From top: Unionist Clubs of Ireland Anti-Home Rule poster, c1912; l Dan Boyle


In Britain, two general elections had been held within a short time period of each other. The party in government had sought a stronger mandate. The attempt backfired badly, with that party returning to the parliament in a minority situation. Government would only be possible, if support could be gained from an Irish party.

The year was 1910. The party was the Liberal Party, which would never again win a majority of seats in the British parliament. Its lifeline was provided by the Irish Parliamentary Party, led by John Redmond, leader for almost two decades since the regicide of Charles Stewart Parnell.

The price sought for the Irish Party’s support would be the introduction of a third Home Rule Bill.

After these elections, the main opposition party the Tories, chose a new leader. The job fell to a candidate who was without a large support base in the party, who was thought of as a compromise candidate. He was Andrew Bonar Law, who had an Ulster Scots background.

Already under the Tory tent were prominent Irish Unionists Edward Carson and James Craig. This Tory leadership developed and used tactics, meant to undermine the Home Rule Bill, which over the following century created the conditions that have caused the unnecessary deaths of thousands of people on the island of Ireland.

Under Law’s leadership, spurred on by his unionist friends, Tories talked up the position of Ulster, as being deserving of a special status.

Direct Tory support was offered to initiatives like devising and signing the Ulster Covenant; and the establishment of the Ulster Volunteers, leading to the gun running at Larne.

Each of these measures would/should have been considered treasonous, but because of the support of the main opposition party, they were thought of instead as actions that were necessary in defence of the realm.

The political intent of Law and Irish Unionists was less than certain. The definition of Ulster itself was proving difficult to agree.

Different amendments to the Home Rule Bill suggested the four counties with the largest unionist majorities could opt out. Edward Carson preferred the actual nine counties of Ulster, but no unionist majority existed for that arrangement. The six county formula was settled on, when it assured there would be a guarantee of an overall unionist majority between those counties.

The Home Rule Bill became law in 1914. The Great War intervened. Ireland was set on a course that has determined our political history since.

As leader of the Tories, Bonar Law, also had to deal with perennial Tory preoccupations of free trade and Britain’s relationships with the rest of the World. He stood down as party leader having disturbed much, but achieved little.

Lloyd George’s coalition government continued post war, overseeing the Treaty of Versailles and the Anglo Irish treaty. The coalition fell over a desire for ‘normal’ politics.

Contesting the election would be two Liberal factions and two Tory factions. This allowed Labour to become the main party of opposition for the first time in its history.

The main Tory faction turned again to Bonar Law to become party leader. This saw him become Prime Minister. Due to ill health he would only serve 211 days in office. For this he would receive the soubriquet of the Unknown Prime Minister.

His story is interesting to the extent that the themes that predominated then, continue to do so today. Tory obessions on trade and Britain’s role in the World seem to be as wearily cited as ever.

The willingness of the Tories to lean into Irish politics to vampirically sustain itself, regardless of the consequences, as a political tool to be used whenever desperate times require, remains unchanged over 100 years on.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursdyay. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

40 thoughts on “The Bonar Law

    1. Malta

      Didn’t you ask on Twitter if handles could be changed shortly after it became obvious you wouldn’t be a senator anymore?

    1. Frilly Keane

      well now Dan
      as it turns out
      Bodger, might actually work at twitter
      and if it not him tis some one else
      quiet high up too

      so ya know, in the spirit of the Green entente with FF
      I’m sure you get sorted

      1. Dan Boyle

        Don’t expect to be Frilly but thank you once again reading and engaging with what I’ve actually written.

        1. Frilly Keane

          you might do likewise yourself

          how about doing an interview sendboyle

          lets take a quick poll now on who would like to have you do a Frilly Interview
          +1 away lads if you think sendboyle would be a good subject

  1. bisted

    …imagine…a small party with very strange views holding the balance of power…now where did I leave that irony emoji…

  2. Dan Boyle

    You tell me Bisted. People are strange none more than you, especially this weird obsession you seem to have with me.

    1. bisted

      …two words Dan…Paul Gogarty…even the DUP couldn’t match Gogo for strangeness. I engage with you Dan and occasionally point out anomalies in your arguments…hardly obsessive…

      1. Dan Boyle

        There nothing occasional about your posts. It’s every piece I write, and those posts are never about what I write. Like today, more examples of your Green obsession.

