Ian Paisley – “We are Irish!”


Ian Paisley, Brian John Spencer (2)


Of the DUP membership, 1.4% self-identify as Irish.

Yet the founder of the DUP was 100% Irish. This is not speculation or conjecture or troublemaking, this is a statement of fact based upon unequivocal and repeated testimony from Ian Paisley.

Ian paisley wrote in 2012 on the centenary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant:

“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, 100 years after his pen touched parchment, we salute the man who taught us all how to be true Irishmen and women.”

Before considering the Irishness of Paisley any further, it is worth considering Edward Carson, the founding father of Northern Ireland, the Alpha and Omega of Ulster Unionism, and Paisley’s lodestar. Without the Dublin barrister there is no Northern Ireland and no Paisley. While he was and remains the nemesis of Irish republicans, Sir Edward Carson was deeply and indisputably Irish. Peter Robinson said in a 2012 speech in Iveagh House Dublin:

“Edward Carson was unquestionably an Irish unionist, and while the legacy of Edward Carson lives on… 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…”

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

“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.”

In spite of Carson’s well known, avowed and indisputable Irishness, his acolytes and successors don’t share his Irishness. This is a shame. In fact, most of Carson’s political posterity categorically repudiate any sense of being Irish and any concept of Irishness. Anecdotes are plentiful. Jim Wells for instance guffawed at a suggestion in the Stormont Assembly that he was Irish.

Most resolved unionists identify as British, are amenable to being Northern Irish, and object to Irishness. The book that presented an anatomy of the DUP, ‘The Democratic Unionist Party: From Protest to Power’, found:

  • 1.4% of DUP members self-identify as Irish.
  • 79.9% of members self-identify as British.
  • 8.8% of members self-identify as Northern Irish.
  • 7.6% self-identify as Ulster.

Peter Robinson said he was Northern Irish, but acknowledged that unionists do have the capacity to be “Irish”, as he said in Dublin in 2012:

“I consider myself an Ulster or Northern Ireland unionist not an Irish Unionist. The same would be true of the vast majority of unionists in Northern Ireland. That is a significant change not just from one hundred years ago but even from fifty years ago… For many centuries, Ulster was a place apart in Ireland, but until more recent decades there was still a real sense of being Irish. I accept that there are some unionists in Northern Ireland who are still relaxed identifying themselves as ‘Irish’ though they are a minority… Whereas Carson would have regarded himself as Irish and British I believe that most unionists today regard their identity as being from Northern Ireland and British.”

Ian Paisley Jr acknowledged that his identity had an element of Irishness, as he said in 1997:

“[My identity is] very eclectic [ including] things which I choose which are British and things which are Irish and things which I choose which are unique to Northern Ireland… [But it is a] British way of life… I don’t look to see what is happening in the Irish exchequer. I am interested in what is happening in the British budget … interested in English football teams, in television, such as British soap operas, all those things.”

Kyle Paisley said he is Northern Irish:

“No. As a Northern Irish person, I don’t believe the 1916 Rising defines me. That’s not to say that it doesn’t affect me or that it has nothing to teach me.”

As for Ian Paisley being Irish, there is clear, repeated and unequivocal testimony, as I outline below.

Brian Walker who writes on Slugger said that Paisley said in 2008 to UTV that he was an “Irish unionist.” Paisley himself said:

“I’m an Ulsterman… I would never deny I was an Irishman… The person that says that [denies they are Irish], they are Irish and there have been more generations from Irish roots in them than they’re prepared to meet. The English that came over here were ‘Irish-ised’ very quickly.”

Ian Paisley also said in 1991:

“I would never repudiate the fact that I am an Irishman.”

Famous Irish hotelier based in New York John Fitzpatrick once hosted Ian Paisley in his Lexington Avenue hotel. He recalled in an interview Paisley’s animated arrival, who bellowed at the hotel entrance – “We are Irish!”:

“A year and a half ago we had Dr. Ian Paisley, on his first official visit to New York. Ian Jr., who I had gotten to know, calls me and says, “I’m going to put Dad with you.” I said, “Oh, great, sure, will he be comfortable?” He said, “Absolutely, but there’s only one thing I need from you.” I said, “Don’t worry, it’ll be flying” [the Union Jack]. It would’ve been flying anyway, that’s what we do when any head of state stays here.

