Ulster's Stand For Union
by Ronald McNeill
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With Frontispiece

London John Murray, Albemarle Street, W.




The term "Ulster," except when the context proves the contrary, is used in this book not in the geographical, but the political meaning of the word, which is quite as well understood.

The aim of the book is to present an account of what I have occasionally in its pages referred to as "the Ulster Movement." The phrase is perhaps somewhat paradoxical when applied to a political ideal which was the maintenance of the status quo; but, on the other hand, the steps taken during a period of years to organise an effective opposition to interference with the established constitution in Ireland did involve a movement, and it is with these measures, rather than with the policy behind them, that the book is concerned.

Indeed, except for a brief introductory outline of the historical background of the Ulster standpoint, I have taken for granted, or only referred incidentally to the reasons for the unconquerable hostility of the Ulster Protestants to the idea of allowing the government of Ireland, and especially of themselves, to pass into the control of a Parliament in Dublin. Those reasons were many and substantial, based upon considerations both of a practical and a sentimental nature; but I have not attempted an exposition of them, having limited myself to a narrative of the events to which they gave rise.

Having been myself, during the most important part of the period reviewed, a member of the Standing Committee of the Ulster Unionist Council, and closely associated with the leaders of the movement, I have had personal knowledge of practically everything I have had to record. I have not, however, trusted to unaided memory for any statement of fact. It is not, of course, a matter where anything that could be called research was required; but, in addition to the Parliamentary Reports, the Annual Register, and similar easily accessible books of reference, there was a considerable mass of private papers bearing on the subject, for the use of some of which I am indebted to friends.

I was permitted to consult the Minute-books of the Ulster Unionist Council and its Standing Committee, and also verbatim reports made for the Council of unpublished speeches delivered at private meetings of those bodies. A large collection of miscellaneous documents accumulated by the late Lord Londonderry was kindly lent to me by the present Marquis; and I also have to thank Lord Carson of Duncairn for the use of letters and other papers in his possession. Colonel F.H. Crawford, C.B.E., was good enough to place at my disposal a very detailed account written by himself of the voyage of the Fanny, and the log kept by Captain Agnew. My friend Mr. Thomas Moles, M.P., took full shorthand notes of the proceedings of the Irish Convention and the principal speeches made in it, and he kindly allowed me to use his transcript. And I should not like to pass over without acknowledgment the help given me on several occasions by Miss Omash, of the Union Defence League, in tracing references.

R. McN.

February 1922.


































Like all other movements in human affairs, the opposition of the Northern Protestants of Ireland to the agitation of their Nationalist fellow-countrymen for Home Rule can only be properly understood by those who take some pains to get at the true motives, and to appreciate the spirit, of those who engaged in it. And as it is nowhere more true than in Ireland that the events of to-day are the outcome of events that occurred longer ago than yesterday, and that the motives of to-day have consequently their roots buried somewhat deeply in the past, it is no easy task for the outside observer to gain the insight requisite for understanding fairly the conduct of the persons concerned.

It was Mr. Asquith who very truly said that the Irish question, of which one of the principal factors is the opposition of Ulster to Home Rule, "springs from sources that are historic, economic, social, racial, and religious." It would be a hopeless undertaking to attempt here to probe to the bottom an origin so complex; but, whether the sympathies of the reader be for or against the standpoint of the Irish Loyalists, the actual events which make up what may be called the Ulster Movement would be wholly unintelligible without some introductory retrospect. Indeed, to those who set out to judge Irish political conditions without troubling themselves about anything more ancient than their own memory can recall, the most fundamental factor of all—the line of cleavage between Ulster and the rest of the island—- is more than unintelligible. In the eyes of many it presents itself as an example of perversity, of "cussedness" on the part of men who insist on magnifying mere differences of opinion, which would be easily composed by reasonable people, into obstacles to co-operation which have no reality behind them.

Writers and speakers on the Nationalist side deride the idea of "two nations" in Ireland, calling in evidence many obvious identities of interest, of sentiment, or of temperament between the inhabitants of the North and of the South. The Ulsterman no more denies these identities than the Greek, the Bulgar, and the Serb would deny that there are features common to all dwellers in the Balkan peninsula; but he is more deeply conscious of the difference than of the likeness between himself and the man from Munster or Connaught. His reply to those who denounced the Irish Government Act of 1920 on the ground that it set up a "partition of Ireland," is that the Act did not "set up," but only recognised, the partition which history made long ago, and which wrecked all attempts to solve the problem of Irish Government that neglected to take it into account. If there be any force in Renan's saying that the root of nationality is "the will to live together," the Nationalist cry of "Ireland a Nation" harmonises ill with the actual conditions of Ireland north and south of the Boyne. This dividing gulf between the two populations in Ireland is the result of the same causes as the political dissension that springs from it, as described by Mr. Asquith in words quoted above. The tendencies of social and racial origin operate for the most part subconsciously—though not perhaps less powerfully on that account; those connected with economic considerations, with religious creeds, and with events in political history enter directly and consciously into the formation of convictions which in turn become the motives for actions.

