Paisley wanted vandalised painting of King William III in his Stormont office

Artwork was defaced by visiting Scottish councillors because it allegedly featured a ‘popish’ figure

In May 1983, the Northern Ireland Office learned that Ian Paisley was the “prime mover” in a request to have the painting returned to Stormont after 50 years. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times

In May 1983, the Northern Ireland Office learned that Ian Paisley was the “prime mover” in a request to have the painting returned to Stormont after 50 years. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times

Fri, Dec 27, 2013, 01:00

Ian Paisley took a liking to an oil painting of King William III that had once been damaged by Scottish loyalists because it includes a “Popish” figure in one corner, according to the public records released
in Belfast.

During the term of the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1983, Dr Paisley, who was then the DUP leader, requested that it be displayed in his room at Stormont.

The large oil painting by Dutch artist Pieter van der Meulen, perhaps wrongly entitled The Entry of King William to Ireland, had been acquired by the unionist government in the 1930s and placed in the Great Hall of Stormont. It caused some concern among some Stormont MPs because in one corner, above King William III, was a “Popish” figure with a papal tiara, apparently bestowing benediction.

In May 1933, it was attacked by a party of Scottish loyalists. Before the sergeant at arms could intervene, Glasgow councillor Charles Forrest threw a pot of red paint at the painting while a colleague, a Mrs Radcliffe from the Scottish Protestant League, stabbed the canvas with a knife. Apart from the paint stains, the main damage was to the figure of the Duke of Schomberg’s horse.

By the 1980s, the painting was hanging in the Public Record Office in Balmoral Avenue, Belfast. In May 1983, the Northern Ireland Office learned that Dr Paisley was the “prime mover” in a request to have it returned to Stormont after 50 years.

H Coote, an official at the Stormont central secretariat, informed a colleague: “Seemingly, Mr Paisley is keen to have it in his room at Stormont.”

Mr Coote felt that Dr Paisley should have his wish as “the mere fact of it displayed in Mr Paisley’s room would accord the picture an acceptability which it may not have heretofore enjoyed.” He added: “I would have thought the painting, depicting as it does, the Pope and King William III, had a decided ecumenical flavour and was scarcely likely to be embraced as a true ‘Orange’ work of art.”

The painting now hangs outside the office of the speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, William Hay.