Fur-Coat Unionism: Dame Dehra Parker (1882–1963)

  • Paul Ward


Ronald MacNeill, in what amounts to the official history of Ulster Unionism before partition, paid tribute to ‘The women of Ulster [who] were scarcely less active than the men in the matter of organization. Although, of course, as yet unenfranchised, they took as a rule a keener interest in political matters — meaning thereby the absorbing question of the Union — than their sex in other parts of the United Kingdom.’1 Yet MacNeill devoted only one and half pages to women’s Unionism. Mainly because women were kept in subordinate and auxiliary positions within the movement, the sources for examination of the day-to-day politics of women’s unionism are sparse and women have been largely absent from the historiography of Ulster Unionism.2 Women in the north of Ireland were, however, a significant force in the spread of unionist ideas outside the normal channels of masculine politics. They strengthened unionist ideas within the home and in voluntary organizations.3 After 1910, with the Irish MPs holding the balance of power in the House of Commons, the urgency of the threat of Home Rule did afford women a greater role in Unionism. Dehra Parker was one such woman. After the accomplishment of the exclusion of the six counties from Home Rule and the formation of Northern Ireland women’s role in politics was restricted, as the running of the state fell overwhelmingly into the hands of men.


National Identity Proportional Representation Home Rule Ancient Monument Unionist Party 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Ronald MacNeill, Ulster’s Stand for the Union (London: John Murray, 1922), p. 37.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    There are some notable exceptions. See Diane Urquhart, Women in Ulster Politics 1890–1940: A History Not Yet Told (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2000;Google Scholar
  3. Janice Holmes and Diane Urquhart (eds), Coming Into the Light: The Work, Politics and Religion of Women in Ulster (Belfast: Institute of Irish Studies, Queen’s University Belfast, 1994).Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    Alvin Jackson, ‘Irish Unionism, 1870–1922’, in D. George Boyce and Alan O’Day (eds), Defenders of the Union: A Survey of British and Irish Unionism since 1801 (London: Routledge, 2001), p. 127.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    See Margaret Ward, Unmanageable Revolutionaries: Women and Irish Nationalism (London: Pluto, 1983)Google Scholar
  6. and Susan Kingsley Kent, Gender and Power in Britain 1640–1990 (London: Routledge, 1999), pp. 263–6.Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    For clarity this chapter uses Parker’s final surname throughout. For a brief biography see R.A. Wilford, ‘Parker, Dame Dehra (1882–1963)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [accessed 20 October 2004: http://www.oxforddnb/view/article/58268].Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    Urquhart, Women in Ulster Politics, pp. 182–97 examines Parker’s political career up to 1940. My chapter could not have been written without Urquhart’s research and analysis. Art Byrne and Sean McMahon, Great Northerners (Dublin: Poolbeg, 1991), pp. 194–5 has a two-page outline of Parker’s life, which argues that ‘she was immensely influential and ensured that when she resigned in 1960, her seat was won by her grandson, Major James Chichester-Clark. The story is also told that she directed that Terence O’Neill, to whom she was related, should succeed Brookeborough as premier and that he in turn should be followed by Chichester-Clarke (which was exactly what happened).’ Given that Unionism was becoming increasingly more difficult to control in the 1960s and early 1970s these are unlikely scenarios.Google Scholar
  9. 7.
    See Paul Ward, Britishness since 1870 (London: Routledge, 2004), chapter 2.Google Scholar
  10. 8.
    See Jon Lawrence, ‘Class and Gender in the Making of Urban Toryism, 1880–1914’, English Historical Review, 108 (1993), pp. 628–52.Google Scholar
  11. 9.
    See Jose Harris, Private Lives, Public Spirit: Britain1870–1914 (London: Penguin, 1994), pp. 27–8.Google Scholar
  12. 10.
    Ian McBride, ‘Ulster and the British problem’, in R. English and G. Walker (eds), Unionism in Modern Ireland: New Perspectives on Politics and Culture (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996), p. 7.Google Scholar
  13. 12.
    Jackson points out that the leadership of Ulster Unionism passed away from landed families in the Edwardian period and the role of these families became symbolic: Jackson, ‘Irish Unionism’, p. 121. The minutes of the UWUC and its executive are published in Diane Urquhart (ed.), The Minutes of the Ulster Women’s Unionist Council and Executive Committee (Dublin: Women’s History Project and Irish Manuscripts Commission, 2001).Google Scholar
