Terence O'Neill, Baron O'Neill of the Maine

The Right Honourable
The Lord O'Neill of the Maine
Prime Minister of Northern Ireland
In office
25 March 1963  1 May 1969
Preceded by Basil Brooke, 1st Viscount Brookeborough
Succeeded by James Chichester-Clark
Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party
In office
25 March 1963  1 May 1969
Preceded by Basil Brooke, 1st Viscount Brookeborough
Succeeded by James Chichester-Clark
Member of the Northern Ireland Parliament
for Bannside
In office
7 November 1946  16 April 1970
Preceded by Malcolm William Patrick
Succeeded by Ian Paisley
Personal details
Born (1914-09-10)10 September 1914
London, England
Died 12 June 1990(1990-06-12) (aged 75)
Lymington, England
Nationality British
Political party Ulster Unionist Party
Spouse(s) Katharine Jean
Children 2
Education Eton College
Alma mater Sandhurst
Religion Anglican
Military service
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service 19401945
Rank Captain
Unit 6th Guards Tank Brigade
Battles/wars World War Two

Terence Marne O'Neill, Baron O'Neill of the Maine, PC (10 September 1914 – 12 June 1990) was the fourth Prime Minister of Northern Ireland and leader (1963–1969) of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). A moderate unionist, who sought to reconcile the sectarian divisions in Northern Ireland society, he was Member of the Parliament of Northern Ireland for the Bannside constituency from 1946 until his forced resignation in April 1969 as communal conflict erupted; his successor in Parliament was Ian Paisley, while control of the UUP also passed to more hard-line elements.


O'Neill Conroy family tree

Terence O'Neill was born on 10 September 1914 at 29 Ennismore Gardens, Hyde Park, London.[1] He was the youngest son of Lady Annabel Hungerford Crewe-Milnes (daughter of the Marquess of Crewe) and Captain Hon. Arthur O'Neill of Shane's Castle, Randalstown, the first MP to be killed in combat during World War I. The family assumed the surname O'Neill by royal licence in lieu of their original name Chichester. The Chichesters trace their lineage to the name O'Neill through Mary Chichester, daughter of Henry O'Neill of Shane's Castle.

O'Neill grew up in London and was educated at West Downs School, Winchester and Eton College. He spent summer holidays in Ulster. Following school he spent a year in France and Germany and then worked in the City of London and Australia. In May 1940 he received a commission at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst,[1] and went on to serve in the 6th Guards Tank Brigade as catering officer during the Second World War, in which both of his brothers died. Like many other unionist politicians, the rank he held during the war followed him into his political career, hence "Captain" Terence O'Neill.[2]

On 4 February 1944 he married Katharine Jean (16 January 1915 –15 July 2008[3]), the daughter of William Ingham Whitaker, of Pylewell Park, Lymington, Hampshire. They had one son, Patrick (b. 1945), and one daughter, Anne (b. 1947).

Like all Unionist Prime Ministers of Northern Ireland, he was a member of the Orange Order.[4]


At the end of 1945, O'Neill and his family went to live in Northern Ireland in a converted Regency rectory near Ahoghill, County Antrim. In a by-election in 1946, he was elected as the Ulster Unionist Party MP for the Bannside constituency in the Stormont Parliament. O'Neill served in a series of junior positions. He was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health and Local Government from February 1948 until November 1953, when he was appointed Chairman of Ways and Means and Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons. In 1953 he served as High Sheriff of Antrim.[5] He was elevated to cabinet level in April 1956 when he was made Minister of Home Affairs and sworn into the Privy Council. Six months later he was also given the finance portfolio that he administered alongside home affairs until he divested the latter to focus on finance. He remained Minister of Finance until his appointment as Prime Minister of Northern Ireland in 1963.[6]

Prime minister

In 1963, O'Neill succeeded Viscount Brookeborough as Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. He introduced new policies that would have been unthinkable with Brookeborough as Prime Minister. He aimed to end sectarianism and to bring Catholics and Protestants into working relationships. A visit to a convent proved controversial among many Protestants. He also had aspirations in the industrial sector, seeking improved relations with the trade union movement and attracting new investment from abroad to replace failing industry in Northern Ireland.[2] O'Neill seemed to strongly believe in industrialisation and modernisation. However it is clear that he was in some ways trying to prevent the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) from gaining ground.[7] Northern Ireland was influenced by British politics so the arrival of Harold Wilson in Downing Street meant the NILP had a significant ally there. Wilson was not a committed UUP supporter, so that O'Neill was the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland who could not rely on the support of the UK Government.[7]

