Edward Carson, Father Of The Irish Revolution?

Writing in EamonnMallie.com, artist and writer Brian John Spencer teases out serious contradictions at the heart of the unionist critique of the Easter Rising.

How can unionists condemn a rebellion when they threatened rebellion?

During a recent discussion on BBC Spotlight on the Easter Rising, Jim Allister of the TUV said the Ulster Covenant was an “entirely peaceful exercise”.

He was responding to David Ford who said it was a “seditious document”. Like the leader of the Alliance party, my forebears signed the Covenant in September 1912. Like David Ford, despite being a relative of signatories of this Ulster proclamation, I agree that it was a “seditious document”.

David Patterson, my mother’s maternal grandfather who signed the Ulster Covenant

By signing on the line, my forebears, along with 237,368 men and 234,046 women, pledged total resistance to Home Rule – everything including armed rebellion. This threat was underwritten and reaffirmed by the importation of arms, the infamous ‘Larne gunrunning’ of April 1914. As Rudyard Kipling wrote in his famous poem, ‘Ulster 1912′:

‘If England drives us forth

We shall not fall alone.’

John Blair, after whom I take my middle name, was the father of my paternal grand-mother and signed the Covenant

John Dillon, of the Irish Parliamentary Party, said in the Commons after the Rising:
Remember what was that pledge. It was a pledge of rebellion. Why are you complaining so much of the Sinn Feiners?

Ronan Fanning wrote in ‘Fatal Path’ that the Ulster Unionists’ successful resistance to the third Home Rule Bill was a revolutionary act.

Carson’s “revolution” included the creation of a 90,000-strong private militia (the UVF), the establishment of an Ulster provisional government in September 1913, and the refusal of British Army officers to act against the Ulster Volunteers, endorsed by the Conservative party. A revolution it undoubtedly was.

Dairmaid Ferriter wrote recently:

[Edward Carson and the Ulster Volunteers] had more in common with republican revolutionaries than with Home Rulers.

Pearse and Connolly simply emulated the revolutionary example set by Craig and Carson, taking it one small step further.

Louis G. Redmond-Howard, the nephew of John Redmond wrote:
It was, as I have repeatedly pointed out, a pure stroke of luck that it was not Belfast’s City Hall instead of Dublin’s Post Office that was burnt to the ground.
Obstinate unionism will no doubt deny any link or degree of culpability. Edward Carson of course said he was simply “preaching order“.

Yet for the objective third party observer, one can only conclude that without the Ulstermen there is no Easter Rising.

Michael Slattery of South Tipperary County Council wrote in a letter to the Irish Times, May 18 1916:

In common with the overwhelming majority of the Irish people, we condemn the recent outbreak in Dublin, which we regard as the natural outcome of tactics adopted by Sir Edward Carson and his followers in 1914.

The centenary of the Easter Rising has allowed for a rigorous and constructive cross-examination of the rebellion and the legacy of armed separatism. The views and arguments presented are varied: from the Redmondism of John Redmond, to the school curriculum take of Una Mullally, to the unapologetic Connollyism of Robert Ballagh.

This range of self-analysis has not been reflected or reciprocated on the unionist side. Just as republicanism is not contagious, so conducting a thorough, even critical, examination of your unionist past does not mean you lose your unionism.

Michael Portillo said to the News Letter after his BBC-RTE documentary on the Easter Rising, ‘Enemy Files‘:

It’s a dark period in the history of the Conservative Party that a Conservative Party allied itself very publicly with what was … prospectively an armed rising against the Crown, against the will of parliament, as the Ulster volunteers armed themselves.

To move forward we have to understand the past, and the blunders made on all sides.

I often ask: Was Edward Carson the father of the IRA? I think he was. While the Covenant sought order, it sowed sedition. The best of intentions can create the worst influences and make to the worse consequences. Unionism, and republicanism too, need to wake up to the monsters that fixed obstinacy and orthodoxy can create.

I mean this. Just as the Easter Rising made partition inevitable and more enduring, so the Ulster Covenant made rebellion most likely.

Absolutism and violence have brought no wholeness in the last century, only compromise and fraternity can bring that.


  1. Maith thu BJS.

    I await Peter's commentary on this one!

  2. No small amount of moral fortitude is required to write a piece like this.

  3. There is the suggestion in this article of some profundity, some insight yet what is presented hinges on a confusion of words and their meanings.

    There was a threat by Carson and others of rebellion. It did not come to pass.

    There was an attempted revolution by Connolly and others. It failed.

