Friday, September 28, 2012

Ulster Covenant 100 years on

Today is the centenary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant.

What I hear most of you say?

Well it was a solemn pledge (the covenant for men or a declaration of support for women) signed by 410,000 protestants in Ulster, the rest of Ireland and further afield objecting to the Home Rule Bill of Herbert Asquith's Liberal  government. The main men behind it were  Sir Edward Carson a former Unionist MP for University of Dublin and Sir James Craig leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

The wording of the Covenant was based on the Scottish Covenanters call for freedom of their religion. But called for the men who signed it to defend their cherished position within the United Kingdom by all means necessary. But was a wording of simplicity so that all the people could understand it.

BEING CONVINCED in our consciences that Home Rule would be disastrous to the material well-being of Ulster as well as of the whole of Ireland, subversive of our civil and religious freedom, destructive of our citizenship, and perilous to the unity of the Empire, we, whose names are underwritten, men of Ulster, loyal subjects of His Gracious Majesty King George V., humbly relying on the God whom our fathers in days of stress and trial confidently trusted, do hereby pledge ourselves in solemn Covenant, throughout this our time of threatened calamity, to stand by one another in defending, for ourselves and our children, our cherished position of equal citizenship in the United Kingdom, and in using all means which may be found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule Parliament in Ireland. And in the event of such a Parliament being forced upon us, we further solemnly and mutually pledge ourselves to refuse to recognize its authority. In sure confidence that God will defend the right, we hereto subscribe our names. And further, we individually declare that we have not already signed this Covenant.

The number who signed it was more than was involved in the Suffragette movement at the same time, but while the signed pledges were not given to anyone, they were seen as a clear mandate for the Unionist Leaders in Ulster to take their case to Asquith. A militia was founded and armed as was a Republican counter militia. Civil war may have spread to Liverpool, Glasgow, London and other centres with large Irish communities.

That threat lead to the first all party talks on the future of Ireland which were held in Buckingham Palace in 1914. After three days no real progress was made but 12 days later Britain declared war on Germany, a war in which each of the militias ended up fighting and losing men.

Of course rather ironically the fight to not have a Parliament in Ireland led to two, one in Dublin and the other in Belfast at Stormont and a splitting of Ulster.  Craig was to serve as the First Prime Minister at Stormont and a statue of Carson stands on the approach to Parliament buildings.


The signature of Rachel and my Great-Grandfather in Donegal

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