U.S. press on the rise and fall of the Paisley dynasty

UPDATE:

Mervyn Gibson, grand secretary of the Orange Order, has said the poor performance of Northern Ireland’s unionist parties in the July 4 general election “could have been a lot worse for unionists, it wasn’t too bad. But there is a lot of work to do to promote the union.” As Twelfth parades stepped off across the province, he told the Belfast Telegraph there is “massive growth in Orange activity across the country.” This claim is suspect, according to nationalist Irish News columnist Brian Feeney. He writes the Orangeism’s “ageing membership is a fraction of what it was fifty years ago. Many marchers can’t manage the distance of their parades. Instead of a manifestation of the power of unionism ‘the Twalf’ is Exhibit A of what has happened to unionism.” … Northern Ireland’s Secretary of State Hilary Benn attended a Twelfth parade in County Fermanagh one day after meeting Irish Tánaiste (deputy PM) Micheal Martin in County Down. “I see my job as being a friend to all, beholden to none, but an honest broker in Northern Ireland,” said Benn of the newly empowered U.K. Labour party.

ORIGINAL POST:

Ian Paisley Jr.’s defeat in the United Kingdom elections marks the first time in 54 years that the family will not represent Northern Ireland’s North Antrim constituency at Westminster. The Rev. Paisley Sr. entered Parliament in June 1970, then 15 months later founded the militant Democratic Unionist Party. Now, the DUP’s loss of two other seats in the July 4 election means it is no longer the largest or dominant party among 18 representatives from Northern Ireland.

Paisley’s defeat has been called “a political earthquake,” one that reveals division among those who seek to maintain Northern Ireland’s union with Great Britain. It comes as Northern Irish Protestants begin their annual July 12 Battle of the Boyne commemorations. It will worth watching to see if unionism’s troubles manifest at this year’s marches and bonfires. (See update above.)

The election result sent me to U.S. newspaper databases[1]Newspapers.com and ProQuest. to review coverage of Paisley Senior’s rise to political power early in the Troubles.

Paisley Sr. in 1970.

The firebrand preacher was named in the U.S. press as early as 1951, when Religion News Service reported on the St. Patrick’s Day formation of the Free Presbyterian Church.[2]“Presbyterian Church Inaugurated In Ulster”, RNS via Public Opinion, Chambersburg, Pa., March 31, 1951. More widespread coverage of Paisley began in 1962, when the Associated Press reported that Italian police had detained him and two other Protestant preachers from Northern Ireland for distributing pamphlets in St. Peter’s Square to protest a meeting of the Roman Catholic Ecumenical Council.

Paisley did not surface in the New York Times until 1966, when he was mentioned in 14 stories, mostly about his incarceration for unlawful assembly and related rioting in Belfast. In covering that year’s Twelfth marches, the Times American-born correspondent Dana Adams Schmidt reported that Orangemen were “divided over a form of religious and political extremism known as Paisleyism. … (He) has gained an avid following with emotional tirades against the Catholic Church, against the ecumenical movement and against the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Capt. Terence O’Neill.”[3]”A Divided Northern Ireland Celebrates The Battle Of The Boyne”, New York Times, July 13, 1966. “Dana Adams Schmidt, Reporter Based In Europe and Mideast, 78”, New York Times, … Continue reading

Paisley had already developed a relationship with the namesake founder of the Christian fundamentalist Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina. The university bestowed Paisley with an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree, and Jones visited the Free Presbyterian Church in Belfast in October 1966. The American preacher told the Irish congregation that the United States and the United Kingdom had in common “the same biased press.”[4]“Jones Charges British, U.S. Press Biased”, Associated Press via The State, Columbia, S.C., Oct. 28, 1966. Paisley’s namesake first son was born in December 1966.

