Kenneth Griffith, the film-maker, actor and writer, reviles Edward Carson for prolonging the 800-year conflict between England and Ireland
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
On 18 November 1994, an astounding event took place which was barely reported in the British media: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Doctor George Carey, head of the Anglican Church and therefore spiritual adviser to Her Majesty the Queen and perhaps our Prime Minister and a fair proportion of his Cabinet, travelled to Dublin and took the Taoiseach's hand (then Mr Albert Reynolds) and apologised for England's "brutal domination and crass insensitivity in the 800 years of our relationship with Ireland". Thank you, Your Grace! Neither Mr Gerry Adams nor I could have put it better.

And the man who worked hardest and most effectively to cement the monstrous and bloody conflict between Britain and Ireland in these modern times was Mr Edward Carson, inevitably to end up "Lord" Carson.

Until recently, I have had great difficulty in comprehending those Irish people who, despite being reasonably well-educated and therefore well- informed of those 800 years of evil which the Archbishop referred to, take every opportunity to revile and insult those of their fellow Irish people who, like their fighting forebears, have put their lives on the line for the liberation of Ireland's 32 counties. Their wretched prototype, I realise, is Edward Carson.

Of Scottish Presbyterian stock, Carson was born in Dublin in 1854. He attended Trinity College, a key institution for training privileged Anglo- Irish people, generally called "the Ascendancy"; that is, they were ascendant over the native Irish Irish who were - as it is said - outside the Pale. The curious reality of much of Ireland's history, while it was under England's power, was that the ghettos (Dublin etc, and the vast Anglo-Irish estates) were for the affluent and their servants, while "beyond" was for the despised natives. Edward Carson, throughout his life, adhered to the spirit of the Ascendancy and all that it arrogantly and exploitatively implies.

Carson became a barrister and quickly demonstrated that he was a powerful advocate. He tended to support the Tory mentality - in the courts of law and everywhere else. During Oscar Wilde's trial, for instance, he worked brutally against Wilde and for Lord Queensberry. And he worked cruelly to humiliate the Suffragettes.

The Celtic Irish - to their eternal credit - have fought against the Norman-Saxon (that is, the English) presence in their country for 800 years. In 1887, the Irish Irish (as against the Scottish Irish "Protestants") were still pushing hard and effectively against the English administration - the police, the military, the bureaucracy and that grand Ascendancy - and so England introduced the Crimes Act: dismiss juries and give power to Tory-orientated judges. It was in these punitive courts of law that Carson was in his element. He was known throughout Ireland as "Coercion Carson" or "Dublin Castle's bloodhound".

Of course, that reputation made him popular amongst my fellow Protestants in the northeast of Ireland, and so Carson moved his interests towards Belfast and the Unionists (with England).

In 1892, he became a member of the British Parliament, representing Trinity College as a Unionist. His total pre-occupation was devoted to that purpose and utterly opposed to Gladstone's greatest concept: the final emancipation of Ireland from the bloody grip of England.

English people are always asking: "What is the conflict about?" The answer is simple: 800 years ago, the power of England invaded Ireland and ruled it. First, it was pure greed; later, it was to eliminate Roman Catholicism. The Irish Irish resisted England's presence in every way. But by the year 1607, the final Irish Irish rulers of their coun- try found their positions untenable. England was now all-powerful and those Irish leaders who survived were forced on to the Continent of Europe, in what is romantically known as "The Flight of the Earls". As part of Protestant England's programme of genocide, the English, in a policy called the "Plantation", shipped vast numbers of primarily Scottish Protestants to Ireland, where they took over the emptied bloody land. These people are Ian Paisley's forebears. It was England's biggest effort at ethnic cleansing.

Edward Carson saw the Scottish Irish as the key to maintaining England's supremacy in Ireland. But his unfortunate vision was not limited to Great Britain; his eyes were fixed on the glories of the British Empire. He appeared to stand square with England's imperialism, but preservation of the British Ascendancy was his priority. He said, "Keep the old flag flying" (the Union Jack in Ireland) and "No Surrender!" And when the Liberals of Britain were about to achieve Home Rule for Ireland, he acquired - after chatting to the Kaiser - massive deliveries of guns from Germany and said: "I hope there will be violence!" So much for Protestant Ireland's "loyalty". So much for Carson.

But now the Empire has gone, the House of Lords is going, the Archbishop of Canterbury is apologising and there is only a miserable John Major hoping that England can save face while he holds on to the votes of Ian Paisley and company.