In the mind of the average Ulster Unionist the particular point of contrast between himself and the Nationalist of which he is more forcibly conscious than of any other, and in which all other distinguishing traits are merged, is that he is loyal to the British Crown and the British Flag, whereas the other man is loyal to neither. Religious intolerance, so far as the Protestants are concerned, of which so much is heard, is in actual fact mainly traceable to the same sentiment. It is unfortunately true that the lines of political and of religious division coincide; but religious dissensions seldom flare up except at times of political excitement; and, while it is undeniable that the temper of the creeds more resembles what prevailed in England in the seventeenth than in the twentieth century, yet when overt hostility breaks out it is because the creed is taken—and usually taken rightly—as prima facie evidence of political opinion—political opinion meaning "loyalty" or "disloyalty," as the case may be. The label of "loyalist" is that which the Ulsterman cherishes above all others. It means something definite to him; its special significance is reinforced by the consciousness of its wearers that they are a minority; it sustains the feeling that the division between parties is something deeper and more fundamental than anything that in England is called difference of opinion. This feeling accounts for much that sometimes perplexes even the sympathetic English observer, and moves the hostile partisan to scornful criticism. The ordinary Protestant farmer or artisan of Ulster is by nature as far as possible removed from the being who is derisively nicknamed the "noisy patriot" or the "flag-wagging jingo." If the National Anthem has become a "party tune" in Ireland, it is not because the loyalist sings it, but because the dis-loyalist shuns it; and its avoidance at gatherings both political and social where Nationalists predominate, naturally makes those who value loyalty the more punctilious in its use. If there is a profuse display of the Union Jack, it is because it is in Ulster not merely "bunting" for decorative purposes as in England, but the symbol of a cherished faith.

There may, perhaps, be some persons, unfamiliar with the Ulster cast of mind, who find it hard to reconcile this profession of passionate loyalty with the methods embarked upon in 1912 by the Ulster people. It is a question upon which there will be something to be said when the narrative reaches the events of that date. Here it need only be stated that, in the eyes of Ulstermen at all events, constitutional orthodoxy is quite a different thing from loyalty, and that true allegiance to the Sovereign is by them sharply differentiated from passive obedience to an Act of Parliament.

The sincerity with which this loyalist creed is held by practically the entire Protestant population of Ulster cannot be questioned by anyone who knows the people, however much he may criticise it on other grounds. And equally sincere is the conviction held by the same people that disloyalty is, and always has been, the essential characteristic of Nationalism. The conviction is founded on close personal contact continued through many generations with the adherents of that political party, and the tradition thus formed draws more support from authentic history than many Englishmen are willing to believe. Consequently, when the General Election of 1918 revealed that the whole of Nationalist Ireland had gone over with foot, horse, and artillery, with bag and baggage, from the camp of so-called Constitutional Home Rule, to the Sinn Feiners who made no pretence that their aim was anything short of complete independent sovereignty for Ireland, no surprise was felt in Ulster. It was there realised that nothing had happened beyond the throwing off of the mask which had been used as a matter of political tactics to disguise what had always been the real underlying aim, if not of the parliamentary leaders, at all events of the great mass of Nationalist opinion throughout the three southern provinces. The whole population had not with one consent changed their views in the course of a night; they had merely rallied to support the first leaders whom they had found prepared to proclaim the true objective. Curiously enough, this truth was realised by an English politician who was in other respects conspicuously deficient in insight regarding Ireland. The Easter insurrection of 1916 in Dublin was only rendered possible by the negligence or the incompetence of the Chief Secretary; but, in giving evidence before the Commission appointed to inquire into it, Mr. Birrell said: "The spirit of what to-day is called Sinn Feinism is mainly composed of the old hatred and distrust of the British connection ... always there as the background of Irish politics and character"; and, after recalling that Cardinal Newman had observed the same state of feeling in Dublin more than half a century before, Mr. Birrell added quite truly that "this dislike, hatred, disloyalty (so unintelligible to many Englishmen) is hard to define but easy to discern, though incapable of exact measurement from year to year." This disloyal spirit, which struck Newman, and which Mr. Birrell found easy to discern, was of course always familiar to Ulstermen as characteristic of "the South and West," and was their justification for the badge of "loyalist," their assumption of which English Liberals, knowing nothing of Ireland, held to be an unjust slur on the Irish majority.