So I go out as the cars pull up. I open the door and Ian Paisley gets out and puts his hat on and I swear, he looks at me seriously and says, “My son says you’re okay, and he’s right.” He walks in the door and it’s Christmas week, everybody from Ireland’s in and there are six women from Derry coming out with shopping bags going to get in a car to the airport. And he stops and talks with them and they’re saying, “Dr. Paisley!” It was very funny. He sat down in the front room in the restaurant – that’s his table, the one with the windows. There was no hiding! Some smart person came up to him one day and said, “What are you doing in an Irish hotel?” and he said, “We are Irish!””

Paisley said in 2007 while in Dublin with Bertie Ahern:

“I am proud to be an Ulsterman, but I am also proud of my Irish roots.”

Eamonn Mallie who knew Paisley very well, said:

“I always felt that Ian Paisley emotionally was quintessentially Irish. Every utterance, he was a wordsmith; a raconteur. He had all the hallmarks of a Irish literary person. He had a temperament not much different from Seamus Heaney and his sense of the island. He did say he was Irish. He deemed himself more a royalist than being British. He was loyal to the Crown but not the British way of life. He was a contradiction.”

It’s the cliché of northern politics and recent Irish history to say, Ian Paisley was a contradiction. The man of “Never! Never! Never!” said OK and became the political other-half of Martin McGuinness. While he was described as a “demagogue” from the pulpit, it has been recounted repeatedly that on a one-to-one level there was no more courteous or caring person. While he inspired people to keep Ulster British and to fear Irishness, he openly and repeatedly pronounced his Irishness.

That is the contradiction and the great pity of modern unionist politics, that they have lost their Irishness, something which they are perfectly entitled to. In the face of all this clear and explicit evidence, DUP members and voters passionately deny being Irish or any sense of Irishness.

In a major speech following his resignation Bertie Ahern said:

“[One of the saddest developments in recent decades has been] the reduction in the number of people in the North from a Protestant unionist and loyalist background who regard themselves as Irish, or as both Irish and British.”

As I have previously tried to show, violence done in the name of Ireland has poisoned Irishness for Protestants. Logically, targets are not the friends of the shot.

Just as Heaney said that violence is leading to no wholeness, so violence led Protestants away from Irishness.

Violence isn’t the only cause of unionism’s drift from Irishness.

The narrow and prescriptive notions of Irishness promoted and de facto patented by republicans excludes unionists.

The concept of the “Fior Gael” (“true Irish”) made Britishness and Irishness perfectly incompatible.

This Irishness – gaelic, rural and catholic – as promoted by de Valera and others, “The Ireland that we dreamt of”, gave us a situation, captured in a sentence by Heather Crawford, where “protestants cannot be quite Irish”. As Fintan O’Toole said, for many years in Ireland “Ireland is our dream – if it didn’t have any Protestants in it.”

Unionism’s exit from the Irish family has been more, if not as much, a response to external factors than it has been a unilateral act.

Graham Norton, a southern Protestant born in Dublin and raised in Bandon, Cork said, because of his protestantism, “You’re made to feel like you’re not Irish.”

Yet as much as protestants try to run away from being Irishness, and no matter how much “Fior Gael” republicans deny Irishness to unionists, it is inescapable, as John Redmond said:

“Nothing impressed me more than the opinion I heard expressed by a high-placed Roman Catholic officer who is in service with the Ulster Division, when he told me of his experience there, and when he said that although he was the only one of the Catholic religion in that Division, it had dawned upon him that they certainly were Irishmen and were not Englishmen or Scotsmen. The right honourable gentleman knows perfectly well that it would not take so very much to bring his friends and our friends together, and I ask him why the attempt is not made?”

It is the luxury of local politics that we can deny the Irishness of others or deny the Irishness of the self. But when it comes to the real world of travel and wider business and politics, whether you’re deep Orange or deep Green to the outsider we’re all Paddies. As Trimble said:

“Many Englishmen… seem unable to distinguish between the native inhabitants of Ireland – to him they are all “paddies”.”

It would be nice to see the followers of Paisley follow Paisley and reclaim their Irishness and help to create a broader Irishness and end the narrow, exclusive and anachronistic ways of being Irish.

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