Terence O'Neill

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The Lord O'Neill of the Maine
O'Neill in 1966
4th Prime Minister of Northern Ireland
In office
25 March 1963 – 28 April 1969
MonarchElizabeth II
Preceded byThe 1st Viscount Brookeborough
Succeeded byJames Chichester-Clark
7th Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party
In office
25 March 1963 – 1 May 1969
Preceded byThe 1st Viscount Brookeborough
Succeeded byJames Chichester-Clark
Minister of Finance
In office
21 September 1956 – 25 March 1963
Prime MinisterThe Viscount Brookeborough
Preceded byGeorge Boyle Hanna
Succeeded byJack Andrews
Minister of Home Affairs
In office
20 April 1956 – 23 October 1956
Prime MinisterThe Viscount Brookeborough
Preceded byGeorge Boyle Hanna
Succeeded byW. W. B. Topping
High Sheriff of Antrim
In office
1 January 1953 – 31 December 1953
Preceded byHugh Cameron McGildowney
Succeeded byGeorge Clark
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
In office
23 January 1970 – 12 June 1990
Life Peerage
Member of the Northern Ireland Parliament
for Bannside
In office
7 November 1946 – 16 April 1970
Preceded byMalcolm William Patrick
Succeeded byIan Paisley
Personal details
Born(1914-09-10)10 September 1914
London, England
Died12 June 1990(1990-06-12) (aged 75)
Lymington, England
Political partyUlster Unionist Party
Katharine Jean
(m. 1944)
RelativesJames Chichester-Clark
Phelim O’Neill
EducationEton College
Alma materSandhurst
Military service
Allegiance United Kingdom
Branch/service British Army
Years of service1940–1945
Unit6th Guards Tank Brigade
Battles/warsWorld War II

Terence Marne O'Neill, Baron O'Neill of the Maine, PC (NI) (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 a member of the Parliament of Northern Ireland for the Bannside constituency from 1946 until his resignation in January 1970; his successor in the House of Commons of Northern Ireland after a by-election 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]to The Hon, Arthur O'Neill and his wife Lady Annabel Hungerford Crewe-Milnes.

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 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,[3] the daughter of William Ingham Whitaker, of Pylewell Park, Lymington, Hampshire. They had one son, Patrick (born 1945), and one daughter, Anne (born 1947). His great-nephew is popular British record-producer and DJ, Fred Again.

Like all 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 (UUP) MP for the Bannside constituency in the Parliament of Northern Ireland, which sat at Parliament Buildings at Stormont. 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 of Northern Ireland. In 1953 he served as High Sheriff of Antrim.[5] He was elevated to Cabinet level in the Government of Northern Ireland in April 1956 when he was made Minister of Home Affairs and sworn into the Privy Council of Northern Ireland. Six months later he was also appointed as Minister of Finance, a senior 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[edit]

In 1963, O'Neill succeeded Basil Brooke, 1st Viscount Brookeborough as Prime Minister of Northern Ireland and Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. He introduced new policies that would have been unthinkable with Lord 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 O'Neill was in some ways trying to prevent the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) from gaining ground.[7] The arrival of Harold Wilson's Labour government 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, after twelve dissident MPs signed a motion of no confidence against O'Neill, and Brian Faulkner resigned from the Government following its appointment of the Cameron Commission. Although pro-O'Neill candidates won a plurality of seats in the general election, O'Neill lost an overall majority among UUP MPs in order to pass his reforms through Parliament.


From O'Neill's point of view, the 1969 general election was 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 on 28 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]


O'Neill 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.)

O'Neill 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 appeared on the BBC Election Night programme in October 1974, where he clashed with the newly elected Ulster Unionist Party MP for South Down, Enoch Powell, over Northern Ireland's politics.[16] His reform policies are largely forgotten by British Unionists and Irish Nationalists in Northern Ireland; however, he is remembered by historians for his efforts to reform the discrimination and sectarianism within the region during the 1960s. In retirement he was also a trustee of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust.


He died at his home of cancer on 12 June 1990. He was survived by his wife, son, and daughter. His estate was valued at £443,043.[17]


Coat of arms of Terence O'Neill
1st, an Arm embowed in Armour the Hand grasping a Sword all proper; 2nd, a Stork rising with a Snake in its beak all proper
Quarterly: 1st and 4th, per fess wavy the Chief Argent and the base representing Waves of the Sea in chief a Dexter Hand couped at the wrist Gules in base a Salmon naiant proper (O'Neill); 2nd and 3rd, checky Or and Gules a Chief Vair (Chichester)
Dexter: a Lion Gules gorged with an Eastern Crown Argent pendent therefrom by a Chain Gold an Escutcheon charged with the Arms of O'Neill as in the Arms; Sinister: a Horse Argent collared gemel resting the interior hind foot on a Mascle Azure
Invitum Sequitur Honos (Honours follow us without asking); Lamh Dearg E'rin (The Red Hand of Ireland) [18]

See also[edit]



  • Terence O'Neill, Ulster at the crossroads, Faber and Faber, London, 1969.
  • Terence O'Neill, The autobiography of Terence O'Neill, Hart-Davies, London, 1972.


  1. ^ a b Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  2. ^ a b 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. Archived from the original on 25 September 2015. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  4. ^ "Who are the Orangemen?". BBC News. 11 July 2012. Archived from the original on 10 April 2019. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  5. ^ "No. 1645". The Belfast Gazette. 2 January 1953. p. 2.
  6. ^ Mulholland, Marc (2004). "'O'Neill, Terence Marne, Baron O'Neill of the Maine (1914–1990)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 1 (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/39857. Retrieved 15 April 2014. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  7. ^ a b 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". Archived from the original on 23 June 2018. Retrieved 9 October 2015.
  10. ^ "A Chronology of the Conflict – 1968". Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN). Archived from the original on 6 August 2011. 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 978-0856403231.
  14. ^ "Online quotation accessed 14-1-2009". Archived from the original on 17 September 2009. Retrieved 14 January 2009.
  15. ^ "No. 45025". The London Gazette. 23 January 1970. p. 957.
  16. ^ Film of the exchange, 'Enoch Powell after election victory in 1974', published on Youtube 19 January 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xS9-_CKhGSE Archived 27 February 2020 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ probate, 28 August 1990, CGPLA England and Wales
  18. ^ "Life Peerages – O". Archived from the original on 3 August 2020. Retrieved 25 January 2019.


  • Marc Mulholland, Northern Ireland at the crossroads: Ulster Unionism in the O'Neill years 1960-9, (Macmillan, London 2000).
Parliament of Northern Ireland
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Bannside
Succeeded by
Preceded by Father of the House
Succeeded by
Political offices
New office Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Health and Local Government

Preceded by Chairman of Ways and Means and Deputy Speaker of the Northern Ireland House of Commons
Succeeded by
Vacant Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health and Local Government
Title last held by
Wilson Hungerford
Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Affairs
Title next held by
William Fitzsimmons
Preceded by Minister of Home Affairs
Apr – Oct 1956
Succeeded by
Minister of Finance
Succeeded by
Preceded by Prime Minister of Northern Ireland
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party
Succeeded by