Her husband, the Rev. Ian Paisley, Protestant leader in Belfast, has been called by his enemies the "clergyman in jackboots," the "bloated bullfrog," the Devil incarnate. Those are some of the kind things. A year or so ago a writer for the Atlantic Monthly called him a "porcine, hysterically foul-mouthed brawler." To his friends he is "the good doctor." So what can Mrs. Paisley be like?

Every morning they both go to his office, she says. She is his chief mail sorter. But they don't go together. Her husband goes in a police car, she drops the twin boys off at school. Sometimes, going out the driveway, she'll see the Roman Catholic priest who lives just across the avenue. "He'll blow the horn of his little car, we're quite friendly." That night, around the dinner table, one of the children might bring up what everyone simply calls The Troubles. "It comes up," Ian Paisley's wife says with a sad little shake of her head, twisting a demure gold wristwatch. "The telly is usually on, and of course we're always waiting for news reports." And then, as if she is really talking to herself, not to someone scribbling it down: "I wish our lives could be like what they once were."

Hates feed on hates, and opposites can attract, and the medium doesn't always have the most accurate messages. So yesterday at noon, while her banned husband sat up in Canada, his visa denied, barred from American shores because his visit is thought not to be in the interests of the United States, a buxom, graying, bird-voiced, middle-aged lady, with a triangle of hanky held for moral support in her right hand, came to face the lions of the National Press Club. If her husband is the "monster" his critics portray, Eileen Paisley is not. If Ian Paisley is a demogague and firebrand, his wife seems merely an Irish mum with grey pumps and a modest dress and a disarming friendliness. Pancho Villa's wife, some people say, could melt butter in a stranger's mouth on a tour of the homestead decades after the shooting stopped.

Eileen Paisley polished her silver spectacles yesterday. She poised a glass of ice water at her lips and drank modestly. She held a fork in her left hand and a knife in her right and sawed delicately through a plate of greens and soggy-looking beef. She smiled out on a floor of ravenous scribes as if they were a church choir in Cornwall. And then she got up to read her husband's speech. She delivered it just as he had written it. She is a housewife and mother and not a political leader, though she has served on the Belfast city council. She read the speech quietly and determinedly and a little nervously. She let those with her answer the questions. In her speech the wife of Northern Ireland's most militant Protestant leader said things like this:

"What the IRA cannot attain by the ballot it seeks by the bullet.

"We come to North America today to explode the IRA-spawned myth that Ulster is British by compulsion rather than by choice, and that the IRA are gallant freedom fighters rather than coldblooded terrorists."

At one point she seemed to crack. She had reached a point in the text about the death of Robert Bradford, Protestant member of the British Parliament who was murdered in Northern Ireland only this past November. Her voice thickened and her eyes welled and she looked down the podium at Bradford's wife, a pretty young slip of an Irish girl, perhaps still in her twenties, who has come to America this week to be with with Mrs. Paisley and an entourage of MP's to argue the case of the Ulster "Unionist." Mrs. Paisley knew Robert Bradford well."Norah Bradford would not be here today in place of her late husband if he had not been savagely murdered by the IRA," she said. The tone seemed queerly out of sync with the words, though you wouldn't have questioned whose side she was on.

Afterward, in a room off the press club's ballroom, she faced a polite, knatty, hard-charging, Brit TV reporter. What about those who say you're religious bigots? the reporter wondered while the cameras rolled.

Didn't think she was a bigot, actually, she said.

You've come in your husband's place. Seems a bit of a publicity stunt, the TV man went on.

Didn't think it was, she allowed.

On the way you explain the violence, the reporter persisted, "Sounds like a bit of a whitewash."

"Well, I don't think so."

Afterward she said: "I suppose they want to bring the worst out of you."

Dirty Prods. Filthy Fenians: The religious hate has gone on since William III of Orange defeated the Catholic King James in 1690. "Orangies" against the wearing of the green. There are a million and a half people in the north of Ireland, and the majority of them are Protestant, loyal to the British crown. As Eileen Paisley's husband proclaimed to a crowd of 10,000 outside the city hall of Belfast a few weeks before Christmas, flailing his arms as he is wont: "We are not going into an Irish republic, never, never, never. It will be over our dead bodies."

The rest of Northern Ireland is Catholic, and in their churches, Protestant children know "mumbo-jumbo" goes on. Men bend over gleaming cups and parade through candlelight. So hate begets hate. Some say this struggle that has gone on for centuries is not a religious struggle at all, but primarily an economic and class war. And from over here it all seems mostly incomprehensible, a nation murdering itself.

Stress has a way of borning art and gifted people, and for all of the incomprehension, Northern Ireland in this century alone has given the world C.S. Lewis and Brian Moore and Louis MacNeice and more. It was poet MacNeice who sang in a poem called "Belfast" in 1931 of "The hard cold fire of the northerner/ Frozen into his blood from the fire in his basalt." MacNeice sang of a place "Down there at the end of the melancholy lough/ Against the lurid sky over the stained water."

Even the names of this wet coil of earth clinging to the western edge of Europe seem to carry apocalyptic images: Stormont is the popular name of the former Ulster Parliament. And the Rev. Ian Paisley's Martyrs Memorial Free Presbyterian Church is on Ravenhill Road. The city, like the country herself, is a preternaturally gray and decrepit and melancholy place, even on the sunniest of days. Its rows upon rows of crammed red brick homes separated by narrow concrete alleys make Baltimore seem spacious as Texas. And in the pubs, patriots of the Irish Free State stand four deep and sing their seductive, temple-throbbing songs. "Every man must stand behind the man behind the wire." "If you hate the bloody British, clap your hands." You want to lob a brick through the nearest British Airways plane.

In her husband's absence this week, Mrs. Paisley and her delegation came to Washington to try to advance the cause of the Unionists. The Protestant point of view is that largely unkowing American sympathizers have long been funding what is, by any other name, "IRA terrorism." Funds and even arms have been obtained in America for the use of Republican terrorism, they say. Mrs. Paisley and the MP's and Robert Bradford's widow came to try to "put an end to this funding of Communist-linked terror." Unfortunately for their cause, the three most powerful and influential Irish-Americans in the United States Congress -- Edward Kennedy, Daniel Moynihan, and Tip O'Neill -- have refused to see them. "Even so much as an acknowledgement," one of the MP's said yesterday.

Yesterday, after the press club engagement, Mrs. Paisley and her group were due to keep a 3:30 meeting with the British ambassador in Washington. Relations are not exactly the warmest possible between Paisley's Protestant faction and the British government. When asked yesterday what might be said at the meeting with the British ambassador, Peter Robinson, one of the MP's traveling with Mrs. Paisley, said: "We intend to tell them to pull up their socks and start putting out the truth about Ulster."

Eileen Paisley and her husband flew from Ireland to London a few days ago. There they said goodbye. "It was a heart-rending leaving," she says. He headed for Canada and she came to the U.S. They have talked several times by phone since she has been here. She even sent him a love letter by courrier. She will not see him again until Sunday, she says, and that will be home in Belfast. Yesterday she said she would love to get to a museum on the Mall. Probably wouldn't work out.

Ian Paisley once tried to board the Rome-bound jet of the archbishop of Canterbury. He was incensed that the archbishop was going to visit the hated pope. He was detained by the Italian police on arrival and put on a flight back to London. Later, Paisley said the archbishop was "slobbering on his slippers" by calling on the pope.

"Well, yes, he did say that," Mrs. Paisley said yesterday. The press everywhere is forever reminding her of things her husband has said. "But at home he's quite gentle and sweet. You should see him. Doesn't drink or smoke. Likes to watch westerns."