James Chichester-Clark


Sir, – Your report of a forthcoming lecture series in Belfast on the civil rights movement (“New course looks at civil rights movement and early Troubles”, News, September 4th) states that one of the lecturers, Baroness Williams, will tell how James Chichester-Clark, prime minister of Northern Ireland in 1969, asked James Callaghan (then home secretary) not to discuss matters of importance in front of her (she was then the latter’s junior minister). James Callaghan responded by saying, “In that case you won’t be talking to anyone at all”.

This story comes from the original version of Baroness Williams’s autobiography, Climbing the Bookshelves. In that form the tale implied that James Chichester-Clark asked for the exclusion of the young Shirley Williams because she was (as she is still) a Catholic. The story struck me then as most improbable.

As the author of his entry on James Chichester-Clark (later Lord Moyola)  in the Dictionary of National Biography, I know very well that any charge of sectarianism against him will not stick. He was for many years an officer in the Irish Guards (a very Catholic regiment ); he employed Catholics at Moyola Park, his family home; he never made sectarian statements; and he implemented civil rights reforms as prime minister. At the time of the publication of Climbing the Bookshelves, I brought this passage in the book to the attention of Lord Moyola’s younger brother, the late Sir Robin Chichester-Clark. He later met Baroness Williams at Brooks’s, his London club, and persuaded her to exclude the story from the paperback edition of her autobiography, which she then did.

I am surprised and dismayed that it has now appeared yet again. – Yours, etc,