Ian Paisley was born (6th April 1926) in Armagh, before spending his childhood in Ballymena, County Antrim as the son of an Independent Baptist pastor. His father had served in the Ulster Volunteers, a Unionist militia formed in 1912 under the leadership of Edward Carson, to resist Home Rule.
Paisley was ordained as a pastor in the Evangelical Presbyterian church, Ravenhill Road, Belfast on 1st August 1946. He took part in his first political campaign in 1949 when he successfully campaigned for Tommy Cole, Westminster M.P. for East Belfast. He became involved in the 1950s with the Ulster Protestant Action (UPA), a shadowy group whose goals were the maintenance of Protestant domination in housing and job allocation, but who according to Ed Maloney and Andy Pollak in their book Paisley:
"...drew up a list of suspected IRA members in Belfast and rural areas, and collected a small cache of handguns left over from the 1920s and 1930s in preparation for a campaign of assassinations." (p.79)
If the apparent target was the IRA in the mid-1950s, as the 1960s developed the UPA and Paisley quickly focused their organisation and ire on the Ulster Unionist Party and in particular Prime Minister Terence O'Neill. O'Neill's attempts when Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, at developing closer economic ties with the Republic of Ireland were made at a time when Northern Ireland's economy was in need of major restructuring, with the decline in traditional industries such as ship-building and linen. O'Neill had meetings with Taoiseach Sean Lemass in 1965 and Jack Lynch in 1967. But for Paisley, and those of his political and religious outlook this was an anathema, akin to political destruction of Northern Ireland. He helped stage a protest at the Lemass meeting in which some of the placards read "No Mass, No Lemass", "Down with the Lundys" and "IRA murderer welcome at Stormont." It was clear from the following quote that the target of Paisley's protests was not so much Lemass as O'Neill.
"It is quite evident that the Ecumenists, both political and ecclesiastical, are selling us. Every Ulster Protestant must unflinchingly resist these leaders and let it be known in no uncertain manner that they will not sit idly by as these modern Lundies pursue their policy of treachery. Ulster expects every Protestant in this hour of crisis to do his duty."
Paisley's protests not only at any perceived concession to the Catholics population in Northern Ireland, but also at establishment Protestantism led to the following retort from O'Neill:
"To those of us who remember the Thirties, this pattern is horribly familiar. The contempt for established authority; the crude and unthinking intolerance; the emphasis upon Monster processions and rallies; the appeals to perverted forms of patriotism: each and every one of these things has its parallel in the rise of the Nazis to power."
Paisley was arrested and fined for his part in a protest in Belfast city centre against mainstream Presbyterianism during 1966. His refusal to pay the fine and subsequent imprisonment increased his political profile, providing additional incentive to attack O'Neill.
Meanwhile, the burgeoning civil rights movement was evidence to Paisley that Northern Ireland, indeed Protestantism, was under mortal threat. A civil-rights demonstration by NICRA in Armagh on November 30th 1969, was met by a counter-demonstration led by Paisley. He was again arrested for his part in the disturbances, spending less than 24 hours in custody before being released. Meanwhile O'Neill, losing support within the government as key ministers resigned at perceived concessions to the civil rights movement, called a General Election in 1969. While he managed to defeat Paisley in the contest for his seat in Upper Bann, it was a close run thing. Paisley's political star was on the rise. O'Neill resigned in April 1969 and with the Ulster Unionist Party in disarray, Paisley presented himself as the saviour of Protestantism, Unionism and Ulster. His vehicle would be the Democratic Unionist Party formed in 1970, the same year Paisley won his first election as Member of Parliament (Westminster) for North Antrim. Any attempts by Unionism to accommodate the increasing demands of Nationalist politicians for a share of power would be met with angry denunciation and street protest. The first attempt at power sharing in 1974 met with sudden and complete failure as Paisley and his ilk brought Northern Ireland to a menacing standstill.
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