This one-man show was only on for 2 nights in the Crescent Arts theatre. It was a nice combination of a study on the great man and a history lesson. As well as highlighting the personal life of the man, like his first wife dying, it teases out the relationship between him and his adoring and loyal following in Ulster and Belfast. Set in the context of tense political times and with the threat of civil war it again flags up that Carson never wanted the creation of Northern Ireland. Indeed, he wanted the whole of Ireland to stay inside the British empire. As well as weaving the political and personal threads of his life there is his ample evidence of his first love; that of being a lawyer, a barrister. He was made Queens Counsel (Ireland) in 1889. Indeed, I was fascinated when I read about the trial of Oscar Wilde. The Marquis of Queensbury wanted Wilde brought down from his high perch due to a (gay) relationship with Queensbury’s son. Carson gained fame with famous trials. He destroyed Wilde’s case and there must have been mixed feelings for both of them. They both had went to Trinity College in Dublin. Then in 1910 there was the Archer-Shee trial which was turned into the play the Windlsow Boy. (Personally, I prefer the 1948 film version of the story) Again Carson’s undoubted intelligence and tenacity won the day.
Carson reflects on his close friend, another barrister, Jim Shannon who he would meet on opposite sides in a court setting. But they remained good friends. Carson was at his bedside when he died. However, the pragmatic side of Carson is shown up when in order to make a living he defends the indefensible, the rogue landlords, who had the money to pay his fees. A sense of painful regret is conveyed.
The play for me raises the relationship between Sir Edward Carson (later lord Carson) and the working-class Prods and Unionists of the ‘black’ north. He was from a different class, a different world, a different culture yet he becomes a hero for the northern Prod. I wonder what they made of his Dublin accent? Once he realises that the politics of Westminster was going to give into the Home Rule Bill what did he really think of the Ulster men and their threat of using violence? The Ulster Covenant was signed in 1912 and left no one in doubt about the extent of feeling among the loyalists. The UVF guns came into Ulster in 1914 and there was suddenly a very different reality. However, events in Europe would mean that the Ulstermen would not fight the Crown rather become a part of the British Army as the 36th Ulster Division and find fame and honour on the 1st July 1916. What did Sir Edward think when he heard the true reports of the damage suffered by the Ulstermen on the Somme? He reflects as he gets his portrait painted in 1921 as to the changes over the last 10 years. Immense and amazing changes. Not only for Ireland but for the Empire, for Europe and the world.
But after N. Ireland is created and secured, he declines the role of Prime Minister , rather choosing to go to England to live out a peaceful life until his death in 1935. He is one of the few people, not being of the royal family, to be accorded a state funeral. He was brought back to Belfast on a warship in October and buried in St Anne’s Cathedral. The play could do with another actor or 2 to portray other important characters. And maybe some more visuals in the background to reflect on the times of his life. A good example of education and entertainment around a figure and events that was so influential and integral to this country.