Belfast Telegraph

I was named after Ian Paisley, but hurling is part of my heritage, says DUP mayor

By Colin O'Carroll

He's named after party founder Ian Paisley but despite his staunch unionist background, the DUP mayor of a unionist council has unearthed a family GAA link.

Ballymoney council chief Ian Stevenson recently made the discovery that his grandfather played gaelic games for local side Loughiel Shamrocks.

The revelation came as he prepared to make history by attending this Saturday's All-Ireland Senior Club Hurling Final at Croke Park to support the Shamrocks — the current Ulster champions.

As he prepares to go to Dublin on St Patrick's Day, Cllr Stevenson confirmed that his Protestant grandfather, the late Sam O'Neill, a member of the Church of Ireland from Magherahoney near Loughgiel, hurled for the Shamrocks in the 1920s.

Cllr Stevenson created local history in the mainly unionist Ballymoney Borough when he attended Loughgiel's recent semi-final match at Dublin's Parnell Park.

Mayor Stevenson said: “I was told my grandfather on my mother’s side, the late Sam O’Neill, who was a member of the Church of Ireland, played hurling for Loughgiel in 1926-27.

“I also found out that I have relatives associated with the current camogie team in Loughgiel, who I met earlier in the year.

“I believe it was because it was the only sport that the young people of the area were playing so that is why he got involved. I would be surprised, after many centuries together, if many people, even the staunchest ones, didn’t find a few surprises in their history.”

Mayor Stevenson — who revealed he was named Ian after former DUP leader Dr Ian Paisley — said he is looking forward to his first visit to Croke Park.

“I said when I was made mayor I will be mayor for all in the borough and I will be back on St Patrick’s Day to attend the Loughgiel game.”

He joked: “Some people described me as a ‘lucky charm’ after the semi-final win but I believe in God’s providence, not luck, and have to say they are very skilful players in their own right.”

There has been much debate about DUP politicians attending GAA games and Sinn Fein politicians attending Northern Ireland international football games. When Mayor Stevenson attended the Loughgiel semi-final he was there when the Irish national anthem was played and he intends to be present when The Soldier’s Song is played at Croke Park. He said: “I will respect their national anthem just the same way I would expect that a nationalist in Northern Ireland would stand for God Save The Queen, though they strongly object to it.

“At the end of the day, I am so confident in my own identity and belief that I should be able to respect others, even though I strongly disagree with them.”

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