Craig, James, First Viscount Craigavon

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Craig, James, First Viscount Craigavon

James Craig (1871–1940), Ulster unionist and prime minister of Northern Ireland, was born in Sydenham, Co. Down, on 8 January 1871. Craig worked as a stockbroker and served in the British army during the Boer War before entering politics. He represented a new generation of leaders (predominantly from the Presbyterian Belfast professional and business classes) who replaced the landed parliamentarianism of Edward Saunderson with a more populist, sectarian, and Ulster-centered unionism. In 1905, Craig cofounded the Ulster Unionist Council. He was Unionist MP at Westminster for East Down (1906–1918) and Mid Down (1918–1921). Craig organized the Ulster campaign against the third Home Rule bill as Carson's principal Ulster-based lieutenant, and helped to organize the 36th Ulster Division during the First World War. He served as a junior minister at Westminster from 1916 to 1918 and from 1919 to 1921. In 1921, Craig succeeded Carson as unionist leader and became the first prime minister of Northern Ireland. In 1926 he became first Viscount Craigavon. Craig successfully resisted British pressure during the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations to make concessions toward Irish unity for the sake of keeping all of Ireland within the British empire; he refused to accept the legitimacy of the Boundary Commission (replying to proposed boundary changes with the slogan "Not an inch"), and his political skills (coupled with nationalist maladroitness) did much to ensure that Northern Ireland remained undiminished. A violent challenge to the new state by the Irish Republican Army was met with harsh security policies, local councils were gerrymandered to ensure unionist control, and the electoral system was altered to perpetuate the unionistnationalist divide by making it harder for smaller parties to win seats. Even after external threats receded, Craig put unionist solidarity above intercommunal relations; attempts by the Northern nationalist leader Joseph Devlin to work within the political system in the late 1920s were spurned. Pressure from unionist hardliners, and the activities of Eamon de Valera, partly explain but cannot excuse Craig's notorious view that Northern Ireland was "a Protestant state for a Protestant people." Craig's ability to extract financial assistance from British governments partly offset his failure to address the economic devastation caused by the decline of Northern Ireland's traditional industries. His later years as prime minister were marked by declining health, long holidays, lavish official commemorations, and high-profile tours of the province during which Craig distributed "bones" (government assistance) without consulting his cabinet or the civil service. Despite increasing physical and mental decrepitude, he retained his position until his death on 24 November 1940.

SEE ALSO Carson, Sir Edward; Ulster Unionist Party in Office; Unionism from 1885 to 1922; Primary Documents: On "A Protestant Parliament and a Protestant State" (24 April 1934)


Buckland, Patrick. The Factory of Grievances: Devolved Government in Northern Ireland, 1921–39. 1979.

Buckland, Patrick. James Craig. 1980.

Jackson, Alvin. The Ulster Party: Irish Unionists in the House of Commons, 1884–1911. 1989.

Patrick Maume

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Craig, James, First Viscount Craigavon

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