Paul Bew: What Did Churchill Really Think About Ireland?

Paul Bew is professor of politics at Queen’s University Belfast, and an Independent (cross bench) member of the House of Lords. He has just published Enigma: A new Life of Charles Stewart Parnell (Gill and Macmillan 2011).

Winston Churchill made his first public appearance in Ireland in 1878. In 1877 Disraeli had sent his family into a form of internal exile – the Duke of Marlborough was appointed viceroy in Dublin Castle and his son Randolph decided to act as his aide. Randolph’s wife Jenny – proud mother of cherubic Winston – painted his portrait and placed it on public display at a Dublin exhibition, to the joy of the local press.

He also learned his first political lesson. His nanny warned him against the dangers posed by the Fenians, reasonable advice as in 1882 republican assassins murdered Lord Frederick Cavendish, the incoming chief secretary, in the nearby Phoenix Park.

Churchill’s relationship to Ireland is encapsulated for many by a few famous phrases – his celebrated reference to the integrity of the quarrel of the dreary steeples in Fermanagh and Tyrone, and his sharp critique of de Valera and neutrality in the fight against Hitler. But what did Churchill really think about Ireland?..

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