    Words do matter. Ideas matter. On account of these truths this article sadly indicates confusion in both the thinking and the language of the writer. Also, some of the quotations from academics and others indicate that a little bookish learning does not guarantee clarity of thought.

    A disappointing article.

    So, "Nothing of interest here to see; please move along".

  4. 137

    You are wrong, this is not so much a confusion of words and their meanings as you say but drawing a connection from a chain of events (actions). It is one man's brief empirical study. And I found it interesting and glad I did not follow your advice to move along.

    You have said nothing of any worth to discount the assertions made in the article beyond your own filibuster which made even less sense.

  5. Excellent little article from Brian. He is a interesting guy for sure. Fanning's The Fatal Path is an excellent read for those that haven't read it. An eye opener for me, I was lucky enough to have several hours to discuss the book with Paul Bew, what a great way to spend an afternoon. Clearly unionism militarised the situation first which opened the door for the IRB and their republican friends to do the same. As Pearce remarked at the time on the arming of the UVF, "I am glad the north has begun...I am glad the orangemen have armed, for it is a goodly thing to see arms in Irish hands....I should like to see any and every Irish citizen armed. We must accustoms ourselves...to the use of arms." Carson and his chums in the Conservative party and the army conspired to usurp the crown the result of this was the failed Rising. Well done Brian.

  6. Peter,

    How much did Carson et al facilitate rather than cause the Rising given that the IRB long predated Carson and were always on the search for an opportunity. Paul is an excellent historian.


    I tried to grasp 137's point but whatever it was it eluded me. While 137 was spot on about bookish learning (we don't learn to swim in the library) the dots were not jointed to Brian's post in any way that I could see. I found the article anything but disappointing. But each to their own.

  7. AM

    We can capture various events in Irish History and single them out for interpretation as having lead to other sequential events but don't they all lead back to centuries of British occupation and oppression?

    I think Connolly and Pierce's seditious minds were formed long before 1914 and they would have done what they did regardless of Carson. That is not to say that they did not watch or learn from Carson, it would have been prudent for them to have done so.

    I think the real issue exposed here is how readily Unionists will turn on the Brits. Even in the out break of the 1970's troubles the Brit and the Irish Governments were both concerned that Unionists might opt for an Independent 6 Counties -loyalty me arse.

  8. Christy,

    that they would always turn on the Brits is indivisible from the autonomous phenomenon that unionism is and which I think republicans have long misunderstood. Of more relevance to me is the shallowness of the sanctimonious carping against the Rising when they were as willing to have a Rising. Don't do as we do but as we say.

  9. Peter

    whilst strolling along the prom in Salthill this afternoon I nodded, and mouthed Mr President, in acknowledgement to Michael D Higgins.

    Whether he's called the President of the Irish Republic, the President of the Republic of Ireland or just simply the President of Ireland most people won't care. Few would understand the nuanced differences between those titles.

    The fact is this man was enjoying a nonchalant stroll in the spring sunshine among the people: a people who see themselves as free and believe they are free from colonial domination through the efforts of their immediate ancestors who successfully revolted against such domination.

    The success of Unionism, the men and women of 1912 ably abetted by Bonar Law et al is that 26 + 6 = 2.

  10. HJ, Jesus man you are an awful, awful sycophant turned and have totally lost the run of yourself. 'Mr President, I nodded and mouthed'. I dare you to look in the mirror and repeat that to yourself, for even you must surely feel shame in such an utterance given where you come from. I venture you would not talk as you do on here to your friends and family, knowing full well they would likely cringe. Higgins is not the President of Ireland but of the Royal Oireachtas, as full well you know. Ireland has 32 counties, again as well you know. The Republic of Ireland is no such thing and is certainly not the Irish Republic. It is nothing more than the successor state to the 'Southern Ireland' entity legislated for in the 1920 Government of Ireland Act, an illegal construct of the British Crown later brought into being by traitors to the Republic, who walked out of Dáil Éireann to convene the Southern Parliament established by George V in direct contravention of the 1921 Election result, all so they could sign the Treaty. Aside from all of that you are wrong again as usual, unionism did not succeed. Contrary to your inane rambling, the goal of unionism and 'the men and women of 1912' was not to partition Ireland but to keep all of Ireland within the Union. They failed and that you see 'success' in the carnival of reaction predicted by Connolly only demonstrates further how pathetic you have become in your ceaseless quest to kid yourself you have had some form of awakening. Go and soak your head in a tub of water and wise up for once in your life, Ireland is one and will always be so.

  11. Sean

    what you may perceive as a sycophantic or servile act I'd contend was merely respectful: a respectful acknowledgement of current realities and an acceptance of life on life's terms. It comes with a developed ability to accept things as they are rather than deluding oneself and attempting to fantasise the world as we might like it to be!