  14. 19.
    Quoted in Nancy Kinghan, United We Stood: The Official History of the Ulster Women’s Unionist Council1911–1974 (Belfast: Appletree, 1975), pp. 16–17.Google Scholar
  15. 28.
    Nicoletta F. Gullace, “The Blood of Our Sons”: Men, Women and the Renegotiation of British Citizenship during the Great War (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002).Google Scholar
  16. 33.
    Maedhbh McNamara and Paschal Mooney, Women in Parliament: Ireland1918–2000 (Dublin: Wolfhound, 2000), p. 222.Google Scholar
  17. 37.
    See Patrick Buckland, The Factory of Grievances: Devolved Government in Northern Ireland1921–39 (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1979), p. 232.Google Scholar
  18. 39.
    Michael Farrell, Northern Ireland: The Orange State (London: Pluto, 1976), pp. 83–5 provides a damning critique of gerrymandering.Google Scholar
  19. 43.
    Graham Walker, A History of the Ulster Unionist Party: Protest, Pragmatism and Pessimism (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004), pp. 124–5.Google Scholar
  20. See also John A. Oliver, Working at Stormont: Memoirs (Dublin: Institute of Public Administration, 1978), p. 79.Google Scholar
  21. 55.
    Report (Final) of the Committee on Educational Services, Cmd. 15, 1923, quoted in Michael McGrath, The Catholic Church and the Catholic Schools in Northern Ireland: The Price of Faith (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2000), pp. 54–5.Google Scholar
  22. 58.
    See, for example, Lucy Noakes, War and the British: Gender and National Identity 1939–1991 (London: IB Tauris, 1998).Google Scholar
  23. 62.
    See, for example, Harold L. Smith, ‘The Effect of War on the Status of Women’, in Harold L. Smith (ed.), War and Social Change: British Society and the Second World War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986), pp. 208–29.Google Scholar
  24. 65.
    See Brian Barton, ‘Northern Ireland: The Impact of War, 1939–45’, in Brian Girvin and Geoffrey Roberts (eds), Ireland and the Second World War: Politics, Society and Remembrance (Dublin: Four Courts, 2000), pp. 47–75.Google Scholar
  25. 70.
    Rev. William Corkey, The Church of Rome and Irish Unrest: How Hatred of Britain is Taught in Irish Schools (Edinburgh: William Bishop, 1913).Google Scholar
  26. 72.
    See R.J. Lawrence, The Government of Northern Ireland: Public Finance and Public Services1921–1964 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1965), p. 118n.Google Scholar
  27. 76.
    Richard Weight, Patriots: National Identity in Britain1940–2000 (Basingstoke: Pan, 2003), p. 40.Google Scholar
  28. 78.
    Ian Hill, ‘Arts Administration’, in Mark Carruthers and Stephen Douds (eds), Stepping Stones: The Arts in Ulster1971–2001 (Belfast: Blackstaff, 2001), pp. 215–17.Google Scholar
  29. 79.
    The main part of the Festival in Northern Ireland was the Farm and Factory Exhibition. See Becky E. Conekin, ‘Autobiography of a Nation’: The 1951 Festival of Britain (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), pp. 68–9.Google Scholar
  30. 81.
    Quoted in Gillian McIntosh, The Force of Culture: Unionist Identities in Twentieth Century Ireland (Cork: Cork University Press, 1999), pp. 149, 154.Google Scholar
  31. 82.
    See E. Estyn Evans, ‘Folklife Studies in Northern Ireland’, Journal of the Folklore Institute, 2 (1965), pp. 355–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. See also Cab 4/950, 21 October 1954, Cab 4/962, 3 February 1955, PRONI. For Unionist anxieties over the Republic’s claim to the history of the whole island see James Loughlin, Ulster Unionism and British National Identity since 1885 (London: Pinter, 1995), p. 169.Google Scholar
  33. 85.
    Terence O’Neill, The Autobiography of Terence O’Neill: Prime Minister of Northern Ireland1963–1969 (London: Rupert Hart-Davies, 1972), p. 34.Google Scholar
  34. 89.
    In 1960 unemployment in Scotland was 3.4 per cent of the workforce while that in Northern Ireland was 6.7 per cent: Paul Bew, Peter Gibbon and Henry Patterson, Northern Ireland 1921–1994: Political Forces and Social Classes (London: Serif, 1995), p. 118.Google Scholar
  35. 91.
    Some of the following section is based on Feargal Cochrane, ‘“Meddling at the Crossroads”: The Decline and Fall of Terence O’Neill within the Unionist Community’, in Richard English and Graham Walker (eds), Unionism in Modern Ireland: New Perspectives on Politics and Culture (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996), pp. 148–68.Google Scholar
  36. 93.
    Vernon Bogdanor, Devolution in the United Kingdom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 81.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Paul Ward 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Ward

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations