Wednesday 29 March 2017

Mini profile: Edward Carson

Edward Carson.
Edward Carson.

Richard McElligott

Edward Carson was born in Dublin in 1854. Having studied law at Trinity College he qualified as a barrister in 1877, rising quickly in the profession. Following his election as an MP for Dublin in 1892, his impressive performances in the House of Commons during the debates on the Second Home Rule Bill earned him celebrity status in Britain. In 1895 he achieved international fame as the prosecutor who secured the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde.

In 1910 Carson became chairman of the Irish Unionist Parliamentary Party. His new role placed him at the head of the Unionist campaign against the Third Home Rule Bill. Carson was determined to keep Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom. He believed that without the industrial and economic power of Ulster, a Home Rule State in Ireland could not function.

Therefore his strategy was to make Home Rule unworkable by co-ordinating a massive campaign of Unionist opposition in the province. He presided over a demonstration in September 1912 when 471,414 people signed the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant or, in the case of women, the Declaration.

Carson is often seen as the man who militarised modern Irish politics, by sanctioning the formation of the paramilitary UVF in January 1913 to resist Home Rule, by armed force if necessary. With the outbreak of the First World War, Carson pledged Unionist support for the British war effort. Unlike John Redmond, he accepted an invitation to enter Asquith's wartime coalition Cabinet formed in May 1915.

He was appointed Attorney-General of England and, when Lloyd George took over the premiership, First Lord of the Admiralty. Carson grew increasingly disillusioned over the Government's attempts to find a political settlement to satisfy Nationalist and Unionist aspirations during the Anglo-Irish War.

He was a vehement critic of the Anglo-Irish Treaty and passed over the offer to lead the newly created state of Northern Ireland to his lieutenant, James Craig. He retired to the House of Lords and died in 1935.

Dr Richard McElligott lectures in Modern Irish History at UCD and is the author of several works on the Irish Revolutionary period

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