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Speech by Ian Paisley at the Joint Official Opening of the Battle of the Boyne Site, (Tuesday 6 May 2008)

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Text: Ian Paisley... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn

Speech by Ian Paisley, then First Minister of Northern Ireland, at the Joint Official Opening of the Battle of the Boyne Site with Bertie Ahern, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), (Tuesday 6 May 2008)


"Charles II died in 1685 and his brother James commenced his reign as James I. It was not long until James demonstrated that he intended to undo the Reformation and enforce Romanism as the national and legal religion of the realm. Tyrconnel, his zealous lieutenant, soon outdid his master in his anti-Protestantism. All the high offices of the state became the possessions of Roman Catholic appointees.

In the town of Comber, Co. Down, a letter was picked up from the street, which was addressed to the Earl of Mount Alexander who lived nearby. It was a warning to the Earl about a general massacre which was to take place on 9th December. Copies of this letter were widely circulated.

On 7th December it was announced in Limavady that a regiment of Roman Catholics commanded by Lord Antrim had arrived and had passed through the town on their way to the city of Londonderry. These two communications caused the deepest reaction. It was believed that the arrival of the troops under Antrim’s command were part of the force that would massacre the Protestants of the City.

The noble Thirteen Apprentice Boys put an end to the matter by slamming the gates of the city and letting Roaring Meg roar. The revolution with William and Mary as joint Monarchs took place very quickly in London. On 18th December 1683 James left London and amidst a profuse display of orange ribbons the King and Queen, who was the daughter of James, entered St James’s Palace. By his mother, William was a grandson of Charles I, and by his father he was a great-grandson of that noble specimen of a man, William the Silent, who could rightly be acclaimed as the first Prince in Europe who avowed the principles of toleration which lie at the foundation of religious freedom. King William was brought up a Presbyterian.

‘It is quite a curious fact that the two Kings who have done most to make Ulster what it is,’ the first President of Queen’s University, Rev. Thomas Hamilton remarked, ‘were James I to whom we owe the Ulster Plantation, and William III from whose reign the foundation of our constitution is dated, were both Presbyterians. William was nothing of a bigot. He worked hard to keep the nonconformists within the Church of England.

Scotland owes William the establishing of her Presbyterianism on the basis of the Scottish Revolution Settlement.

On Saturday 4th June King William arrived at Carrickfergus and proceeded to ride to Belfast with his suite and a great crowd. He remained in Belfast for five nights. On Thursday he left Belfast and travelled through Lisburn to Hillsborough and there he signed the Royal Allowance to pay £1,200 per annum to the Presbyterian clergy.

He joined up with his army, which numbered 36,000 men, in Loughbrickland. On 25th June he marched with them and by 27th they were in Dundalk. On 30th June they reached the banks of the Boyne, and on the following day, 1st July, the great battle was to be fought. While pondering what I should say at this most historic gathering, I thought I should take the word Boyne, and using its five letters highlight certain important aspects of the great battle fought there.

B is for the River itself, the battle-site of the Boyne and its green grassy slopes. I make the exclamation ‘What a River!’ as I survey the scene and conjure up what happened on this site and its results in the history of this island, Europe, and indeed the whole world. The crossing of the river was not easy. The armies which faced one another were not, as many think, totally Protestant and totally Romanist. Both sides had Protestants and Romanists in their ranks. Lord Macauley, the great historian, summed up the climax of the battle in these words:

‘In a few minutes the Boyne, for a quarter of a mile, was alive with muskets and green boughs. It was not till the assailants had reached the middle of the channel that they became aware of the whole difficulty, as yet they had seen little more than half the hostile army. Now whole regiments of foot and horse seemed to start out of the earth. A wild shout of defiance rose from the whole shore: during one moment the event seemed doubtful; but the Protestants pressed resolutely forward, and in another moment the whole Irish line gave way.’

This battle was not a British or English battle, it was a world battle, the result of which would change the face of Europe and the world. Interestingly, it was William’s soldiers who wore the green branches in their caps, while James’s troops put a piece of white paper in theirs. James fled to Dublin, and soon made for France, never to return to the British Throne.

O is for the Orange Input. The populace generally believes that Orange territory is part of Holland and that the Princes of Orange were always Dutchmen. Such is not the case. The Orange territory referred to in the name is not part of Holland but rather part of France. It lies about twelve miles north of Avignon. It was an important Roman colony. The Counts of Orange created by Charlemagne, became princes in the 13th century, and by marriage the title passed to the house of Nassau, but the territory and the town became a French possession in 1713. Two Roman buildings of exceptional interest still stand. The theatre, excavated in a hill to the south, originally held 42,000 spectators and can still accommodate 18,000.

On the opposite side of the town is a highly decorated triumphal arch. Because William was part of the Dutch Nassau family, he was also the Prince of Orange. The Orange title was not from nationality but from princely decree. It is to be remembered that many Princes of Orange were staunch Roman Catholics and the title itself was a Roman Catholic invention. As a matter of fact, Mary Queen of Scots was once offered the title of Princess of Orange.

Y is for You and I. Each one of us has a solemn responsibility. Our responsibility is to make and to sustain the peace. Of course we have different views. I am a Unionist. I don’t need to wear it on a large notice over my heart. The Taoiseach is a Nationalist, and he doesn’t need to display it on a sign.

We both believe, however, that we should live in peace on this island in which we find ourselves by the over-ruling providence of Almighty God. We both intend that there shall be peace. With mutual respect for one another we want to see that principle to triumph all over this island. Of course, you are free to try to convert me to your way and I am free to try to convert you to my way. But that is by way or argument and not arms.

The power of true Christianity is in the power of declaration, not by the power of destruction. The last time I was here I presented to the Taoiseach one of King James’s muskets. I want today to present to you for this house we have just opened, a King James Bible New Testament, printed 77 years after the Boyne Battle. For the historical record, it is a copy of this edition of the Bible which was presented to Her Majesty the Queen at her Coronation.

N is for No turning back. To the bad old days there can be no turning back. The killing times must end for ever and no tolerance must be given to those who advocate their return. A strong dedication to peace and an intolerance of murder must drive us forward. This must be the end of all atrocities and the building of the ways of peace. The coming generation has a right to demand this from us. We must not fail them.

Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again,
The eternal years of God are here;
But error, wounded, writhes with pain,
And dies among its worshippers.

E is for Evermore. We are all headed to the Evermore. At the closing of each day, another day is sliced from life’s time-sheet. We must not live for time. There is an after here. There is a Hereafter.

Life is more than mere existing,
Drifting aimlessly along;
Yielding to each flitting fancy,
Whether it be right or wrong;

We are building, daily building
For the ages that shall be,
And the structure we are rearing
Shall abide eternally.

‘Tis our future selves we’re building,
And our work will surely stand.
Through unceasing ages ever,
Whether it be vile or grand;
Build, then, wisely for tomorrow:
With today thy work is done;
Haste thou, lest the good intended,
At the eve be not begun.

This has been a great day for us all. May we get a new perspective of time and a new valuation of eternity. Faith in Jesus Christ, He who is the same yesterday, today and forever, is the everlasting foundation.

As we say Goodbye I would repeat the following lines from an old poem to the Boyne Water, the ancient British name of which was Buvinda:

‘Then proudly flow till time is o’er,
And sacred be thy water;
For freedom gilds thy favoured shore,
And dearly we have bought her;
And while her bright and glorious ray
Shall beam on us for ever,
The hearts that she has linked this day,
No fate or time shall sever.’ "


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