Dr Paisley (Lord Bannside) Visit: Part 3
by Dr Ian Adamson OBE
On the morning of Friday 4th of June 2010, along with John Kennedy and Denis Carr, I accompanied Dr Paisley (Lord Bannside) to Harcourt Street, named after Lord Simon Harcourt who was a former Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1772 to 1776. Harcourt Street is a fine Georgian street that is largely intact and leads away from St Stephens Green. Dr Paisley’s father, the Rev J Kyle Paisley, was a Baptist minister who separated from the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland in 1935 and became an Independent Baptist Pastor. Of particular interest therefore were the Baptist Union meetings held in the Harcourt Street Baptist Church premises which Dr Paisley’s father attended. Before searching out the church we had tea at 4 Harcourt Street where Sir Edward Henry Carson, Baron Carson of Duncairn, the great lawyer and Unionist politician, was born, on 9th February 1854.
As we walked down Harcourt Street we also stopped at Number 6, the residence in 1854 of John Henry Cardinal Newman, the first Director of University College Dublin. The centrepiece of Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain this September, of course, will be the beatification, which is one step short of canonization, of Cardinal Newman. It must be said however that many admirers of the eminent Victorian cleric and convert remain uneasy about the ceremony because they see him as rather too worldly to be a candidate for sainthood. Newman himself dismissed this very process for himself during his long and controversial lifetime. Newman was indeed very wary of the Vatican saying famously that he would “drink to conscience first and to the Pope afterwards”.
But it was the Gaelic bookshop at 6 Harcourt Street which we found out later was the most interesting of the lot. Dr Paisley, Baroness Paisley and I were invited into the bookshop by John Kennedy who had spotted a book by John Biggs-Davison MP – “The Cross of St Patrick – the Catholic Unionist Tradition in Ireland, London 1985”. This he bought and presented to Dr Paisley as a memento of his trip to Harcourt Street.
Sir John Alec Biggs-Davison was born on 7 June 1918 and died on 17 September 1988. His daughter Lisl of the “Friends of the Union” organisation, which I joined as a Life Member in 1992, promoted my books and sent me a lovely photograph of him when he died, which I keep in his book “The Hand is Red”, London 1973. While at Oxford University a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, as one usually is, he became Conservative Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom for Chigwell from 1955 and then after boundary changes in 1974, Epping Forest, until his death. He was a leading figure in the Conservative Monday Club. He likened the suspension and subsequent abolition of the Parliament in Northern Ireland by Edward Heath as equivalent to someone” sawing away the branch he bestraddles”.
My friend Ruairí Ó Bléine has explained some of the history of this bookshop in a letter which I append.
We then returned to Farmleigh to meet up again with Baroness Paisley. We were met again by Mary Heffernan, the General Manager. Mary showed us the great Library at Farmleigh where we viewed among other books the first edition of Gulliver’s Travels by Dean Swift and the primer in Latin, Irish and English of Queen Elizabeth the First. At 12 o’clock we departed for Áras an Úachtaráin where we had lunch with the President Mary McAleese and Dr Martin McAleese accompanied by Adrian O’Neill, the Secretary General of Áras an Úachtaráin. Her Excellency had dedicated a plaque to the memory of the individual regiments who formed the 10th Irish Division, their comrades in arms and their brave Turkish adversaries during a ceremony organised by the Somme Association on 24 March this year at Greenhill Cemetery in Gallipoli. We will always been in her debt.
We then travelled on to the historic site of the Battle of the Boyne at Oldbridge, County Meath and were welcomed there by Minister Martin Mansergh. He recalled the special occasion of Dr Paisley’s first official visit on 11 May 2007, just three days after he was appointed First Minister of Northern Ireland. On that occasion, he planted a commemorative tree – Walnut (Juglans Regis) – and returned a year later on 6 May 2008 to officially open the new OPW Visitors Centre based in Oldbridge House jointly with the then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern on his last full day in office. Minister Mansergh again showed Dr Paisley the tree, which is thriving in its position in the walled garden, and recalled those previous historic occasions of which there is photographic record in the Visitors Centre in Oldbridge House.
