Paisley's family tree firmly rooted in Irish soil


"I am proud to be an Ulsterman, but I am also proud of my Irish roots," Ian Paisley said when he met the Taoiseach. Deaglán de Bréadúnlooks at the DUP leader's ancestry

Proud to be an Ulsterman but proud also of his Irish roots. That was the stance taken by the Rev Ian Paisley this week after his historic meeting at Farmleigh with the Taoiseach.

In a speech tinged with emotion, the DUP leader spoke of his links with the southern part of the island: "My father's birth certificate was lodged here in the courts after he was born.

"Like many of his generation he fought to see, as a member of Carson's army, Ireland remain within the Union. But that, of course, was not as history planned it . . ."

James Kyle Paisley was born in August 1891 into a staunch Orange family at Sixmilecross, Co Tyrone. Ireland was then united under the British crown, so the lodging of his birth certificate in the capital city of Dublin would not have been remarkable. He was known as Kyle, his mother's family name.

It's a familiar Ulster story: the Kyles and the Paisleys were Protestant settlers from Scotland who arrived at the townland of Brackey, near Sixmilecross, in the early 17th century.

Both families became enthusiastic supporters of Brackey Orange Lodge and one of Kyle's forebears on his mother's side, John "Belt" Kyle, died from injuries received in clashes with local Catholics after an Orange march.

When the Home Rule crisis erupted in 1912, Protestant Ulster rallied behind Sir Edward Carson's crusade to preserve the union with Britain.

The young Kyle did join the Ulster Volunteer Force, then a mass army rather than the secret terrorist group of more recent times. Paisley biographers Ed Moloney and Andy Pollak* tell us that Kyle Paisley's bandolier and the wooden rifle he carried in training were lovingly preserved by his son Ian.

Kyle's father Richard was a farmer and shoemaker who belonged to the more evangelical wing of the Church of Ireland. Kyle was working as a drapery store assistant in Omagh in 1908 when he was converted to "born-again" Christianity.

Soon afterwards, he was baptised in the River Strule outside Omagh by a local Baptist pastor, the ceremony requiring total immersion in the water.

Kyle began his career as a preacher in a barn at the family farmhouse in Kilcam, outside Sixmilecross, with his first congregation composed of relatives and neighbours. He moved to Dungannon, then Armagh city, where he worked in a large drapery store run by the Lennox family. In October 1918 he became pastor to Armagh's tiny Baptist congregation; he also took a correspondence course with the Irish Baptist College in Dublin.

The War of Independence began shortly afterwards and Kyle was stopped on one occasion by the IRA when he was cycling home to Armagh after giving a sermon in the country. He was put up against a hedge but the danger passed when it emerged that he was a preacher.

It was while giving a sermon in Lurgan that he met Isabella Turnbull, the 24-year-old daughter of a railway worker from Stirling in Scotland, who was working as a governess to the children of a local doctor.

The couple married in August 1923 and the following year Isabella gave birth to their first child, Harold, with Ian arriving two years later on April 6th, 1926.

Thanks to the internet, a three-minute tape of Kyle Paisley preaching can be heard on, a website run by the Columbine Free Presbyterian church in Denver, Colorado. It has that unmistakable, sibilant Paisley tone but without reaching the same heights of anger and outrage. By all accounts, the more assertive side of the DUP leader's character comes from his mother.

In May 1928, Paisley snr got the call to become pastor of the 200-strong Hill Street congregation in Ballymena, Co Antrim. But tensions developed between himself and some of the leading local Baptists. Two sermons on the evils of drink and sexual immorality brought about the final rift in 1933. These were implicit criticisms of two leading members of the congregation but, when asked to withdraw his remarks, Kyle Paisley refused to do so and set up his own breakaway congregation of Independent Baptists. Around this time also, the Paisleys adopted Margaret, a sister for Harold and Ian.

Thirteen years later, on August 1st, 1946, Kyle Paisley took part in Ian's ordination as a minister. He spoke in the pulpits of his son's Free Presbyterian Church on many occasions. In a radio interview this week, Dr Paisley recalled: "My father's home in Rostrevor was burned down by the IRA."

According to Ian Paisley jnr, this took place in the early 1960s, when three holiday homes belonging to the Paisley family were set on fire.

Paisley snr retired from active ministry in 1966 and died in 1973. The James Kyle Paisley Memorial Free Presbyterian Church, built at a cost of £14 million (€21 million), was opened in Ballymena in 1979. He lived long enough to see his second son become the most controversial politician in Northern Ireland but not long enough to see him come to terms with the ancient enemy and make his peace with nationalists and republicans in his 81st year.

Paisley, by Ed Moloney and Andy Pollak. Published by Poolbeg, 1986.