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Carson, Sir Edward

Carson, Sir Edward (1854–1935). Carson is still seen as the arch-opponent of Irish Home Rule but was a more complex figure than traditionally depicted. Of middle-class southern protestant background, he became a successful lawyer and Unionist politician. In 1893 he moved his political and legal career to London, becoming solicitor-general for both Ireland and Britain and a major figure within the Tory Party. Carson was elected leader of the Unionist Party in 1910, and associated with Ulster resistance to the third Home Rule Bill, as a means of resisting devolution throughout Ireland. Less intransigent in private negotiations on the Ulster crisis than he appeared, he reluctantly accepted the need for partition by 1914. He became a member of the war cabinet and played a significant role in the removal of Asquith from office in 1916. Attorney-general 1915–16, and 1st lord of the Admiralty 1917–18, his administrative ability was heavily criticized. Carson took a less central part in Irish Unionist politics after 1918 and resigned the leadership of Ulster Unionists in 1921 before Northern Ireland was established. His denunciation of the Anglo-Irish treaty was more heartfelt than his welcome of the Northern Irish government. In a characteristically melancholy manner, Carson regarded his career as a failure, whereas Northern Unionists have seen him as iconic.

Michael Hopkinson

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