact that had they chosen to the British authorities could have helped instead of hindered is a reliable fact.

    The removal of food sufficient to resolve the problem from the country leaving people to starve to death is a reliable fact.

    The organizing and transporting, billeting, feeding, clothing of troops from 71 different regiments across to Ireland to ensure that food was transported out to England is a reliable fact.

    The fact that the British Empire – in common with all other Empires- came about because its rulers exhibited a total disregard of the rights of others to property, life and liberty is a fact.

    The completely incorrect naming of the tragedy as a ‘Famine’ when it was no such thing is a reliable fact.

    All of the above are facts Seaan, what you are offering is excuses, mitigating circumstances, weasel words and obfuscation.

    None of which can change the facts.

    The British like to look upon the Empire as a good thing, in order to do so you need to disregard some absolutely obscene behaviour, which of course many people manage to do.


    You are apparently among their number, whilst I am the son of a man who was perfectly well aware as to what he was doing on the beach in northern France in early June 1940.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Yes factoids, meaning quite precisely a “piece of information that becomes accepted as a fact even though it’s not actually true, or an invented fact believed to be true because it appears in print.” These “facts” you repeat over and over are only a tiny portion of the evidence, and their unqualified use distorts everything entirely. It is not a matter of “excuses” but of seeing the whole picture in its full entirety, when such paper thin “popular history” versions constructed from factoids simply becomes untenable. But to really look into what happened you have to care about what really happened, not about just “winning” a politically motivated argument at any cost.

  • Anglo-Irish

    You really are a delusional obsessive when it comes to this particular subject aren’t you?

    Factoids? You really think that you can make stone cold facts appear somehow less than that by referring to them in that derogatory way?

    Each one of the facts which I posted is exactly that, A FACT.

    Your refusal to accept the views of people of intelligence and more relevant qualifications than you hold on the subject of whether or not it was genocide makes your ongoing protestations unacceptable.

    We need to terminate this dialogue now because whilst I have always previously enjoyed your posts on other subjects, and indeed hope to again on others , I am becoming irritated with your intransigence on this matter.

    I prefer to agree with the other knowledgeable people that I have shown you that take my point of view.

    In the company of a Professor of International Law ,a holder of a Masters degree in Irish History, G B Shaw, G K Chesterton and others.

    When an Englishman such as Michael Nicholson OBE a decorated journalist, proficient in research can start off believing as you do and then change his mind after learning the facts you would think that maybe you might have some doubts.

    Obviously not, in your mind you believe that you know more than all of these people and only you are right.

    You will no doubt continue to believe that it was all just a misfortunate turn of events.

    I meanwhile will continue to know that it was in fact deliberate genocide.


    We need to leave at at that Seaan, neither of us is getting anywhere and we have both made our views clear.

    Talk to you again on other subjects.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    My dear fellow, it’s not me as such who knows more than your motley collection of “authorities”, it’s all those people who have actually spent their lives examining the evidence for the Famine. If you’d read what I’d suggested to you, then you too would perhaps have a fuller more curate understanding of it also. But yes, all we are doing is vexing one another with any continuity here.

  • Anglo-Irish

    You referred to the points I made in my previous post as ‘factoids’. In reality they were facts, ‘factoids’ are not facts, they are statements which are inaccurate but repeated often enough to be taken as true.

    The number of deaths and migrations, the use of thousands of troops, and each of the other points made were the straightforward truth, no amount of disingenuous deflection can alter that, nor change the fact that those were the main areas of British culpability.

    You appear incapable of accepting the obvious, and are determined to complicate a straightforward matter of the deliberate use of a crisis to achieve an objective which the establishment regarded as in British Interest.

    This makes clear your biased view and inability to to use logic as regards this subject.

    Best leave it at that,we’re getting no where and just going around and around.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I’ve used “factoid” to point to a most important realisation, that even facts used without a full context can distort the readers understanding of the history. They become untrue in being used to say something different to what they would say in a fuller context. I’ve responded to each of your points over and over with material you could use to review where you are coming from, and to a great extent such evidence would change the meaning of what you claim, but you refuse over and over to look at anything which does not simply confirm what you believe already to be true.

    Reality is never straightforward, and history for any serious researcher will bring up endless qualifications on even the most grounded narrative. The “obvious” is exactly what must be questioned by any serious historian. It will often be “obvious” because it is a story encoded into the social consciousness which has been shaped by a careful selection of “facts” and the dishonest omission of others which qualify or even utterly change the desired impression.

    I am not arguing here from any particular bias, but from the broad range of evidence. I’ve always seen my role in my encounter with history as one of listening carefully to the evidence I encounter, certainly not one of repeating the old inaccurate stories to history which it has heard over and over for centuries from those who cannot bring themselves to listen and learn. “The number of deaths and migrations, the use of thousands of troops” all require proper contextualiztion with all the other evidence, such as I’ve attempted a bit with the posting on Indian famines, for example. Without a full and honest understanding of context there is no such thing as a “straightforward truth”, and the distortions that grow from selectivity become themselves culpable lies when such information is employed entirely out of context to “prove” something which falls down when exposed to a fuller understanding.