    Its called growing up Sean ... and generally comes wrapped in pain.

    “There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own Soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” Carl Jung

    The time has come for more Republicans and more Unionists to poke about in the shadows.

    Once again, well done Brian for a brave article.

  12. Without offence HJ, that is the most inappropriate use of Carl Jung's famous and indeed inspiring quote I have ever heard. Never before have I seen it adapted to a context as that in which you employ it. Indeed your context represents the total opposite of what Carl Jung is talking about.

    Carl Jung is driving at the perfection of the human soul, at the point of connection between mankind and the great beyond. His notion is that in the individual state, or physical reality, the individual, or body, is held back and indeed enslaved by the social forces impacting our existence at this moment. There is no coming to consciousness without acknowledging the violence of reality, see it through the lens of imperialism or power or whatever, and that is what he is saying. We must be conscious of the tissue of lies that is the bed we lie on and there will be much pain on our collective journey to the necessary awakening, of both the self and the wider collective that is humanity.

    Carl Jung was a revolutionary and indeed one of the most important actors on my own thought process. You on the other hand are a slave in the grip of momentary psychosis brought on by the social pressures he speaks of, everything the man refers to when he speaks of the need to come to consciousness. For he is not talking of society or indeed the individual within it here at all. What he is talking about is what I believe he termed the 'unconscious conscious', or something similar to that. He is talking about a necessary journey from subdued and ignorant states to that which transcend the conscious and the unconscious, the individual and society, the self and the whole, the mask and the soul. It is here 'consciousness' is found.

    (I'll have to continue this below as my comment is too long.)

  13. You are exactly the sort of manipulated individual he refers to in his discourse. That's not to insult you but to throw the reality at you in the hope you'll snap out of your obvious concession to the forces of society as they impact your notion of right and wrong and your wider interpretation of the matrix that influences our relationship with the world we live in, what Jung thought of as 'fashioned persona'. You have consciously been fashioning this 'New Henry Joy' persona in your own mind which is why at the outset I suggested you look in the mirror. Fashioned persona would ignore that the current state of society was achieved through the murder of 31 sacred lives on the streets of my town because to allow this to impact our thinking undermines the shell that is the false society we live in, which we don't want to face up to because of how it will undermine the illusion that all is well. It is still an illusion regardless and in wilfully deluding ourselves we step away from consciousness.

    May peace be yours a chara because in all honesty when I think about all of this now I see a man struggling with reality in many of your comments, past and present. On reflection it's likely the wrong approach to bark in the hope you'll see that the mask you've slipped on while on TPQ is beginning to impact on your actual, as opposed to online, persona. And indeed you are regressing as a result, while offering the ego the figment of progress. I can only wish you well and encourage that rather than go deeper into the false persona shaped for and by you in conjunction with society, chiefly it would seem through your journey through this site, that you reflect and start coming back to consciousness. From personal experience it's not easy.

    Indeed on my own journey I felt a profound sickness which lasted for a significant period, brought on by a debilitating anguish when I realised how our world actually works and my perceived inability to change it. There were times I could just look at a stranger and feel helpless, as though I could cry. There were others when my soul felt electrified and as though it had reached the highest heights. And that might just have been while in my back yard watching the robin as it foraged among the grass and the bushes. When before the power of Atlantic it is far more intense and indeed there were times when both sensations washed over me at once, however that's possible I don't even understand. For a time my wife thought I was going mad and indeed anyone reading this would likely think something similar. The thing is though that I don't allow myself to worry as to repress is to hold back the self on its necessary journey. That pain I felt and still feel is the same pain Carl Jung is talking about and I know because I have experienced it. It is real and it hurts.

    I'm not saying that I've arrived at consciousness but I know the journey begins in acknowledging reality, in seeing the utter corruption that is our world and in determining to cast it off and create another way. You can't do that through servility to that which holds you down as you now attempt. There is much pain on this journey but it is the only way to what Jung refers to as consciousness, which in simple terms is freedom. Pure freedom. I can only hope we both can get there. Sorry for the rant and take it how you please.

  14. Sean

    small keyboard, hence brief response.
    A truly holy man must be whole. He must embrace and integrate the darkness not just the light.

  15. Steve,

    send an email address as a comment (we won't publish it) and we will get back to you


  16. HJ, I understand you're reaching for answers and an understanding of sorts but to be 'whole' requires we confront the darkness and expose it to the light; not that we embrace it as something of worth as you attempt to do with this 'life on life's terms'. Consciousness, as advanced by Jung, is beyond that.

