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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  • Tochais Siorai

    I have no idea what that mishmash of a reply has to do with the original statement.

  • Robert ian Wiliams

    1.6 million voted for independence….1,4 million voted snp in 2015 and 1million in 2016. Showing that most Scots are not hard core nationalists but opportunists. Look at the Irish names in the SNP, who deserted Scots Labour in their droves… bearing in mind that in the 1940s SNP was anti Catholic.

  • Robert ian Wiliams

    In an attempt to convert Catholics the crown set up Trinity College in Dublin to foster that mission and translated the Anglican prayer book and bible into Irish.This failed , but a similar ploy worked in Wales.

  • Robert ian Wiliams

    But it was not on offer in 1914, and not seriously considered until after 1919.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    What you are thinking about perhaps, RIW, is the moment when Dominion status was first considered as part of the legislation, but its significant role in much earlier discussions is a matter of record and in these contacts between the IPP and Unionism most importantly Dominion status is under discussion as the furthest probable boundary of “independence” for all constitutional parties in 1914, which is how I was employing it in my comments.

    In fact your demanding the letter of the actual bill of 1914 and ignoring these wider discussions which included the discussed possibility of dominion status is underpinning my most central point, that the nature of the Home Rule that was on offer in 1914 was simply a very mild form of devolution, utterly different in nature to the threatening creature that the UUC was at that time describing to its terrified followers to drive them into taking up the gun.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    And the point you are trying to make with this?

  • Ulsterman

    I am an Ulster Protestant who is a Unionist in outlook! The issue I have with (what seems like) the majority of Nationalists, particularly in the Republic of Ireland is – they dont really, deep down except my right to be British! The impression I get is ” oh never mind, some day you will wake up and admit it has all been a mistake on my part being British”

    I would like to hear the thoughts of other contributors on this point. This is something that I think displays a very arrogant mindset on behalf of Irish nationalism!

  • Robert ian Wiliams

    First ,French speaking Normans who were occupying parts of Wales and England invaded Ireland in 1170. the Gaelic culture was disparate throughout the Ireland with Vikings on the coast. Irish culture was preserved in the middle ages by the Church, who were the only united body in the country.

    Every signatory died confessed a Pierce rejoiced that Connolly went too. In Fron Goch ( which I passed yesterday) all the prisoners recited the rosary together. The Irish Constitution opens with a declaration of belief in the Holy Trinity.

    All I can say that the most anti Irish , anti Catholic force in Ireland today is Sinn Fein. Kingdoms and Republics come and go, but my first loyalty is to God, and they can go stuff their secular manufactured Gaelic Ireland.

  • Ciaran O’Connor

    “they dont really, deep down except my right to be British!”
    *accept 😉

    It would be deeply conceited to try and superimpose/foist upon someone an objective opinion of what this persons self-identity image is. Its the individuals decision to decide what they are.

    However I think I can reserve the right to be extremely confused about what the same people tell me what their self-identity image is, especially since it seems to change with whatever direction a favourable wind is blowing.

  • Skibo

    Also shows that there are more voters for independence than voted for SNP.
    I think the only thing you could say about the SNP at the present time is they are PRO Scottish!
    It says something about a party when they can get 46.5% of the overall vote and somebody thinks it is a bad result. Maybe it says more about yourself Rob.

  • Skibo

    Isn’t that the great thing about history. Its a bit like reading the bible, you can always find something to support your beliefs, no mater how twisted and perverted it is.
    Interesting that Unionism marches every year on the 12th in recognition of a foreign Protestant prince deposing an English King with the POPEs consent and the night before, they would have burned the Pope on their bonfires!
    Interesting that you note that the only thing that unified Ireland was the Church in the 12th century and at some stage you will harp on about Ireland not being a defined Kingdom but a loose collection of territories. England was something similar a century or so previously.
    Also I note that the Pope again was involved in this invasion to bring the Irish Church fully under his domain.
    Hard to condemn anyone who returns to their mother church on their deathbed. I think its called covering all the bases.
    Did Clarke not chase the Priest who asked him to condemn the rising?
    “All I can say that the most anti Irish , anti Catholic force in Ireland today is Sinn Fein. Kingdoms and Republics come and go, but my first loyalty is to God, and they can go stuff their secular manufactured Gaelic Ireland.”
    Ah I nearly fell off my chair laughing mu head off at this.
    I have never heard anyone before condemning SF for not being Catholic enough or not being Irish enough.
    The Gaelic Ireland you so condemn is the same Gaelic Ireland known the world over.
    I take it you are concerned at SF support of LGBT and their support for a clear definition of the position on the limited abortion available in NI.
    I haven’t heard you demand that we have a travel ban on all pregnant women so thy cannot travel to GB to have an abortion.
    By the way, when are you bringing back stoning for adultery? Are you still blaming the parents for their disabled children, the sins of the father will be visited on the son?

  • Robert ian Wiliams

    That great purveyor of Anglo Saxon the USA virtues is now winning the culture wars in Ireland.

  • Robert ian Wiliams

    SF are dissenters and not true Catholics.

  • Skibo

    You talk in riddles. Seems to me your cranium is presently in a dark confined area!

  • Skibo

    Pray do tell where we will find true Catholics who take the bible word for word and live to its rules? See if they did exist, they would be in jail for stoning people to death.
    Perhaps you thing the COI and COE are true Catholics. A church built on the rights of the head of the church to do with his wives as he wanted, Catholic but not Roman Catholic.

  • Robert ian Wiliams

    Snp got 1.5 million votes on 2015 and 1.1 million in 2016.

  • Robert ian Wiliams

    There was no dominion status on offer or any serious consideration of it. stop painting yourself into a corner.

  • Robert ian Wiliams

    I’ve answered all your.. points before but you prefer the Walt Disney version of Irish history. the one that makes the British the villains.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    IIW, you obviously do not understand what history is. It is the accumulation of information from endless primary source research, and the evaluation of this. It is not simply what you are reading from other people’s books. If anyone is painting themselves into a corner, it is clearly yourself with your evident failure to even begin to examine the complex pattern of negotiations which were under way between 1912 and the outbreak of the Great War between all interested parties regarding the Home Rule issue. There was a lot more going on behind the scenes than what was evident in the Bill, as even a little broader reading would have shown you.

    But I must say that even with your utterly reductive approach still displays just how very unreasonable the UUC were being in the light of what Home Rule would actually have meant in practice in 1914.

  • Skibo

    Comparing apples and bananas. Westminster and Assembly elections with completely different voting strategies.
    50% at Westminster and 46.5% at the Assembly where you have the ability to spread your vote.

  • Skibo

    Oh Lad no, Walt Disney could not do the British credit. Hammer House of Horrors maybe but XXX rated.
    You just believe everything the British did was wonderful. Ask any country that was invaded by them, you will get a similar reply.
    Have they thought about sending back all the things they stole from all over the world to fill their museums?