This booklet commemorates the funeral of Lord Edward Carson, which took place in St Anne’s Cathedral on Saturday 26th October 1935. The burial inside St. Anne’s required special legislation to be ratified by the Northern Ireland Parliament and, to this day, Carson remains the only person to be enshrined within the Cathedral.
Our research into Lord Carson’s Memorial Booklet
This memorial booklet records the funeral and commemorates the life of Lord Edward Carson, a prominent Irish/British politician, barrister and judge. Carson was buried at St Anne’s Cathedral in 1935 and his tomb lies in the South Aisle of the Cathedral, just ahead of the Treasury.
Carson died in October 1935 (aged 81) in Kent, England, having retired from frontline politics following the creation of the Northern Ireland state in 1921 – perhaps his most significant achievement. Carson’s influence in British/Irish political affairs was immense. He remains the most prominent figurehead of Ulster Unionism and, as such, courts a divisive contemporary legacy. The funeral of Lord Carson took place on Sunday 26th October 1935. A day on which the Belfast Telegraph described Belfast as a ‘city of sorrow’.
Carson’s was one of only four non-royal state funerals in the twentieth century – and the only one (to date) conducted outside of Westminster Abbey. His remains were transported to Belfast from Liverpool by H.M.S Broke, a Royal Navy destroyer, which docked at Donegall Quay. The following account describes the unusual silence across Belfast’s relentless shipyards as the ship arrived:
There was a stillness, reverent and almost uncanny, as the Broke passed along the Harbour. At the Queen’s Island work was suspended…the buzz of the riveting machines had died down and grimy-faced men, bareheaded, stood motionless…How weird it was that ‘Sir Edward’ should be passing with not a cheer from the Islandmen.
Carson’s coffin was ‘shrouded within the folds of the Union Jack’ and carried ashore by ‘British Bluejackets’ or members of the Royal Navy who laid it upon the gun carriage in Queen’s Square (now Custom House Square). The coffin travelled through the dockside streets of Belfast – which had been convulsed by deadly sectarian rioting that July – before thousands of onlookers. A special 100-strong Constabulary guard led the funeral cortege towards St Anne’s Cathedral passing the Old Town Hall, the headquarters of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the home of the Covenant, where the procession paused. The pall bearers included the Prime Minister, Sir James Craig, the Marquis of Londonderry, Colonel F. H. Crawford and the Lord Mayors of Belfast and Derry.
From the early hours on Sunday 26th, crowds had begun to gather in the centre of Belfast. The booklet describes how ‘all that was representative of Loyalist Ulster was on parade to salute the passing of the great Ulster chief’. For the thousands of mourners who could not fit in the Cathedral, the service was relayed via speakers to large crowds assembled at City Hall and broadcast locally on BBC Radio. Inside, the congregation was ‘drawn from all classes from the Governor down to humble Unionist workers…all united in a common sorrow.’
After the service there was a chance for many mourners to visit the grave of Lord Carson and pay their last respects as the Cathedral was opened up to the public. The array of wreaths included tributes from the Belfast Grand Orange Lodge; the Commander, Officers and all ranks of the Royal Air Force; the Belfast Harbour Commissioners; the Southern Ireland Irish Loyalists Relief Association; the Ulster Club; the Ulster Division Patriotic Fund, and ‘A Humble Member of the ‘Unionist Defence League”.
The cost of the funeral – £1,270 (equivalent to almost £100,000 today) – provoked criticism from many nationalist newspapers. The pomp, ceremony and civic theatre of Carson’s funeral arrangements projected Unionist confidence in Northern Ireland’s constitutional position following decades of uncertainty. The burial inside St. Anne’s required special legislation to be ratified by the Northern Ireland Parliament and, to this day, Carson remains the only person to be buried within the Cathedral.
 ‘Last Honours to Ulster’s Leader Lord Carson of Duncairn: Enshrined in Cathedral of St. Anne, Belfast’ (Belfast: W & G Baird Ltd., 1935): p.4
 ‘Lord Carson of Duncairn’: p.9
 Ibid: p.13 & 15.
 Ibid: p.13.
 Ibid: p.7.
 Ibid: p.24
 Ibid: p.30
 Ibid: pp.31-5.