As O'Neill promoted industrialisation and modernisation, Taoiseach Seán Lemass was doing similar things in the Republic of Ireland, thus leading to the first real rapprochement between the two jurisdictions since partition.[8] In January 1965, O'Neill invited the Taoiseach for talks in Belfast. O'Neill met with strong opposition from his own party, having informed very few of the visit, and from Ian Paisley, who rejected any dealings with the Republic. Paisley and his followers threw snowballs at Lemass' car during the visit. In February, O'Neill visited Lemass in Dublin. Opposition to O'Neill's reforms was so strong that in 1967 George Forrest – the MP for Mid Ulster, who supported the Prime Minister – was pulled off the platform at the Twelfth of July celebrations in Coagh, County Tyrone, and kicked unconscious by fellow members of the Orange Order.[9]

In December 1967, Lemass' successor Jack Lynch travelled to Stormont for his first meeting with O'Neill. On 8 January 1968, they met again in Dublin. On 19 January 1968, O'Neill made a speech marking five years in office to members of the Irish Association, calling for "a new endeavour by organisations in Northern Ireland to cross denominational barriers and advance the cause of better community relations". On 20 May 1968, O'Neill was pelted with eggs, flour and stones by members of the Woodvale Unionist Association[10] who disapproved of his policies.

In 1968, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) began street demonstrations. The march across Derry on 5 October 1968, banned by William Craig the Minister of Home Affairs, was met with violence from the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) who used batons on protesters, among whom were prominent politicians. The O'Neill government was unable to deal with the disturbances, so Harold Wilson summoned O'Neill to Downing Street.[11] The Stormont cabinet minutes from 14 October show O'Neill recalling his time in Britain. He stated that Wilson had threatened to take over if O'Neill could not manage to gain control. Finally he concluded that if they couldn't manage it politically then they would be forced into a period of governance by police power alone.[12] The police violence was filmed by RTÉ television and broadcast worldwide.[13] The date of this march is taken by some historians as being the start of the Northern Ireland Troubles.

In response to these events, O'Neill introduced a Five Point Reform Programme. This granted a number of the concessions that NICRA had demanded but importantly it did not include one man one vote in local government council elections. Despite this the NICRA felt it had made some ground and agreed to postpone its marches. While things were expected to improve, many Catholics felt let down by the limited reforms. A group was formed by university-based activists including Bernadette Devlin and Michael Farrell, named People's Democracy, which began a four-day march from Belfast to Derry on 1 January 1969. On the fourth day, the march was attacked during the Burntollet Bridge incident by around 200 hardline unionists. Although many RUC men were present during the attack none intervened. It later emerged that some of the assailants were in fact off-duty policemen. Many marchers were injured, 13 requiring hospital treatment. The Burntollet attack sparked several days of rioting between the RUC and Catholic protesters in the Bogside area of Derry.

In February 1969, O'Neill called a surprise general election because of the turmoil inside the UUP. About ten to twelve dissident MPs opposed his leadership, and Brian Faulkner resigned from the Government.


From O'Neill's point of view, the election results were inconclusive. He was humiliated by his near-defeat in his own constituency of Bannside by Ian Paisley and resigned as leader of the UUP and as Prime Minister in April 1969 after a series of bomb explosions on Belfast's water supply by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) brought his personal political crisis to a head.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph published on 10 May 1969 he stated: "It is frightfully hard to explain to Protestants that if you give Roman Catholics a good job and a good house they will live like Protestants because they will see neighbours with cars and television sets; they will refuse to have eighteen children. But if a Roman Catholic is jobless, and lives in the most ghastly hovel he will rear eighteen children on National Assistance. If you treat Roman Catholics with due consideration and kindness they will live like Protestants in spite of the authoritative nature of their Church".[14]


He retired from Stormont politics in January 1970 when he resigned his seat, having become the Father of the House in the previous year. On 23 January 1970, he was created a life peer as Baron O'Neill of the Maine, of Ahoghill in the County of Antrim.[15] (The Maine (or Main) is a river which flows near Ahoghill.)

