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6 November 1997 Edition

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Carson's deadly legacy



Edward Carson
By ATQ Stewart

Published by Blackstaff Press

Price: £8.99

ATQ Stewart's relatively short, but very detailed profile of Sir Edward Carson provides a portrait of a man of more complexity than generally supposed, and of many, far-reaching contradictions in his beliefs and actions. While Ian Paisley's invoking of his ``spirit'' for his Carson trail rallies around the Six Counties did resemble Carson's tactics as a leader of Ulster Unionism, Carson's unionism was of a much different sort to that of the good doctor.

Carson had an illustrious legal career, with a near-meteoric rise through first the Irish, and then the English, legal systems to the very highest levels in both. Indeed he would probably still be remembered today in those circles had his belief in the Union not propelled him into a political career.

Stewart refers to the Union as Carson's ``guiding star'' and from this account anyway it was this conviction which brought him into the political arena. In his early days, a leading liberal warned him that ``the Conservatives... never yet took up a cause without betraying it in the end, and I don't think you'll betray it with them.'' By Stewart's fairly uncritical analysis, it was the lack of honesty and principle of people like Lloyd-George, Birkenhead and Chamberlain in the high political echelons which so disgusted and embittered Carson in the end.

Carson - born and reared in Dublin - was seen as an Irishman and a Unionist who believed in the whole country's continued existence under British rule, although in 1907 he made an interesting statement of his inner beliefs when he spoke in Macclesfield ``as an Irishman to English people''. He told them that if England could not rule Ireland in a civilised manner, then ``get out of Ireland and leave us to govern ourselves''.

As the Home Rule plans of the various British governments gathered momentum he saw the stern resistance of the Ulster Unionists as a weapon to defeat its progress. He became leader of Ulster Unionism, with the well known mass-rallies, the Ulster Covenant and his connivance in the gunrunning to the newly formed UVF.

Yet the irony is that the strength and unity of those north-eastern Unionists broke the concept of ``Irish unionism'' and left southern Unionists to their own devices. Carson's success in aiding Ulster Unionism to defeat Home Rule would defeat his original wish for a united country, admittedly under Britain.

The 1920 Government of Ireland Act which provided for two parliaments and an over-arching Council of Ireland was to be followed and superceded by the Treaty - an agreement which Carson saw as the ultimate betrayal of his homeland and which he condemned in an unprecedented attack on the government in the House of Lords.

Many contradictions remain from this account - from his assertion in 1912 for Unionists to form ``the government of the Protestant Province of Ulster'' to his later (1921) apparent concern for the Catholic minority - to show them they ``have nothing to fear from Protestant majority'' when partition was an ugly reality before him. It is a very detailed account, with a vast array of names and dates from Carson's legal career in Ireland and Britain, and his dealings with a vast array of Conservative and Liberal politicians, both as governments in their own right, and as a coalition.

Despite his legal genius, possibly some naivety shows through, as his entry into the daily work of politics left Carson a bitter man, all but broken in spirit at the end result of the process in which he was a major player.


An Irish soccer tale



There's Only One Red Army: A Book for People Who Love (or Hate) Football

By Eamonn Sweeney

Published by New Island Books

Price £7.99

Walk down any street of any town in Ireland, North or South and you'll see people of all ages and hues wearing football strips. English football strips. Liverpool, Man United, Newcastle, Arsenal, they're all there. Eamonn Sweeney's There's Only One Red Army is a welcome distraction from all the hype, books, videos and Sky TV English Premiership football that bombards the soccer fan here.

Don't get me wrong, this review is not an excuse for a good old anti-English rant. As a Bohs fan, I just feel I have more affinity with and pride in a soccer club in my own home town than some English city I've never been to. As Sweeney himself says: In national and secondary school fights regularly broke out between rival fans of Liverpool and Manchester United. I couldn't see the point... Sligo Rovers were my team.''

It is one the funniest works I've ever read. The book begins with his whole family's obsession with Sligo Rovers FC. ``The history of Sligo Rovers is one of failure, gloriously shot through with success at the most unexpected moments,'' claims the author in chapter one. We are brought on a journey that any soccer fan can readily relate to. From his first game in 1968 ``accompanied by my mother, who gave birth to me two days later'', to one of club's most successful seasons in 1994 the book follows the fortunes, trials and tribulation of the club and the Sweeney family and their passion for football. Serious issues are also dealt with: heavy drinking and his family break-up among them.

But it is the humour that stands out: players who came from ``reserves at Shrewsbury to becoming the League of Ireland equivalent of Trevor Brooking''; Sligo's attitude to `The Ban' and the GAA; Rovers' first black player who, legend had it, was discovered by a Sligo missionary in Nigeria; the homeless man who gave his life savings to the club; winning the FAI Cup for the first time; how the appointment of ex-Celtic player Willie McStay as manager made Rovers fans feel like ``all our St Patrick's Days had come at once... We had just received an injection of incredible cred''. McStay's departure saw the arrival of English managers who heralded ``the end of our status as the Wolfe Tones in football shirts''. And then of course there is Shamrock Rovers, the team every League of Ireland fan loves to hate.

There is one thing that links all Irish soccer clubs: financial survival. The sad and absolutely disgraceful decision that forced Shamrock Rovers, giants in the domestic game, to sell their ground brought it home to all fans that no one is exempt from what financial people call `progress'. Glenmalure Park was once one of the best grounds in Ireland and a lion's den for all visiting teams. Now it is a private yuppie housing estate. Its former tenants are still without a home ten years on. The author captures one of the last games Shams played at Milltown - against none other than Sligo Rovers. And how the rival sets of fans met at the half way line to protest at the decision to sell off the ground. ``League of Ireland is the preserve of the working class. Simple as that. Of people from Inchicore, Drumcondra, and Phibsboro in Dublin, Forthill in Sligo, St Mel's in Athlone, Mayfield in Cork and the Bogside in Derry,'' says the author. It brings the game here into perspective and how unity among fans and clubs is so important in the league. We are a far cry from the English premiership.

It is also often said to me the standard of League of Ireland football is not that good (not often said that politely). Well as far as I'm concerned if Irish soccer fans (along with the FAI) took an interest in their own local clubs it might go some way to changing the situation. And for a few quid you can still stand on a concrete (or mud) terrace and smuggle the odd gargle in. You won't get either in the English Premiership!

``There's is Only One Red Army'' - ten out of ten.

BY CIARAN HEAPHEY

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1
Ireland
 

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