Sir James Craig

First Prime Minister of Northern Ireland

James Craig, Northern Ireland’s first prime minister, was born in Belfast in January 1871. Son of a wealthy director of Dunville and Company, the distillers, Craig was educated privately at Edinburgh and then trained as a stockbroker. However, he preferred a military career and served in the Boer war, South Africa. His political life began on his election as MP for East Down in 1906, a seat he held until 1918.

During the third Home Rule crisis of 1912 Craig worked closely with Edward Carson on the Ulster Unionist Council. He drew up the Ulster Covenant of 1912, helped organise the Ulster Volunteer Force and masterminded the arms smuggling operations that would culminate in the April 1914 landing of thousands of rifles and ammunition at Larne, Co Antrim.

The outbreak of the first world war saw Unionist military resistance to Home Rule translated into large scale recruitment of troops. Craig helped to recruit the 36th Ulster Division and served as its Quartermaster-General. Knighted at the end of the war, in 1919 Craig was made Minister for Pensions in Lloyd George’s post-war coalition government and was promoted to financial secretary to the Admiralty in the following year.

Craig also helped draft the Government of Ireland Act and on the foundation of the state in 1921, became Northern Ireland’s first Prime Minister. He was created Viscount Craigavon of Stormont in 1926 and remained prime minister of Northern Ireland until his death in November 1940, aged 69. Lord Craigavon was buried at Stormont.

Further reading:
Not an Inch: A study of Northern Ireland and Lord Craigavon (1942) by H Shearman; Craigavon: Ulsterman (1949) by St John Ervine; Ireland Since the Famine (1971) by FSL Lyons; Dictionary of Ulster Biography (1993) by Kate Newmann; The Oxford Companion to Irish History (2002) by SJ Connolly.
Some of his papers are in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.