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Paisley wanted Pope painting for his Stormont room

Rev Ian Paisley pictured in 1987

Rev Ian Paisley pictured in 1987

A controversial painting, loathed by some hardline unionists because it appeared to show the Pope blessing King William of Orange, was the subject of some internal deliberations between NIO officials in 1983 — because they believed Ian Paisley wanted it for his room.

The artwork, reputedly by Dutch painter Pieter Van Der Meulen, was commissioned by the Northern Ireland Government in the early 1930s.

But, upon its hanging in Stormont in 1933, many believed that the figure seen above King Billy in the painting was not God, but the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

Such was the controversy about the painting that within months of its hanging it had been defaced by a group of Scottish loyalists on a tour of Parliament Buildings.

One had thrown a tin of red paint at the artwork while, as he was wrestled away from the object of his anger, another visitor took into the painting with a knife.

The work was eventually restored and acquired by the Public Record Office.

Since then, there have been claims that ‘The Entry of King William to Ireland’ was not in fact a painting of the famous Protestant king, but of a minor German prince.

In 1983, half a century after the painting was first hung in Stormont, the clerk of the Assembly approached the Department of the Environment, asking if the painting could be returned to Parliament Buildings.

A note from Harry Coote to Sir Ewart Bell, head of the Civil Service, explained: “I understand that the pressure for the return of the painting is being exerted by the Rev Ian Paisley who desires it for his room at Stormont. Seemingly he is very ken to have it.”

Mr Coote said that as the painting was the property of the old Stormont Parliament he saw no reason that it should not be returned.

The following week, a note from Assembly Clerk John Kennedy thanked officials for the “trouble” they had gone to over the request and sought to ensure them that “the existence of the painting in the Assembly precincts is treated in a low key manner”.

However, he added: “I shall certainly ask the recipient member to respect my wishes in this regard but, of course, no guarantee can be given that this will be the case, especially as quite a variety of people will be resorting to the room where the painting is to be hung.”

An earlier memo from Mr Coote explained that Dr Paisley was the “prime mover” behind the Assembly request for the painting and the DUP leader had been “pressing Mr Kennedy on this for some time”.

He warned that Dr Paisley was “scarcely likely to take ‘no’ for an answer”.

 

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