The 1912 Ulster Covenant by Joseph E.A. Connell Jr

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Home Rule, Issue 5 (Sept/Oct 2012), Reviews, Volume 20

Sir Edward Carson (with James Craig to his left) signing the Solemn League and Covenant in Belfast City Hall on ‘Ulster Day’, 28 September 1912, the culmination of a range of stunningly impressive events masterminded by Craig. (George Morrison)

Sir Edward Carson (with James Craig to his left) signing the Solemn League and Covenant in Belfast City Hall on ‘Ulster Day’, 28 September 1912, the culmination of a range of stunningly impressive events masterminded by Craig. (George Morrison)

From the early 1870s to the end of the First World War, Home Rule was both the single most dominant issue of Irish political life and a major influence within British politics. The return to power of the Liberals in 1906 gave the Home Rule party its chance. The Liberals had supported Home Rule since Prime Minister Gladstone’s time and the Parliament Act of 1911 ended the Lords’ veto, although they could delay legislation by up to two years. In April 1912 the third Home Rule bill was introduced. The Unionist response was to organise a covenant pledging the signatories to use ‘all means necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule Parliament in Ireland’. On 19 September 1912, Sir Edward Carson first read the Ulster Covenant from the steps of Craigavon, the ancestral home of Sir James Craig. The Covenant had two parts: the Covenant itself, signed by men, and the Declaration, signed by women. The Covenant signed by men read:

‘Being convinced in our consciences that Home Rule would be disastrous to the material well-being of Ulster as well as 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 such a Parliament being forced upon us we further solemnly and mutually pledge ourselves to refuse to recognise 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.God Save the King’

The Declaration signed by women read:

‘We, whose names are underwritten, women of Ulster, and loyal subjects of our gracious King, being firmly persuaded that Home Rule would be disastrous to our Country, desire to associate ourselves with the men of Ulster in their uncompromising opposition to the Home Rule Bill now before Parliament, whereby it is proposed to drive Ulster out of her cherished place in the Constitution of the United Kingdom and to place her under the domination and control of a Parliament in Ireland. Praying that from this calamity God will save Ireland, we hereto subscribe our names.’

On 23 September 1912 the Ulster Unionist Council passed a resolution pledging itself to the Covenant. A central Ulster Day Committee was appointed to handle preparations for obtaining as many signatures as possible at various centres throughout Ulster. ‘Ulster Day’ was declared on 28 September 1912, and a huge rally was held at Belfast City Hall. Sir Edward Carson was the first person to sign (with a silver pen), followed by Lord Londonderry, representatives of the Protestant churches and then Sir James Craig. In total, 237,368 men signed the Covenant, and 234,046 women signed the Declaration. Signatories included civil servants, soldiers and police in uniform. Shortly thereafter both sides of the Home Rule question began preparing for armed conflict; the Ulster Volunteer Force was founded in January 1913, with the Irish Volunteers following on 25 November 1913—hence Eoin MacNeill’s article ‘The North began’.  HI

Further reading

G. Lucy, The Ulster Covenant: a pictorial history of the 1912 Home Rule crisis (Belfast, 1989).E. MacNeill, ‘The North began’, An Claidheamh Soluis (1 November 1913).

Joseph E. Connell is the author of Dublin in rebellion: a directory, 1913–1923 (Lilliput Press, 2006).

 

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