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Marc Mulholland on Talking History, 13 April 2014

Terence O'Neill

Marc Mulholland (author)
Paperback / softback,
Publication date:
15th September 2013

Author Biography

Marc Mulholland is a college fellow and university lecturer in History at St. Catherine's College, University of Oxford. His publications include Northern Ireland at the Crossroads: Ulster Unionism in the O'Neill Years (2000) and Bourgeois Liberty and the Politics of Fear: From Absolutism to Neo-Conservativism (2012).


Terence O'Neill came to power as Prime Minister of Northern Ireland in 1963 with a bold plan to 'literally transform the face of Ulster'. For the next six years O'Neill proved himself to be Stormont's most controversial leader. Though born of the gentry, he was determined to break from the past. Motorways replaced railways, a New City was planned, and a New University built. By meeting with Taoiseachs of the Irish republic, O'Neill intended no less than to end the long cross-border Cold War. Most audaciously, he worked to end the centuries old political divide between catholic and protestant, even if this meant plunging his own Ulster Unionist Party into crisis. O'Neill stirred up passion and anger. While many saw him as Ireland's great hope, Ian Paisley denounced him as a traitor and Unionist ministers plotted his downfall. When the civil rights movement took to the streets in 1968, O'Neill's response was prophetic: 'it is a short step from the throwing of paving stones to the laying of tombstones.'Confronted by demonstrations and counter-demonstrations, pressure from London and rebellion in his own party, O'Neill gambled all on in a bid to re-cast the very shape of politics in the province. When finally he was 'literally blown from office' in April 1969, in the midst of rioting and loyalist bombs, thirty years of violence had begun. Marc Mulholland's study of O'Neill argues for the centrality of O'Neill to modern Irish history. Based upon exhaustive research, it brings to focus a period when Northern Ireland really did stand at the crossroads.