Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has spoken of how his grandmother warned him against marrying a Catholic and how she believed the late Ian Paisley was going to save Northern Ireland.
In a wide-ranging interview on ‘Eamonn Mallie Face to Face with…’ the ex-Labour leader talks of his early years and what he learned from his parents to holidaying in Ireland and the key moments working on the Good Friday Agreement and beyond.
Sir Tony said many of his formative years were spent holidaying with his family in Donegal, in particular Rossnowlagh.
His grandfather was an Orangeman and he describes his grandmother as a “very staunch - you might almost say somewhat prejudiced - protestant”.
In the interview he explains that in his teens, the first time he learned of Ian Paisley was from his grandmother.
He recalled: “She said to me, ‘There is this man who is going to come and save Northern Ireland and his name is Ian Paisley. I didn’t know who he was… she was very much on that side of politics.”
He described his family in Donegal as Presbyterian farmers.
He added: “I didn’t have a perception of Ireland, I was a kid. It was in Donegal I took my first interest in girls, learned to play the guitar and had my first drink. That was more important than whatever was going on in the politics of Ireland.”
He also spoke of his grandmother’s deathbed warning and how she had been suffering from Alzhemier’s.
Sir Tony said: “Her message, unbelievably, was ‘whatever else you do son, don’t marry a Catholic’ … and I did. I didn’t have the heart to tell her at the time I had just started going out with one.
“It is a strange thing. She was a lovely woman in many, many ways. But when she was ill and lost her mental capacity, the residue of what remained was essentially a piece of bigotry.
“It made a great impression on me at the time… It stayed with me as evidence of how deep these prejudices can go and how irrational they are. To someone of my generation at that point in time, I didn’t care whether my wife was Protestant or Catholic.”
He said, as part of his upbringing, those early experiences played a role in influencing his later life.
He added how during those years there was no issue with religion but when the Troubles began it came to the fore.
He explained how a letter from his cousin warning of Catholicism, nationalism and republicanism stuck with him.
“When I thought there was an opportunity to make a difference and to change the politics of the island of Ireland, I took it.”
‘Eamonn Mallie Face to Face with Tony Blair’ aires on Wednesday, January 25 at 9pm and will be available on ITVX.
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