Billy Kennedy remembers David Trimble: ‘He wrought an enormous change for the better’

Much has been said and written about the political career and achievements of former Northern Ireland First Minister and Ulster Unionist leader Lord David Trimble.

By Billy Kennedy
Saturday, 6th August 2022, 8:35 am
Updated Saturday, 6th August 2022, 8:40 am
Lord Trimble
Lord Trimble

The great and the good, locally and at international level, have been fulsome in their praise and regaled positively on the significant contribution David made on the Ulster political scene, and the wider pro-British stage.

Politics apart, however, there was another side to David Trimble’s life, both private and public, that impacted and resonated with many of like mind in the traditional Ulster Protestant diaspora.

Culturally, from an academic perspective, David Trimble was an Ulster-Scot, who took his cue from the spiritual needs of his very deep Presbyterian faith (he was in his church pew every Sunday with his family), complemented by an interest and intense pride on what many hardy Ulster-Scots achieved when they emigrated to North America through the 18th and 19th centuries.

A portrait of former Northern Ireland First Minister and UUP leader David Trimble

One of David Trimble’s first moves after the signing of the Belfast Agreement. in April 1998, was, in consultation with other senior unionist colleagues, notably the late Lord John Laird of Artigarvan(another politician with Ulster-Scots roots), to establish the Ulster-Scots Agency.

Ulster-Scots chief executive Ian Crozier confirms: “David Trimble came from the Ulster-Scots community. During the negotiation of the Belfast Agreement in 1998, he ensured that Ulster-Scots was recognised as part of our cultural wealth and the Ulster-Scots Agency was established to support and develop our identity.

“The Ulster-Scots language was also recognised under international law for the first time as a result. Many in the Ulster-Scots community had differing views on the Belfast Agreement, but there can be no doubt that in terms of the recovery of our Ulster-Scots identity, he wrought an enormous change for the better. I offer my sincere condolences to his family and friends at this sad time,”.

The Ulster-Scots Agency is an organisation with specific aims to propagate authentic Ulster-Scots culture in Northern Ireland, centering on history, music, dance, language and the fraternal links with our Scottish homeland and kinsfolk. The formation of the Ulster-Scots Agency was clearly David Trimble and close associates not just affirming the Ulster-British link of their United Kingdom birthright, but also the Ulster-Scots heritage of their Presbyterian forefathers.

Through the excellent work and outreach of the Agency over a quarter of a century, Ulster-Scots have been able to call upon a statutory vehicle to define to the wider world their quite unique and distinct culture.

Like David Trimble, I am a Presbyterian, by faith, and culturally an Ulster-Scot. This combination of religion/cultural ideals has inspired me to extensively research for 11 books in the United States over a period of 25 years, the impact which Ulster Presbyterians made in the establishment and advancement of the United States of America to become the world’s great nation.

During one of my research expeditions, David Trimble’s name, not surprisingly, cropped up on a visit to a Presbyterian church in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

It was 1996 and, on meeting elders at the rustic Timber Ridge church outside Lexington, I was told how pleased they were to recently welcome the incoming First Minister of Northern Ireland, David Trimble.

Timber Ridge was no ordinary church, it was where the family of iconic 19th century American statesman Sam Houston worshipped with his family before they moved on to Tennessee.

Sam, arguably the greatest American never to become US President, was of Larne, Co Antrim extraction, and was, of course, Governor of both Tennessee and Texas, and a close associate of President Andrew Jackson and frontiersman David Crockett, also of Ulster extraction.

Of the 46 American Presidents, 17 had Ulster links.

While on his visit to the Scots-Irish town of Lexington, David Trimble will also have learned the legacy of local hero Thomas Jonathan ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, a Confederate Army American Civil War general and Presbyterian Sunday school teacher, with Ulster roots in the Birches area of Co Armagh.

And nearby in the Shenandoah Valley town of Staunton, he will have visited the ancestral home of early 20th century Ulster Presbyterian US President Woodrow Wilson. Like Trimble, Wilson received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Staunton is also where the Museum of American Frontier Culture is located; the museum is twinned with the Ulster-American Folk Park in Omagh.

The Shenandoah Valley region is teeming with Scots-Irish (Ulster-Scots) culture and identity.

David Trimble, in his role as Northern Ireland First MInister, frequently visited Washington for talks with American presidents, senators and congressmen from both the Republican and Democratic parties.

And I can only assume that when meeting the Irish American ‘Green’ lobby, that he would have politely reminded them that Ulster-Scots Presbyterian emigrants were in America and had advanced life in their newly-found homeland 100 years before the “other Irish” arrived in the mid-19th century.

Republican politicians in the US have always been more Ulster friendly than their pro-Irish nationalist Democratic counterparts and Trimble and unionist colleagues assiduously courted this lobby in talks.