McGrath, William (1916–91), loyalist and paedophile, was born 11 December 1916 in Belfast, son of Abraham McGrath and Jane McGrath (née Warrington). McGrath came from a methodist background; in later years he worked with presbyterian and Free Presbyterian churches while operating as a freelance evangelical. In 1941, with his English-born wife Kathleen, he founded the Irish Emancipation Crusade and Christian Fellowship Centre; he also worked as a hairdresser and later a carpet importer. From the late 1940s he was active in the unionist party; at this time he first met Ian Paisley (qv). In the 1950s and 1960s McGrath lectured in Orange lodges and Gospel halls, calling for ‘holiness of life’ and predicting a bloodbath unleashed by catholic–communist IRA conspiracies against Northern Ireland.
McGrath had extensive Orange contacts dating back to the 1940s; he was the chaplain of the prestigious Fernhill lodge, with financial and possibly sexual links to its leading member, Sir Knox Cunningham (qv). In 1965/6 McGrath took over an Orange discussion group and formed a semi-clandestine organisation, ‘Tara’. Many prominent younger right-wing unionists in search of new political ideas dealt with it in the late 1960s without necessarily sharing McGrath's views or knowing his secret life. In 1968 he left the Fernhill lodge, deeming it insufficiently anti-ecumenical. Soon thereafter he joined St Mary's Temperance Lodge 1303. In 1970 he changed its name to ‘Ireland's Heritage’, with a banner bearing a Gaelic inscription and the arms of the four provinces. McGrath promoted an ‘Irish’ rather than ‘Ulster’ identity, combining historic protestant claims that the Celtic church had been protestant with ‘British Israelite’ beliefs that the Anglo-Celtic race were the lost tribes of Israel, Tara a site of prophetic worship, and Queen Elizabeth II David's heiress by Gaelic descent. McGrath called the catholic church a satanic conspiracy. He advocated a reunited Ireland under the British crown, with catholicism proscribed and catholic churches destroyed as idolatrous. Non-evangelical protestants would also be subjugated; there would be ‘integrated education’ with only evangelicals as teachers. Northern Ireland was the protestant bastion from which the British Isles would be regenerated: ‘We hold Ulster that Ireland might be saved and Britain reborn’.
McGrath recruited ambitious, intelligent lower-middle-class young men for evangelical work; some lived with his family for short periods, which he equated with Celtic monastic discipleship. McGrath presented himself as a mentor possessing secret knowledge. He was intelligent and articulate, and helped some disciples to develop their abilities; he made sexual advances while discussing emotional problems, and sometimes exploited them financially.
McGrath took part in grassroots loyalist opposition to Terence O'Neill (qv); during the 1966 trial of Gusty Spence for sectarian murders he circulated leaflets smearing the victims as communists. During the disturbances of August 1969 McGrath joined a loyalist delegation to the prime minister, James Chichester-Clark (qv), demanding a ‘people's militia’. McGrath did not directly participate in violence, but engaged in gun-running. He established contacts with British Israelite and racist groups abroad; a few Tara members joined the Rhodesian and South African armies. He opposed rioting and assassinations, urging preparations for a ‘doomsday’ situation when Tara would provide guidance and leadership. He circulated anonymous leaflets in loyalist areas, including a 1971 manifesto which influenced the formation of the UDA. The UVF briefly worked with Tara, until in mid 1971 UVF leaders confronted McGrath with rumours about his sexuality and intelligence connections. Thereafter McGrath called the UVF ‘communists’, while UVF literature ridiculed McGrath's homosexuality. McGrath probably had British intelligence links from the 1950s, though their significance is debated. Rumoured links to influential homosexuals in the British establishment remain unproven, but his contacts delayed his exposure as a sexual offender.
In 1971 McGrath became ‘house father’ at the Kincora boys’ home in east Belfast, for 15- to 18-year-old boys from disturbed backgrounds. From its inception in 1958 inmates were sexually exploited by staff. McGrath participated in these activities, violently raping boys who refused his advances, and threatening them with his paramilitary contacts. Complaints soon circulated: a former Tara member, Roy Garland, repeatedly tried to have McGrath's role in Kincora investigated. In 1973 a church worker, Valerie Shaw, unsuccessfully expressed concern about McGrath to Paisley. By the late 1970s many former associates (including Paisley) distanced themselves from McGrath. In 1980 newspaper allegations about Kincora led to the arrest of McGrath and five other council staff. After pleading guilty in December 1981 and receiving a four-year sentence, McGrath was expelled from the Orange Order; ‘Ireland's Heritage’ lodge disbanded in February 1982. Paisley's inaction and attempts to deny past links to McGrath were contrasted with his fervent campaign to ‘Save Ulster from sodomy’, and damaged the DUP.
After release in December 1983 McGrath retired to Ballyhalbert, north Co. Down. Until his death he distributed manifestoes to a few followers, claiming he had been framed by British intelligence and rival loyalists. His career may never be disentangled from the mystery he cultivated, but he helped to poison the political atmosphere of Northern Ireland and destroyed lives to gratify himself.