My friend David Chillingworth writes on his blog of the past pupils of his old school, Portora Royal in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh including Henry Francis Lyte, Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett. Being convinced that Wilde had shared an educational background, as well as a year of birth, with Edward Carson, the barrister who outwitted him in the trial of the Marquess of Queensberry, I searched through the pages of Wikipedia. My memory had failed me, Carson had attended the same university, but not the same school. All five of the aforementioned were students at Trinity College, Dublin: Oscar Wilde and David both reading classics.
Idly following links from Carson, I discovered the sequence of Prime Ministers of Northern Ireland. “Where had they been to school?” I wondered.
Faulkner, I knew had attended Saint Columba’s College here in Dublin. Wikipedia states, “He was the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland to be educated on the island of Ireland”.
Where, then, had the others been educated? Craigavon went to Edinburgh: Brookeborough went to Winchester; O’Neill and Chichester-Clark were Etonians. Maybe the claim about Faulkner was correct.
Except right in the middle of the list, there is John Andrews, brother of Thomas Andrews of Titanic fame. His Wikipedia entry says he was educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, which is definitely on the island of Ireland!
Which claim is correct? The suggestion that Faulkner was the first Northern Irish premier not to go to school in Britain, or the detail that John Andrews attended the school many people simply call “Inst”. Given their specific nature, it would seem likely that Andrews’ details are the correct ones.
The meandering did raise questions in my mind about the status of online information. Perhaps there were mistakes in the printed word, but the fact that books came with a price and that people paying the price would quickly challenge an unreliable writer, not least through the letter columns of newspapers, created some kind of quality control. The writers of the Wikipedia entries have not even cross-checked what others have written; how much of it can be regarded as having any authority?
The only thing of which I can be certain is that David is a bishop. I have seen his mitre.