  • Anglo-Irish

    So, the FACT that over one million died over a six year period and the FACT that another million plus were displaced needs further contextualization does it?

    The FACT that troops from 71 regiments were employed to remove food from a starving people needs to viewed in context does it?

    The FACT that those in charge of the situation had previously expressed a wish that the population of Ireland needed to be radically reduced in British Interest was something that we should disregard is it?

    NO Seaan, those were the pertinent FACTS and the only ones needed to prove Genocide.

    One further thing Seaan, virtually all of those responsible for the disaster considered themselves to be good Christians.

    As such they would be fully aware of the Ten Commandments which were the cornerstone of the Christian faith handed down by God as guidance on how to conduct your life.

    ‘ Thou shalt not kill ‘ easily understood instruction.
    ‘ Thou shalt not steal ‘ again pretty clear.
    ‘ Thou shalt not covert ‘ includes property doesn’t it?

    They managed to absolve themselves from taking any heed of those instructions by convincing themselves that they didn’t refer to ‘lessor breeds ‘. They considered the Irish to be such and therefore managed to have a clear conscience about the action/inaction taken in order to achieve their Interests.

    People capable of such self serving self deception are capable of all manner of crimes against humanity, and that’s precisely what happened during the ‘Famine’

    This debate is over Seaan you have managed to convince yourself that black is white and wrong is right for whatever unknown reason but I’ve had enough of the nonsense.

    It was Genocide, that’s my last comment on the matter, please don’t bother to reply.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I simply have to up vote you for the sheer effort you are making to prove the entirely unprovable with these big board assumptions ripped out of context and dressed up as stand alone facts!!!! Fair play for perseverance………..

  • Anglo-Irish

    May I return the compliment on your ability to completely ignore the bleedin obvious and instead look for extenuating circumstances in order to try ( Unsuccessfully ) to justify the actions of a self righteous group of hypocritical self serving murderous evil bastards.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh dear AI, watch your blood pressure, ” self righteous group of hypocritical self serving murderous evil bastards” the Russell administration may well have been but not genocidal maniacs who conducted their own version of the Wannsee conference if current research can be trusted, something you can only assess if you actually engage with it properly. Read the evidence!

  • Anglo-Irish

    Seaan, my blood pressure is well taken care of, eight years ago I underwent a triple heart bypass operation and consequently my blood pressure is monitored and medicated.

    One of the reasons that I post on this forum is an effort to keep my mental faculties as alert as they can manage at my time of life.

    In common with many by pass patients I have found that my mental acuity has been appreciably impaired.

    You are one of the posters that I most enjoy talking with, as on all other subjects I have found you to be sensible, articulated and worth taking note of.

    However, on this subject you are so wrong that you are wronger than a Professor of Incorrectness at Erroneous College, faculty of Fallacious Reasoning, Oxford.

    Dismissing the cause, effect, and consequence of what took place in order to believe in whitewash and excuses as you are doing is unacceptable, and somewhat incongruous coming from you .

    What took place is accepted under both International Law, and the law of the United States of America to be Genocide.

    That may not satisfy you Seaan, but it most definitely satisfies me and a whole host of other people, including many with the qualifications to add weight to their opinion.

    Can we just let go of this now Seaan?

    It is becoming tedious, otiose and meaningless.

    You will never convince me that you are correct on this subject, time to move on.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    No need to convince you, I know I’m with current scholarship in where I stand on this. But I tried, AI, out of genuine respect I tried!

    Seriously, I’m glad to hear you’re well looked after on the blood pressure issue. I was breathless in the strong heat of Oxfordshire this summer while researching at the Bodleian and needed to take serious care of myself though still in the early years of what may well be a similar heart problem. I fight my own doctor over statins, but take all the other pills he gives me to avoid what happened to a very close friend who died in his mid fifties from a massive coronary a few Christmases ago. He is much missed, as you also would be in your comments, certainly by your opponent on this Famine issue. I wish you a long and productive life and may you dismiss me as lackey of British Imperialism for many many years to come. Le gach deá ghuí.

  • Anglo-Irish

    Make sure you take care of that Seaan, my parents came from the north of England and the west of Ireland respectively, both families have a history of heart problems and few if any other health worries, yet they managed to meet up and pass on that hereditary legacy to me!

    On my Irish side I lost a first cousin – who was two months younger than me – at the age of 52, an uncle at 62 and in April a cousin at 72.

    On the English side a cousin at the age of 44 and my father at 72, as I will be 70 in February I’m not buying any green bananas!

    Thanks for the well wishes and the same to you.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    While many of my family have not made old bones (physical “souvenirs” from both world wars alongside heart, lung and other conditions) my father made 90, so I have hopes that with some care we can be exchanging long missives and annoying Mick for another twenty years. I was active with the PD and NICRA in 1968, so that shows my age, just two years behind you. For now lets see who we can unsettle next.

  • Anglo-Irish

    Sounds like a plan!

    Must say that I’m not surprised that you are only a whippersnapper, on certain subjects your immaturity shows through. : )

  • SeaanUiNeill

    So I have been told by numerous Unionist posters……..