by THE DIGGER
I read with interest that a public holiday had been declared on September 29 that year to celebrate the anniversary.
The Ulster Covenant was a result of three successive Home Rule bills in 1886, 1893 and 1912. This was during a time when the whole of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. Resistance to the idea of government from Dublin was intense in the Northern part of Ireland.
In 1911 Sir Edward Carson, lawyer and Member of Parliament, accepted the leadership of those people in Ulster who were opposed to Home Rule. After a large rally of those opposed to Home Rule in April 1912 the scene was set for the Ulster Covenant. In August 1912 it was announced that September 28 would be "Ulster Day."
Sir Edward Carson visited Lisburn on Thursday September 19 1912, one of the venues selected for a series of rallies in the lead up to "Ulster Day". We read in the Lisburn Standard on Saturday September 14 1912 that "a monster Unionist Demonstration" was planned that evening. Admission was by ticket only, however all Orangemen wearing their regalia and Unionists in ranks would be admitted without ticket.
Sir Edward Carson , Viscount Castlereagh, Ronald McNeill, Charles C. Craig and Captain James Craig were billed as the speakers. Ronald McNeill later published a book in 1922 titled "Ulster's Stand for Union" which gives an insight into the politics of that era.
Members of the Unionist Clubs and Orangemen were required to assemble at Millbrook Road at 7pm. It was reported that Sir Edward Carson dined with George H Clarke, J.P. , the President of the Lisburn Unionist Club at Roseville House earlier that evening.
Sir Edward was then escorted into the Grain Market in Lisburn, the carriage being drawn by "relays of 20 men of the Unionist Clubs and members of the Orange Order." The sound of bands, flags flying, arches with anti - Home Rule slogans and torchlight set the scene for 20,000 supporters that evening.
The terms of the Covenant were read to the supporters by Carson. A separate Covenant had been drawn up for females known as the "Women's Covenant". Unionists of 16 years of age and upwards were invited to sign. Carson made his anti - Home Rule speech and stated "...Always remember our quarrel is not with any individuals; our quarrel is with the Government, and with the Government we mean to carry out this quarrel to the end...." The crowd was later addressed by Charles Craig who was the M.P. for South Antrim. Captain James Craig during his speech stated that "there were two sides to every argument except Home Rule in Lisburn".
A series of other speakers took to the platform and we are told on conclusion of the evening Carson was escorted "amid scenes of greatest enthusiasm in the direction of Wallace Avenue, where a motor car was in waiting to convey him to Craigavon."
On September 21 1912 The Lisburn Standard announced that Lisburn Urban council gave permission for the Grain Market to be used for a united religious service on Ulster Day at 3.30pm.
Just over 3.000 signatures were later to be collected at this venue. Similar arrangements were announced in other parts of the district - Broomhedge Church were to hold a special service at 2pm followed by the signing of the Covenant at the orange hall where just under 300 signatures were collected.
A service was planned in the Old Castle at Hillsborough where King William III had signed the 'Regium Donum' in 1690. Just over 1,200 people were to put their signatures on the Covenant at this site after the service.
Similar services and arrangements were in First Presbyterian Church at 11.30am and Lisburn Cathedral at 1.30pm with the signing taking place in the Cathedral Schoolhouse. The Ulster Unionist Club at 22 Castle Street was one of the venues made available well into October for those people unable to attend on Ulster Day.
The Ulster Day Committee announced in the local press that copies of the Covenant were to be delivered to addresses in London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Bristol, York and Liverpool for those persons temporarily resident on the UK mainland. This facilitated over 8,000 names being collected. Indeed, signatures were gathered from all over the world including Dublin, Canada, China, Australia, South Africa and USA. The eventual total was 471,414.
The names and addresses of the men and women who signed the Covenant are in the archive of the Ulster Unionist Council and are held by The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. To those who have embraced the age of technology, the Ulster Covenant can now be freely searched from the comfort of your own home (www.proni.gov.uk/ulstercovenant). The database contains all the surnames, forenames, gender and address, including a facility to view the actual signature.
Concise instructions are given on the web-site in relation to other search parameters. This has proved to be a most useful tool to those searching for further information on their ancestors.
The outbreak of the First World War changed the direction of the lives of those Ulstermen who had been ready to defend their province under the newly formed Ulster Volunteer Force. They were soon to form the nucleus of the Ulster Division and to fight the 'common' enemy. Many local men were to lose their lives fighting this cause. Their names appear on the many memorials throughout the district. Some of those killed and wounded in the First World War and their family members were the same people who had signed the Covenant in 1912. They could never have predicted that the turn in world events would have a profound effect on their lives and that fighting for their country would take precedence over their "quarrel with the Government".
Thanks to the Deputy Keeper of the Records, Public Record office of Northern Ireland for the granting of permission to publish items from the UUC archive - The Ulster Covenant. (PRONI reference D1327/3).
Visit the Diggers new web site www.glenavyhistory.com