Ulster News Letter
Statesman Who Moulded Ulster
Feb 9 2004
Much-revered Ulster Unionist leader and London barrister, Dubliner Edward Carson was born 150 years ago today.
Billy Kennedy looks back on the man's political and legal career.
SIR Edward Carson - Ulster Unionism's legendary founding father - had a distinctive southern Irish brogue which contrasted sharply with the dialects of his political contemporaries up north.
Carson, of course, was a Dubliner, born at 4 Harcourt Street in the southern capital on February 9th 1854.
His mother, Isabella Lambert, was a native of Galway of an Anglo-Irish Protestant family descended from one of Oliver Cromwell's generals.
His father, Edward Henry, was an architect, of lowland Scottish stock, and this probably accounted for young Edward's radical non-conformist streak that was prevalent in his student years at Trinity College.
In British Establishment circles, Edward is as much remembered for his tremendous legal acumen as for his inspirational leadership of the unionist cause in Ulster in the early part of the 20th century.
Indeed, half a century ago - and 18 years after Carson's death - the head of the English Bar, Attorney General Sir Lionel Heald, paid tribute to this outstanding legal figure.
''This was a man who started his legal career by applying unsuccessfully for a county court judgeship in Ireland and ended by refusing the Lord Chancellorship twice,'' said Heald.
''Very few advocates are remembered 10 years after they are dead. Success in the legal profession is the most ephemeral of all success. Carson was certainly an exception. He remains today a shining example to us all at the Bar and will remain so for our profession for all time,'' he added.
However, as the man who spearheaded Ulster's resistance to Home Rule, Carson enjoyed legendary status during his lifetime, and since his death on October 22, 1935.
Paradoxically, however, Lord Carson was not a man who was naturally drawn to politics. He once told Lloyd George: ''I have remained a lawyer first and a politician afterwards."
Carson became a QC for Ireland in 1889, Solicitor-General (Ireland) 1892, and MP for Dublin University that same year, a seat he held for 26 years. He later was elected Unionist MP of Duncairn in North Belfast in January 1918.
He was called to the English Bar in 1893 (Middle Temple); was knighted by the Prince of Wales and became a QC, England, in 1894.
It was as a peer at Westminster that Edward Carson got close to the Ulster Unionist MPs, even though he had initially joined the National Liberal Party in 1886 as the Home Rule Bill was being moved through the Commons by Liberal Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone.
But Co Cavan Unionist MP and leading Orangeman Colonel Edward Saunderson greatly influenced Carson and he became more attracted to the ideals of the Conservative and Unionist Party.
In February, 1886, leading Tory Lord Randolph Churchill came to Belfast to address loyalists in the Province on the Home Rule Bill, and, underlining his opposition to the controversial legislation, he proclaimed: ''Ulster will fight, Ulster will be right.''
Ulster Protestants were stirred and many were enlisted to resist at all costs the introduction of the Home Rule measures. The Bill, however, was defeated in Parliament by 36 votes and the Liberals lost power for six years.
Edward Carson, an inspirational leader, emerged on the scene at the right time for unionists and he frustrated further Liberal attempts to bring in Home Rule, in the 1890s and between 1905 and 1912.
The signing of the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant, which pledged resistance to any attempts to coerce unionists into a united Ireland, was a high point in Carson's career.
More than 470,000 loyalists signed the Covenant, many in their own blood, with Carson taking the lead at an historic ceremony in Belfast City Hall.
The politician/barrister was resolute in his conviction, with comments that resonated with the Ulster Protestant and Unionist people: ''We must be prepared, the morning that Home Rule passes, ourselves to become responsible for the Government of the Protestant Province of Ulster.
"It is not that we mean to fight them. Any Government will ponder long before it dares to shoot a loyal Ulster Protestant.''
Earlier, Carson had endorsed the setting up of the Ulster Volunteer Force to oppose Home Rule. He declared before 100,000 people at an Ulster convention at Balmoral in south Belfast in 1912: ''I am told it will be illegal. Of course, it will. Drilling is illegal.
"Volunteers are illegal and the Government know they are illegal, and the Government dare not interfere with them. Don't be afraid of illegalities.''
Carson, aided by the formidable Sir James Craig (Lord Craigavon) as well as events like the loyalist gunrunning into Larne in 1914 and the Curragh Mutiny, where a majority British Army officers refused to march against the North, demanded partition from the South for counties Antrim, Down, Armagh, Londonderry, Fermanagh and Tyrone.
In the Larne gun-running, 50,000 German rifles and five million rounds of ammunition were brought into Larne under the noses of the authorities and this hefty cache made the UVF a force to be reckoned with.
Carson was greatly displeased that the Province of Ulster had been broken up. He passionately felt for the unionist people of Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal who were being left out of the partition plans.
For these were people who showed as much resolve to oppose Home Rule, and Carson had closely identified with them at anti-Home Rule rallies in places such as Raphoe in Donegal.
The Great War of 1914-18 largely averted major conflict in Ulster and, during the period of the War, Sir Edward Carson held high British Cabinet office as Attorney General and First Lord of the Admiralty.
Before Lord Carson handed over the reins of leadership of the unionism to Lord Craigavon in 1921, he offered this advice to the UIster Protestant people: ''From the outset, let us see that the Roman Catholic minority have nothing to fear from the Protestant majority.
''Let us take care to win all that is best among those who have opposed to us in the past.
"While maintaining intact on our own religion, let us give the same rights to the religion of our neighbours,'' he said.
Carson was married twice - his first wife (married in 1879) was Sarah Annette Foster Kirwan, daughter of a retired Royal Irish Constabulary county inspector, and the second, on his first wife's death, a Ruby Frewen, who he wed on September 17, 1914.
Sir Edward Carson died from leukemia, aged 81, on Tuesday, October 22, 1935, and there was a state funeral to St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast, on Saturday, October 26.
The sad and solemn occasion was marked by the closure of shops, offices and factories in Belfast and other unionist towns as a mark of respect and tens of thousands of people lined the streets for the final tributes to the great unionist leader.
Statesman Who Moulded Ulster
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