Dr Paisley said he was delighted to see the site was proving such a success as a visitor and tourist attraction, something he encouraged and supported considering that it symbolises shared history of all of Ireland. The Minister presented Dr Paisley with a signed copy of a guidebook “Battle of the Boyne – Campaign for the English Crown” by Michael McNally. Dr Paisley, Lady Paisley and the Minister then signed a framed photograph marking the 2007 visit for display at the Visitors Centre. Commenting on the entire visit to Dublin, Minister Mansergh said that, whilst private and low-key, it was a landmark in the improving of relations on the island. Dr Paisley wanted to underline what we have in common, including shared sacrifices on the battlefield, notwithstanding the important differences that will remain. As we left the Boyne Valley we passed a signpost to Newgrange and also to the Ledwidge Cottage. Francis Ledwidge’s memorial I was to see several weeks later at Messines near Ieper (Ypres) in Belgium.
[Ed: Dr. Ruairí Ó Bléine (a.k.a. Roger Blaney) adds this note on the Bookshop in Harcourt Street, Dublin, which the political pair visited –
Number 6 Harcourt Street, Dublin
This is the Headquarters of Conradh na Gaeilge (The Gaelic League), the senior organisation concerned with the promotion of Irish as a spoken language. It was co-founded in 1893 by Douglas Hyde (1860-1949), the son of a Roscommon Church of Ireland Minister.
The League moved in 1965 to Harcourt Street from its previous premises in Parnell Square. I became much more familiar with this house from 1996, which I was elected to the Coiste Gnó (Business Committee) at one of the very few times that the Ard-Fheis (AGM) was held in Belfast. For six consecutive years afterwards I was again elected, and finally retired as Tanáiste (Vice-President) in 2002.
It is a fascinating building in its history and in the activities it houses. The ground floor is partly given up to the work of a very comprehensive bookshop, selling not only virtually all publications in print in the Irish language but including volumes in the other Celtic languages as well. Under the shop is a basement given over to the Gaelic League Club, which includes a licensed premises and, during my time at the Headquarters, a tunnel below the Club was discovered. Some investigation then revealed the true significance of the role of 6 Harcourt Street in Irish history. This tunnel and another subsequently discovered under the Street itself, when digging was being carried out in relation to the “LUAS” the new street trams, were found to be escape routes for Michael Collins, who, in this house, ran the finances of the rebel government set up in 1918.
The entrance of the tunnels is accessed by a neat pair of trap-doors, undetected for many years. The house is a centre for learning Irish and for this purpose there are many capacious rooms upstairs. It is also the centre for the organisation of Oireachtas na Gaeilge, which runs musical and arts festivals twice a year in various places throughout the country, mainly in the Gaeltacht. A conversation class in Scottish Gaelic meets once per month and is very popular.
After our meetings we used to adjourn to the nearby hostelry for refreshments, a place numbered 4 Harcourt Street, which happens to be the birth-place of Sir Edward Carson.
From Number Six are co-ordinated the 200 odd branches of the Gaelic League. About 50 of these are in Ulster under the aegis of Comhaltas Uladh, which also has a scheme for sending young people to the Irish Summer Colleges in the Donegal Gaeltacht.
Ed's comments: An interesting trip! The Cross of St Patrick, which I read many years ago, is a substantial book which Biggs-Davison in collaboration with a researcher who performed, I guess, much of the original research. Biggs-Davison concluded that there never was a “Cross of St Patrick”. Patrick was not a martyr, and so was not entitled to having a cross in his coat-of-arms. Biggs-Davison guessed that, as an Irish emblem, it comes down from the once-mighty Fitzgerald family. Besides its incorporation in the Union Flag, the only occasions I've seen it flown on its own in a serious way is on Anglican (Church of Ireland) churches on St Patrick's Day. But Biggs-Davison uncovered a rich Irish Roman Catholic Unionist tradition, largely forgotten today. The Unionists once held the City of Galway, for goodness sake!
I joined the Friends of the Union myself at or before its first local meeting in the Ulster Hall in, perhaps, 1987, and remained a member until the organisation folded. It did much good work.
Dr Paisley (Lord Bannside) visit: Part 1, by Cllr Dr Ian Adamson OBE, Monday, June 4. 2010
Dr Paisley (Lord Bannside) visit: Part 2, by Cllr Dr Ian Adamson OBE, Monday, June 5. 2010
Lord Bannside and Dr Paisley, by Cllr Dr Ian Adamson, Wednesday, June 23. 2010