Death of ‘mesmerising advocate’ Desmond Boal, QC

Along with Ian Paisley, the lawyer was a founding member of the DUP

The death has occurred of Desmond Boal, QC, who with his former friend, Ian Paisley – from whom he later became estranged – established the Democratic Unionist Party in 1971.

Mr Boal, who was born in Co Derry in 1929, died on Wednesday night. He also served as a unionist member of the Stormont parliament for the Shankill constituency between 1960 and 1971.

Mr Boal, who was regarded as one of Ireland's most brilliant barristers, joined Dr Paisley in forming the DUP due to his disillusionment with unionism under leaders such as Terence O'Neill, James Chichester-Clark and Brian Faulkner.

Unlike Dr Paisley he was relatively secular in his view. Nonetheless, he struck up a formidable partnership with Dr Paisley, offering intellectual weight and guidance to the DUP leader.


Their great friendship collapsed however in 2007 when Dr Paisley agreed to share power with Sinn Féin. In journalist Eamonn Mallie's BBC documentary on Dr Paisley his wife Baroness Eileen Paisley recounted how that strong bond was sundered.

She described him visiting the Paisley home in east Belfast to return books he had received from Dr Paisley and stating that this “isn’t a friendly visit”.

Mr Boal said to her, she recounted, “I just can’t believe he’s done what he’s done and I just don’t want anything more to do with you.”

Baroness Paisley replied, “Desmond, I’m very sorry it has to come to that but... what could he do? Would you have him responsible for another 30 or 40 years of warfare and devastation and killing and murdering, or do what he did?’”

She said “he just walked away”. Baroness Paisley said the collapse of that lifelong friendship was “a very big blow” to her husband.

Journalist, broadcaster and columnist Vincent Browne has also written about how when he was a young reporter covering Northern Ireland he was impressed by Mr Boal. He recalled that when internment without trial was introduced in 1971 Mr Boal persuaded Dr Paisley to issue a statement condemning the move.

“Paisley agreed, reluctantly. They issued a joint statement. Paisley spent over a year trying to get off that hook,” Browne remembered in this newspaper. He added that some months later Mr Boal talked Dr Paisley “into making favourable noises about a united Ireland, or at least friendly relations with the South. He spent even more time getting off that hook”.

There was general consensus from both unionists and nationalists that Mr Boal was a formidable orator and lawyer. Browne also wrote about how Harry West, a unionist minister in the old Stormont government begged Mr Boal to "go easy on him" during one debate.

The North’s director of public prosecutions Barra McGrory, QC, said he knew Mr Boal through his father the solicitor, the late solicitor Paddy (PJ) McGrory. He previously described him as the best advocate he ever witnessed.

"He had a mesmerising command of a courtroom that was evident from his complete mastery of the evidence in a case and the clarity with which the arguments were presented. That for me as a lawyer is always my goal: it's mastery of the material and clarity of thought," Mr McGrory said in an interview with The Irish Times.

DUP Chairman Lord Morrow offering condolences to the Boal family said, “The Democratic Unionist Party is deeply saddened at the death of Desmond Boal. He had an unparalleled ability in the criminal courts and his formidable reputation in the courtroom will long survive his passing.”

The Traditional Unionist Voice leader, Jim Allister, QC, who also broke his link with Dr Paisley because of his Sinn Féin powersharing decision, said he was deeply saddened to learn of Mr Boal's passing.

“Desmond was a unique talent in both politics and law. As MP for Shankill in the old Stormont Parliament he fought tirelessly for his constituents and was both a vocal opponent of republicanism and an articulate champion of the union,” he said.

“Desmond’s talent at the criminal bar was unsurpassed. Brilliant in cross examination and unrivalled in the skills of advocacy I as a young barrister learned much from watching him in action. It was a privilege to have known him for these last several decades,” added Mr Allister.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt said Mr Boal would be "remembered as a man of intellect and commitment, whether you agreed with his vision or not".

Mr Nesbitt added, “I acknowledge Mr Boal will be more remembered as a founding member of the DUP and his closeness, then falling out with Ian Paisley, but his political career began as a Unionist MP at the old Stormont Parliament, where he represented Shankill for eleven years, between 1960 and 1971.

“It was perhaps a sign of what was to come regarding his relationship with the DUP, that he fell out with successive Ulster Unionist Prime Ministers, from Lord Brookeborough, through Terence O’Neill and James Chichester-Clark, to Brian Faulkner.”

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times