Thursday, 26 January 2017

BH Memoirs: VI

LIEUTENANT-COLONEL JOHN MATTHEW BLAKISTON-HOUSTON DL (1898-1984), OF BELTRIM CASTLE, COUNTY TYRONE, AND RODDENS, COUNTY DOWN, WAS BORN AT ORANGEFIELD HOUSE, NEAR BELFAST


HE SERVED IN THE FIRST AND SECOND WORLD WARS; WAS AIDE-DE-CAMP TO HIS EXCELLENCY THE GOVERNOR-GENERAL OF AUSTRALIA, 1929-30; HIGH SHERIFF OF COUNTY DOWN, 1944; DEPUTY LIEUTENANT OF COUNTY DOWN, 1946; HIGH SHERIFF OF COUNTY TYRONE, 1954


I left the Army on the 1st November, 1935, after 19 years service.

The General Election was taking place a fortnight later.

From Chester I rang up Mr J H Andrews, Ulster’s Minister of Finance, in Northern Ireland, one evening to offer my services in the election in any capacity.

Next day I received a wire from Herbert Dixon [later 1st Lord Glentoran] asking me to contest Tyrone and Fermanagh.

It was a two seat constituency and a Lincolnshire farmer called Deane was to be my colleague.

We never had a chance unless there was a split among the nationalist opposition.

Unfortunately elections in Northern Ireland are a contest between the Roman Catholic Nationalists and the Protestant Unionists.

The election agents knew the exact voting strength of each side.

Up till nomination day we thought it might be a three-corner contest, but it turned out to be a straight fight.

Two nationalist abstentionists defeated us by abut 52,000 to 46,000 votes.

We stayed at Colebrooke with Sir Basil Brooke [later 1st Viscount Brookeborough] for the election.

I had never made a political speech in my life before this election.

Since those days I have had quite a bit of experience in Irish Politics.

I fought a by-election in County Down on Sir David Reid’s death in 1945, and stood as one of the Official Unionist candidates for County Down in the General Election in 1945.

I never succeeded.

As everyone knows, antagonism between the Roman Catholic anti-British Irish Free State and the Protestant pro-British North has been the dominant factor in every Northern Ireland Election since the passing of the Government of Ireland Act in 1920.

The Roman Catholics in the North with their co-religionists in Eire want Ireland to be one under an Irish Republican Parliament in Dublin; whereas the Ulster Protestants want to retain every tie that binds them to Britain.

The Ulster Unionist Party has been in power since 1921 without a break; Ulster enjoys great prosperity at present.

Agriculture is Ulster’s greatest industry, and while we are represented in Westminster and are constitutionally part and parcel of the United Kingdom, Ulster farmers enjoy the same guaranteed prices for their farm produce as do farmers in England.

From an economic point of view, therefore, we have no desire to join up with Eire.

As Protestants we have no desire to come under the control of a Roman Catholic Government in Dublin.

We are quite happy as we are.

The Ulster Government is strictly impartial to Protestants and Roman Catholics.

Unfortunately there have been one or two cases of local authorities having been not so impartial and uneducated men on both sides are definitely bigoted, but as far as government policy is concerned it is above reproach and why, then, it may be asked is Eire so anxious to absorb Northern Ireland?

On the map of the world Ireland is a very small place and, on the face of it, it seems ridiculous to have it divided into two countries.

The Irishman is intensely proud of having regained the status of Independent Nationhood.

He says “Ireland was a nation when England was a pup” etc.

Now to what extent is this claim true?

It can’t be denied that Ireland kept the flame of Christianity burning at a time when it was practically extinguished in England.

Neither can it be denied that the Penal Laws drove many fine Irishmen out of their native country.

It can’t be denied either, that the severity of those Penal Laws is still responsible for the present day hatred of England.

It is claimed that the Protestants of the North are not Irishmen at all but that they are all descendants of the Scottish and English Planters in the reign of Queen Elizabeth and the early Stewarts.

There is certainly some foundation for this, but purity of race in my belief can only be rightly claimed by a very few Celts who have been driven by a succession of invaders into the mountains and to the Atlantic Coast.

All the Eastern and Southern Counties were subjected to invasions by Danes, English, Scottish and others long before Ulster was touched.

Each invasion left its mark on the original inhabitants but like China, Ireland seemed to absorb them and they in their turn became “more Irish than the Irish”.

They adopted the Irish language and the Christianity of Ireland.

Fundamentally the Northerner is a materialist and the Southerner is a sentimental theorist.

Throughout history, however, except possibly for a very short time, Ireland never was a nation.

It was an agglomeration of three or four provinces or tribes usually warring against each other under rival chiefs.

Being unable to co-operate they never were able to keep invaders out and no one personality arose strong enough to defeat his competitors and to weld Ireland into a nation.

Far the greatest and most important claim Irishmen can make is that Ireland with England and Scotland were the foundation members of the Great British Empire.

Ireland has every right to make this claim.

It is not till one travels in America or in the British Dominions that one realises what Irishmen have done.

An Irishman is only half a man in Ireland.

We have argued the Irish question from many angles and as one always does, when Ireland is concerned, looked back into medieval history.

We have got no nearer a solution, and I’m beginning to think the present partition is the best we are likely to get for many years to come.

In spite of the fact that Eire was started off on her career with no National Debt and that she has been spared sharing in any cost of the two world wars, yet her economic position is not sound.

That is another very strong reason why she is so anxious to join up with the industrious North.

The Southern Irishman is one of the most pleasant companions in the world.

He is kind and full of good cheer and humour and is popular wherever he goes in the world.

It is a great relief to escape from the ever-present materialistic outlook of the modern world and there are few places where this can be done better than in Eire.

My father used to say “an Irishman is a man who honestly believes what he knows to be false”.

I have studied some of them for a long time now and am certain he was right.

First published in January, 2015.  Extracts by kind permission of RP Blakiston-Houston OBE JP DL

4 comments :

Anonymous said...

What a charming take on the politics of Ireland, a patrician in the best sense. VC

Anonymous said...

"The Ulster Government is strictly impartial to Protestants and Roman Catholics."

The above quote beggars belief.

Anonymous said...

"The Ulster Government is strictly impartial to Protestants and Roman Catholics."
Would that it were so, we would have been spared much violence.

Timothy Belmont said...

Anon, Colonel Blakiston-Houston thought this was the case at the time. They are still violent and killing people today.