Dynasty begins

By the time he was elected to Parliament four years later, Paisley Père was a fixture in U.S. press coverage of Northern Ireland. He was described as “Northern Ireland’s answer to Alabama’s George Wallace. … Both men possess formidable oratorical talent, and both speak—with varying degrees of subtlety and fervor—to the deep-seated fears of many people.”[5]“Paisley Alters 20th Century”, Marvin Kupfer of Newsweek Features via Press and Sun-Bulletin, Binghamton, N.Y., June 30, 1970.

Paisley joined the House of Commons months after Catholic civil rights crusader Bernadette Devlin won a Mid Ulster by-election to become the youngest woman elected to Westminster. The 21-year-old claimed the seat in London, unlike traditional Irish republican abstentionists.

“These are the two symbols of Northern Ireland today … the Socialist martyr, hope of despairing Catholics … (and the) ordained apostle of right-wing reaction, arch-sectarian, defender of Protestants who feel their world and its values crumbling away,” wrote one correspondent.[6]”The Rebel In Armagh Jail, The Hater In The Pulpit”, Anthony Carthew of the Daily Mail, London, via the New York Times, Aug. 9, 1970. Another said she was “a rabblerouser, Castro in a miniskirt” while he was “a rank demagogue and an embryo Fascist.”[7]”Bernadette Devlin, Rev. Ian Paisley Symbols of N. Ireland Polarization”, Edwin McDowell in the Arizona Republic, Sept. 14, 1970. McDowell later worked for the Wall Street Journal and the … Continue reading Noted U.S. conservative columnist William F. Buckley Jr. worried that “Paisleyism is more important than Paisley, and would most likely survive him. … If Paisleyism triumphs, Northern Ireland will disintegrate.”[8]Buckley’s July 1970 column was widely published in U.S. papers.

Paisley Jr. in 2020.

Northern Ireland did disintegrate into bloodshed, which lasted until the late 1990s. As it turned out, Paisley had a longer and more successful political career than Devlin. But he eventually moderated his position enough to lead the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly with Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness. (Alabama’s Wallace also moderated his politics later in his career.)

Dynasty ends

Paisley Sr. retired from politics in 2011, and he died three years later. Paisley Jr. replaced his father at Westminster in 2010, and was re-elected three times. He was defeated by 450 votes this month by Jim Allister, leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice, which split from the DUP in 2007 as a more hardline party. Since his loss, Paisley refused to join the DUP’s call for unionist unity, and he has dodged the press.

The end of the Paisley dynasty rated only two paragraphs in the New York Times‘ online roundup of the U.K. election. It was the paper’s first mention of the family since the father’s death a decade ago. Most U.S. media outlets have ignored the fall of the house of Paisley.

References

References
1 Newspapers.com and ProQuest.
2 “Presbyterian Church Inaugurated In Ulster”, RNS via Public Opinion, Chambersburg, Pa., March 31, 1951.
3 ”A Divided Northern Ireland Celebrates The Battle Of The Boyne”, New York Times, July 13, 1966. “Dana Adams Schmidt, Reporter Based In Europe and Mideast, 78”, New York Times, Aug. 26, 1994.
4 “Jones Charges British, U.S. Press Biased”, Associated Press via The State, Columbia, S.C., Oct. 28, 1966.
5 “Paisley Alters 20th Century”, Marvin Kupfer of Newsweek Features via Press and Sun-Bulletin, Binghamton, N.Y., June 30, 1970.
6 ”The Rebel In Armagh Jail, The Hater In The Pulpit”, Anthony Carthew of the Daily Mail, London, via the New York Times, Aug. 9, 1970.
7 ”Bernadette Devlin, Rev. Ian Paisley Symbols of N. Ireland Polarization”, Edwin McDowell in the Arizona Republic, Sept. 14, 1970. McDowell later worked for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
8 Buckley’s July 1970 column was widely published in U.S. papers.

One thought on “U.S. press on the rise and fall of the Paisley dynasty

  1. Edward J Renehan

    I wonder to what extent dissatisfaction with Brexit is fueling dissension in Paisley’s party. I’ve read where many Protestants want unity with the Republic where they might not have before, for the sake of getting back into the European Union with all its many economic / trade benefits.

    Reply

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