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LORD BROOKEBOROUGH AND THE ANDREWS’ PREMIERSHIP BRIAN BARTON lord brookeborough was prime minister of Northern Ireland for twenty years—longer than either of his predecessors or his successors. He was a member of the Northern Ireland cabinet for an unbroken period of thirty years, a tenure unequaled by anyone either at Westminster or at Stormont before or since. His importance in the history of Ulster arguably ranks along with that of Carson or Craig. Yet, when beginning work on his biography , I was surprised to find that no study of his long life had been written or attempted; nothing existed beyond newspaper interviews conducted in his declining years and his own brief unpublished (and unfinished) autobiography . Historians have preferred to focus on the inception of the state or on the present “troubles,” neglecting the period of his premiership. Possibly they have been discouraged by fears of insufficient source material. Also, Brooke has suffered from a negative, unattractive image. His years as prime minister are frequently dismissed as barren, a time of “change without change” unlikely to repay prolonged, painstaking research.1 He has been dismissed as a bigot, a lazy man, and a schemer who intrigued his way to the premiership.2 I intend to review the validity of these unflattering assumptions with regard to the early part of Brooke’s career. Inevitably Brooke’s social class, family background, and Fermanagh upbringing exerted a powerful, formative influence on the individual. The experience of the Brookes closely conformed to that of the Anglo-Irish gentry as a whole. They first came to Ireland from England (Cheshire) in the late sixteenth century, their precise antecedents uncertain. Initially they acquired land in County Donegal. The family received estates in FerLORD BROOKEBOROUGH AND THE ANDREWS’ PREMIERSHIP 78 1 Patrick Buckland, A History of Northern Ireland (Dublin: Gill and MacMillan, 1981), 82. 2 Terence O’Neill, The Autobiography of Terence O’Neill (London: Hart Davis, 1972), 40: “those who met him imagined that he was relaxing away from his desk, what they didn ’t realise was that there was no desk.” That is the best known put-down of Brooke. managh as reward for military service rendered in quelling the 1641 insurrection . Over the next ten generations the family preserved its property , tending it at least competently. Over this same period the family’s most prominent characteristic had been its impressive record of military service. During the present century, fifty-three members of Brooke’s family served in World Wars I and II, twelve of whom sacrificed their lives, including two of Brooke’s own sons. Lord Alanbrooke was the most famous figure of the group; his biographer, David Fraser, described him as the “best Chief of Imperial General Staff ever produced by the [British] army.”3 In addition, the Brooke family had a strong tradition of political activism. Within Fermanagh, its members have fulfilled, through successive generations, their proscribed social role— acting as magistrates, lords lieutenant, and sheriffs. From the eighteenth century, they also sporadically represented the county in parliament. During the late nineteenth century their response to the mounting Irish nationalist agitation was unanimously and aggressively unionist, “standing up for the protestants and for Ireland.” In the 1860s, Brooke’s grandfather armed reliable tenants against the threat of Fenian violence. In the early 1900s, his father threatened to distribute the contents of his armory in the event of Home Rule being enacted. In December 1912, his family helped organize the Ulster Volunteer Force within the county, in sharp contrast to many local gentry who were initially inclined to hesitate.4 Sir Basil Brooke was born at Colebrooke on 9 June 1888, the eldest of five children. The estate was the “great love” of his life; eighty-five years later, in deference to his wishes, his ashes were scattered over the demesne.5 While his mother was “kind and gentle,” his father was, he recalls, “a truly Victorian parent”; orders had to be obeyed, and the farmyard was a prohibited area in case the facts of life were gleaned at too early an age.6 His early career broadly followed familiar paths trodden by innumerable sons of the Anglo-Irish gentry. After attending private...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1550-5162
Print ISSN
0013-2683
Pages
pp. 78-95
Launched on MUSE
2017-08-31
Open Access
No
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