    To reach the submissive point in your own journey, where you are now at, has involved a rejection of the light while extolling the virtues of darkness, as though any existed. There is no coming to consciousness through that path but instead ego and persona continue to dominate the self and in turn the 'collective unconscious' or 'collective psyche'. Thus you are not in a higher state of awareness as you might imagine but instead have slipped further into the embrace of slavery.

    Light overcomes darkness and we must shine that light on the deepest and darkest recesses of our imagined understanding if we truly hope to become whole. They cannot coexist; the light must overcome and thus destroy the darkness. Jung described this as 'individuation', as the route to freedom and justice for both the self and the wider community it remains a part of. He did not tell us to switch off the light and accept the 'persona-mask' as the embodiment of our true purpose.

    Unfortunately that is where you have regressed to on your own journey towards consciousness and that to me is not only saddening, it's a loss for the wider network that is our collective understanding. That understanding is the true essence of consciousness, because consciousness of itself is beyond the individual and instead is the totality of all that exists now, with what has went before. We clearly then have a long way still to go...

  17. Dear Gentlemen,

    Let me join a few dots.

    The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 2002, has the following entries;


    The complete overthrow of an established government or social order by those previously subject to it; an instance of this; a forcible substitution of a new form of government.


    1 Open or determined disobedience or resistance to an authority.

    2 (An) organised armed resistance to the established government or ruler;


    1 Based on, guided by, or employing observation and experiment rather than theory;

    2 Derived from or verifiable by experience.


    An act of obstruction in a legislative assembly, especially by prolonged speaking;

    The title of the article is 'Edward Carson, Father Of The Irish Revolution?'

    Bearing in mind the above definitions, please let me know if you think that Mr Carson was the Father of the Irish Revolution.

    If you believe that, please describe which established government or social order that he wished to overthrow. What 'revolutionary' system did he intend to put in place?

    Again, bearing in mind the definitions above, I suggest to you that Carson was involved in rebellion, not revolution.

    That is, he firmly desired to maintain the status quo, the established government, the social order; so much so that he was prepared to stage armed rebellion for that purpose.

    So statements such as

    "Pearse and Connolly simply emulated the revolutionary example set by Craig and Carson, taking it one small step further."


    "Yet for the objective third party observer, one can only conclude that without the Ulstermen there is no Easter Rising."

    border on the ridiculous; they are fatuous nonsense.

    And Mr Ronan Fanning's statement that

    "the Ulster Unionists’ successful resistance to the third Home Rule Bill was a revolutionary act".

    only indicates his difficulty with words.

    Christy, I admire your passion but please have a good dictionary to hand when you write.

    To that end, I include above two terms that you used in your reply to me which you might now consider to be have been used inappropriately.

    Best wishes,


  18. 137

    In this context filibuster accurately captured or defined your non-sensical objections to ​discourage I, or anyone else, from reading or considering Mr Spencer's attempt to revise history. On your part: "a little bookish learning does not guarantee clarity of thought"

    Mr Spencer's clarity of thought was quite intelligently delivered, even if he is wrong. Whereas yours response was mind-boggling and waffled in jargon.

    If you have read all my comments, and understand plain English, then you should have comprehended that I did not agree with Mr Spencer's assertions, I just thought them to be novel.

    As for empirical: 1 mans theory is another man's empirical: the term that I used was 'one man's brief empirical study': Mr Spence is not proposing a theory but making what he considers to be a factual link between historical events and players. The thing about empirical studies is that if one study's conclusions can be right then someone Else's can be wrong.

    Perhaps rather than simply regurgitate whatever dictionary you swallowed it might help if you chew on the words first and then apply them in their context.

  19. 137,

    always good to have you around although I have not heard from you in a while.

    Still, I remain far from persuaded by your contribution that Brian's piece is anything other than thought provoking. We can't read too much into the title as that may have been the editor at work (as I guess it is) from the original site that hosted the piece.

  20. Lets not pull this any further of topic Sean.
    I doubt though that you're anymore outside the triangle of human motivation than the rest of us. You're as much motivated by ego, fear and greed as the rest of the planet except on this occasion you seem to be greedy for more spirituality!!!


  21. HJ, was thinking we were a bit off topic earlier myself but just wanted to discuss your reference to that famous quote from Jung. Have a great evening a chara, it might come up elsewhere again so we'll drop this one. I was in Galway a few weeks back by the way, what a beautiful part of the country and a great place for a pint - maybe some day we'll have one. No matter what I might say in the throes of debate I still hope that 'life on life's terms' is good to you, we all deserve no less...