The apparent transformation of Ian Paisley has long been a source of fascination in Northern Ireland and beyond.
And now the ‘Big Man’ can be studied in the hallowed halls of academia.
Starting in a few weeks, the subject of Ian Paisley will be a course at Queen’s University in Belfast.
Course tutor Cathal McManus said the classes will analyse the “conversion” of the former DUP leader from “Dr No to Rev Yes”.
From his “humble origins”, the political career of a man who was both “loved and loathed, feared and ridiculed”, will be assessed, the prospectus states.
“Though we are not going to shy away from the more controversial elements, the course will try to evaluate the political progress of Ian Paisley,” Mr McManus, a teaching fellow of Queen’s School of Education, added.
“Now of course there are going to be difficulties, given the lack particularly of modern and personal sources, but we can still make a good stab at asking what Ian Paisley wanted to achieve and whether he succeeded.
“The way I am going to approach this is asking was he really rather a clever, fairly adept politician who saw the way to get into power and knew that the political situation would be more stable than previously as a result? Was it all about ending the domination of the Ulster Unionist Party?”
But Mr McManus, who has also written about unionist icon Lord Carson and Irish nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell, said there is so much about former MP and MEP Paisley that is “not black or white”.
“There is a very substantial proportion of the unionist community who could not stand Ian Paisley but were prepared to put their trust in him as someone who said what he meant,” he said.
“There are people now who like him who once loathed him, and people who feel he has betrayed everything he once stood for.”
The tutor said many of those who have already indicated they will be turning up for the course are people who know Mr Paisley as an MP, friend or neighbour — but places on the course are not limited.
“I think we will be able to take as many as want to come,” he said.
The evening class fits into a programme on Irish history going back over the last five years but Mr Paisley is the first contemporaneous individual to earn his own course.
“I want to broaden it out into a study of the whole modern period, in which Ian Paisley has featured,” Mr McManus added.
Now 84, Lord Bannside was not available for comment yesterday but a DUP statement said it was appropriate the former party leader’s contribution should be studied.
“Ian Paisley is a towering political figure in the history of Northern Ireland. Everyone in Northern Ireland has much to thank him for: like his principled stand in support of democracy in Northern Ireland and his key role in establishing the devolved Government at Stormont, it is appropriate that his career and contribution to Northern Ireland should be studied,” a spokesman said.
Big Man Big Test
Ten Questions for the Ian Paisley exam paper (with answers supplied).
1 Who said of Ian Paisley in June this year: “Everyone has had to take big risks for peace in Northern Ireland, and no more so than the Big Man, as they like to call him.”
2 Of what did Mr Paisley say: “Never, Never, Never” in 1986 ?
3 Which politician did he brand a “Judas” ?
4 Where was Ian Paisley actually born?
5 How many times did he top the European election poll?
6 Who did he defeat to take the North Antrim Westminster seat in 1970?
7 Name his children.
8 Who did he famously throw snowballs at when he visited Stormont in 1967?
9 Which party did Paisley belong to before the DUP?
10 What was Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s gift to Mr Paisley when they met at the Boyne in 2007 ?