He spent his last years at Lisle Court, Lymington, Hampshire, although he continued to speak on the problems of Northern Ireland in the House of Lords where he sat as a cross-bencher. He was also a trustee of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. He died at his home of cancer on 12 June 1990 survived by his wife, son, and daughter. His estate was valued at £443,043: probate, 28 Aug 1990, CGPLA England and Wales.


16. Rev. Edward Chichester
8. William O'Neill, 1st Baron O'Neill
4. Edward O'Neill, 2nd Baron O'Neill
18. Robert Torrens
9. Henrietta Torrens
2. Arthur O'Neill
20. Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald
10. Thomas Cochrane, 11th Earl of Dundonald
21. Katherine Corbet Barnes
5. Lady Louisa Cochrane
22. William Mackinnon of Mackinnon FRS, FSA, DL, JP
11. Louisa Mackinnon
1. Terence O'Neill
24. Robert Pemberton Milnes, of Fryston Hall
12. Richard Monckton Milnes, 1st Baron Houghton
25. The Hon. Henrietta Monckton
6. Robert Crewe-Milnes, 1st Marquess of Crewe
26. John Crewe, 2nd Baron Crewe
13. The Hon. Annabel Crewe
27. Henrietta Walker-Hungerford
3. Lady Annabel Crew-Milnes
28. Rt. Hon. Sir James Graham, 2nd Bt.
14. Sir Frederick Graham, 3rd Bt.
29. Fanny Callender
7. Sibyl Graham
30. Edward Seymour, 12th Duke of Somerset
15. Lady Jane St. Maur Seymour
31. Georgiana Sheridan

See also




  1. 1 2 Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  2. 1 2 McKittrick, David, and David McVea (2002), Making Sense of The Troubles, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, p.27
  3. "Lady O'Neill of the Maine". The Daily Telegraph. London. 3 August 2008. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  4. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-18769781
  5. The Belfast Gazette: no. 1645. p. 2. 2 January 1953. Retrieved 20 June 2009.
  6. Mulholland, Marc. "'O'Neill, Terence Marne, Baron O'Neill of the Maine (1914-1990)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 15 April 2014.
  7. 1 2 McKittrick, David, and David McVea (2002), Making Sense of The Troubles, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, p.29
  8. McKittrick, David, and David McVea (2002), Making Sense of The Troubles, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, p.30
  9. Mid-Ulster 1950-1970
  10. "A Chronology of the Conflict – 1968". Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN). Retrieved 11 July 2009.
  11. McKittrick, David, and David McVea (2002), Making Sense of The Troubles, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, p. 42
  12. McKittrick, David, and David McVea (2002), Making Sense of The Troubles, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, p.43
  13. Cathcart, Rex (1984). The Most Contrary Region. The Blackstaff Press. p. 208. ISBN 0856403237.
  14. Online quotation accessed 14-1-2009
  15. The London Gazette: no. 45025. p. 957. 23 January 1970.


Parliament of Northern Ireland
Preceded by
Malcolm Patrick
Member of Parliament for Bannside
Succeeded by
Ian Paisley
Preceded by
Sir Norman Stronge
Father of the House
Succeeded by
Brian Faulkner
Political offices
Preceded by
New creation
Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Health and Local Government
Succeeded by
Office abolished
Preceded by
Samuel Hall-Thompson
Chairman of Ways and Means and Deputy Speaker of the Northern Ireland House of Commons
Succeeded by
Thomas Lyons
Preceded by
Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Affairs
Succeeded by
Preceded by
George Boyle Hanna
Minister of Home Affairs
Apr – Oct 1956
Succeeded by
Walter Topping
Minister of Finance
Succeeded by
Jack Andrews
Preceded by
Viscount Brookeborough
Prime Minister of Northern Ireland
Succeeded by
James Chichester-Clark
Party political offices
Preceded by
Viscount Brookeborough
Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party
Succeeded by
James Chichester-Clark
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