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Wednesday, August 08, 2018

The Ulster Solemn League and Covenant

The rise of Home Rule

Britain and Ireland had suffered a fractious relationship for centuries. Theirs was a history scarred by battles and rebellions, upheavals and atrocities. By the late 1800s, the cry for Irish self-government was growing in volume. Its spokesman was Charles Parnell, founder of the Irish National League and first leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party.

Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone was more sympathetic than most British politicians of the age. In 1886, he set out the case for Home Rule in an impassioned three-hour speech to parliament, but this first 'Home Rule Bill' was narrowly defeated. He had another go at introducing Home Rule in 1893. His second 'Home Rule Bill' made it through the House of Commons, but was defeated in the House of Lords.

Riots and resistance

Not everyone in Ireland favoured Home Rule. Protestant resistance to the idea was fierce, particularly in the north of the country. Belfast played host to riots and mass rallies as the anti-Home Rule movement found its voice.

Ulster's mainly Protestant population feared Home Rule was a first step to an independent, Catholic Ireland. They were concerned also that a Dublin parliament would introduce economic policies favourable to farming in the rural south. This would have the effect of penalising the rich industry in the north, of which Belfast's shipyard and linen mills were the proud standard bearers. - continue reading by clicking HERE.

BBC Documentary about the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant. The Ulster Covenant was signed by just under half a million men and women from Ulster, on and before 28 September 1912, in protest against the Third Home Rule Bill, introduced by the British Government in that same year. Sir Edward Carson was the first person to sign the Covenant at the Belfast City Hall with a silver pen, followed by Lord Londonderry, representatives of the Protestant Churches, and then by Sir James Craig. The signatories, 471,414 in all, were all against the establishment of a Home Rule parliament in Dublin. The Ulster Covenant is immortalised in Rudyard Kipling's poem "Ulster 1912".

Overview 1800 to 1967
Within the political establishment in Britain there was hope and expectation that the Act of Union offered a fresh start for Ireland. Furthermore it also viewed the Union as the ideal way to solve the ‘Irish problem’ that had bedeviled it for generations and to ensure that it would no longer need to devote huge amounts of time or resources to deal with Ireland. However it was not long before it became clear that such beliefs were too ambitious and as time moved on the authorities soon found Ireland was once again a pressing concern.

From the controversial issue of Catholic emancipation to the ‘Famine’ of the 1840s was added the debate over the Act of Union itself. In particular developments during the 19th century were to result in the Protestant community in Ireland, almost overwhelmingly, becoming firm advocates of the Union. On the other hand for the majority of Catholic opinion in Ireland the Union failed to win its loyalty and instead the demand grew for the British government to consider measures which would allow for Irish national aspirations to be fully met. As these opposing political philosophies developed the potential for sectarian tension to grow between Protestant and Catholic increased. This was to prove the case in those areas where they lived in closed proximity to one another, such as the city of Belfast.

Faced with growing instability in Ireland once again the British government began the search for a new solution and eventually settled on the concept of partition. As a consequence a form of self government was to be offered to both sides of the religious divide in Ireland: the Protestant community was to be given six of the nine counties of Ulster to administer, whilst Catholic opinion was handed the remaining twenty-six counties to govern. Although partition was quickly to become a fait accompli what no one could predict was whether it now marked a final settlement or marked yet another chapter of the ‘Irish problem’.

The following are some of the key events and developments that were to occur over this period.
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