        1. Frilly Keane

          ah would ya stop being so precious

          the craic is in the comment section
          tha’ts why we’re here
          mostly (and D’Papers, chance of a Golden Discs vouchers and the Limericks ‘natch)
          for the exchanges in the comment section
          not for you

        2. bisted

          …I’m one of the regular commenters on Broadsheet as you are one of the regular contributors…you have used your column here to show your disdain for democracy by boasting about voting in several different countries. For an ordinary citizen, that displays an arrogance…for an exTD and exSenator drawing a parliamentary pension this is despicable and probably illegal. You have used your column here to advocate castration for people who do not share your views…the common denominator that I have found with greens is that you don’t have to scratch to far to expose some strange and nasty ideas…

          1. Dan Boyle

            Belt away lads . Doesn’t stop you being obsessives or being the most precious of those who ‘contribute’. Don’t like it up you, do you?

          2. nellyb

            bisted, let go, there are more stimulating things to read on this site.
            and I am personally looking forward to reading your comments, like many other “frequenters” are too.

          3. bisted

            …thanks nelly but Dan is probably right…I can’t resist his column…it is hugely entertaining (in that roman/christian at the Coliseum sense)…

          4. Dan Boyle

            You tend to be a bit more open NellyB. but the Bisted ‘s contributions to my pieces are nothing but tired retreads of invective and vitriol.

          5. Dan Boyle

            What a perverse encapsulation of who you think I am. If it wasn’t so ignorant I’d sue. I’m proud to exercise my democratic rights, whenever and wherever I am entitled to exercise them. I never exercise them with disdain. Every vote I have cast, wherever they have been cast has been legal. Each vote was applied for and granted. I was hightlighing an unusual circumstance that existed in my life then, that will probably never exist again.

            I thought this would be the weirdest of the obsessions you have had of me, until I read this charge that you believe I have advocated castration. This based on my playfully referring to a Not the Nine O’Clock News Sketch. When it comes to strange and nasty you seem the market cornered. Making moralistic judgements on sins that haven’t been committed. Your sense o proportion is way off beam.

          6. bisted

            …you’re very tetchy today Dan…have the greens served you with another of those cease and desist letters?
            So you’re thinking of suing me for suggesting that you boasted that you had registered for a vote in Wales while you were on a temporary work assignment? You’re thinking of suing me that because another election came along in the UK and you boasted again that you were going over to vote? Sue away Dan…I’ll happily supply my details.
            The big problem I have with you and other politicos is that you treat the whole process as a game.

          1. Dan Boyle

            I’ve never had a cease and desist letter sent to me by anyone. I’ve already stated you’re too ignorant to sue. No court anywhere could deal with your hyperbolic approach, which is quite Trump like. The problem I have with you is that your obsession with me is so hate filled. This need you have to warp everything I say (and to do so every week) is not only peculiar, it is sad.

          2. I'm "alright" Jack. Mad Jack is on annual leave.

            It’s apparently not the first person you’ve done it to either.

          3. bisted

            …hate filled…I’m sorry you get that impression…Broadsheet moderators don’t seem to recognise my occasionally calling out your bombast and pomposity as hate filled…

            …welcome back Mad Jack!

          4. Frilly Keane

            Jesus Dan
            I rarely comment on your threads
            How you deem that as “obsession”
            And “Hate Filled ”
            Is probably sum’ting we should look into
            And I “warp” everything around here
            Tis not just you
            Sorry to break it to you like this

            I like being compared to Trump tho

  3. Rowsdower

    One of the things that seems to annoy the people in the Daily Mail comments is when they talk about Unionists and being proud British subjects and whatnot, is to bring up their multiple acts of treason. That always goes down a treat.

  4. Fully Keen

    Northern Ireland. Crosses my mind as much as New Zealand.

    Let’s go back to ignoring it. I was happy then.

  5. I'm "alright" Jack. Mad Jack is on annual leave.

    dan compared to the other contrarians and oul wans on the site you are a breath of fresh air and appear to be able to actually research your own articles and write them. I don’t always agree with them however but than for the efforts. A word of advice : don’t engage with the other kids

    1. Happy Molloy


      don’t always read your articles but I appreciate the knowledge and the tone of them.

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