From Bible Belt to Chuckle Brother

It was 1966. the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. Irish nationalism was celebrated everywhere, not least in Belfast, and it was here that tribal tension was once agin sparked.

It was 1966. the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. Irish nationalism was celebrated everywhere, not least in Belfast, and it was here that tribal tension was once agin sparked.

And one figure to emerge from the Belfast Bible belt was a 40-year-old Protestant clergyman, who had been ordained by his own father and then set up his own breakaway Free Presbyterian Church. His name was Ian Paisley. He was good at dividing people, even Protestants.

When Northern Ireland prime minister captain Terence O’Neill tried to establish closer relations with the republic, Paisley opposed. Soon he was pictured throwing snowballs at Jack Lynch’s car as it arrived at Stormont.

He deliberately marched his followers through Roman Catholic areas to show that loyalists could go where they liked and they could. This was a gerrymandered police state. Catholics could not march where they pleased.

There were riots. Paisley refused to sign court orders to keep the peace. In the North, 200,000 people out of a population of one million, agreed with him. And 350,00 of that were Catholics.

He became a martyr when he was jailed after leading a demonstration against civil rights in Armagh in 1968, but was released on bail to fight an election against O’Neill’s in Bannside.

He lost but gathered a substantial vote. Two years later he was an MP in the House of Commons representing North Antrim.

The next year he formed the Democratic Unionist Party and by 1973 formed an alliance with the neo-fascist Vanguard movement and the paramilitary Ulster Defence Association and set out to wreck the first first power-sharing executive formed by the Sunningdale Agreement. He did this by leading the general strike of 1974 that almost started a civil war.

And then 25 years later, he was sharing power with republicans.

Chuckling, laughing. Realising a life of hatred comes to nothing.