If this belief in the inherent disloyalty of Nationalist Ireland to the British Empire did any injustice to individual Nationalist politicians, they had nobody but themselves to blame for it. Their pronouncements in America, as well as at home, were scrutinised in Ulster with a care that Englishmen seldom took the trouble to give them. Nor must it be forgotten that, up to the date when Mr. Gladstone made Home Rule a plank in an English party's programme—which, whatever else it did, could not alter the facts of the case—the same conviction, held in Ulster so tenaciously, had prevailed almost universally in Great Britain also; and had been proclaimed by no one so vehemently as by Mr. Gladstone himself, whose famous declarations that the Nationalists of that day were "steeped to the lips in treason," and were "marching through rapine to the dismemberment of the Empire," were not so quickly forgotten in Ulster as in England, nor so easily passed over as either meaningless or untrue as soon as they became inconvenient for a political party to remember. English supporters of Home Rule, when reminded of such utterances, dismissed with a shrug the "unedifying pastime of unearthing buried speeches"; and showed equal determination to see nothing in speeches delivered by Nationalist leaders in America inconsistent with the purely constitutional demand for "extended self-government."

Ulster never would consent to bandage her own eyes in similar fashion, or to plug her ears with wool. The "two voices" of Nationalist leaders, from Mr. Parnell to Mr. Dillon, were equally audible to her; and, of the two, she was certain that the true aim of Nationalist policy was expressed by the one whose tone was disloyal to the British Empire. Look-out was kept for any change in the direction of moderation, for any real indication that those who professed to be "constitutional Nationalists" were any less determined than "the physical force party" to reach the goal described by Parnell in the famous sentence, "None of us will be ... satisfied until we have destroyed the last link which keeps Ireland bound to England."

No such indication was ever discernible. On the contrary, Parnell's phrase became a refrain to be heard in many later pronouncements of his successors, and the policy he thus described was again and again propounded in after-years on innumerable Nationalist platforms, in speeches constantly quoted to prove, as was the contention of Ulster from the first, that Home Rule as understood by English Liberals was no more than an instalment of the real demand of Nationalists, who, if they once obtained the "comparative freedom" of an Irish legislature—to quote the words used by Mr. Devlin at a later date—would then, with that leverage, "operate by whatever means they should think best to achieve the great and desirable end" of complete independence of Great Britain.

This was an end that could not by any juggling be reconciled with the Ulsterman's notion of "loyalty." Moreover, whatever knowledge he possessed of his country's history—and he knows a good deal more, man for man, than the Englishman—confirmed his deep distrust of those whom, following the example of John Bright, he always bluntly described as "the rebel party." He knew something of the rebellions in Ireland in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, and was under no illusion as to the design for which arms had been taken up in the past. He knew that that design had not changed with the passing of generations, although gentler methods of accomplishing it might sometimes find favour. Indeed, one Nationalist leader himself took pains, at a comparatively recent date, to remove any excuse there may ever have been for doubt on this point. Mr. John Redmond was an orator who selected his words with care, and his appeals to historical analogies were not made haphazard. When he declared (in a speech in 1901) that, "in its essence, the national movement to-day is the same as it was in the days of Hugh O'Neill, of Owen Roe, of Emmet, or of Wolfe Tone," those names, which would have had but a shadowy significance for a popular audience in England, carried very definite meaning to the ears of Irishmen, whether Nationalist or Unionist. Mr. Gladstone, in the fervour of his conversion to Home Rule, was fond of allusions to the work of Molyneux and Swift, Flood and Grattan; but these were men whose Irish patriotism never betrayed them into disloyalty to the British Crown or hostility to the British connection. They were reformers, not rebels. But it was not with the political ideals of such men that Mr. Redmond claimed his own to be identical, nor even with that of O'Connell, the apostle of repeal of the Union, but with the aims of men who, animated solely by hatred of England, sought to establish the complete independence of Ireland by force of arms, and in some cases by calling in (like Roger Casement in our own day) the aid of England's foreign enemies.

In the face of appeals like this to the historic imagination of an impressionable people, it is not surprising that by neither Mr. Redmond's followers nor by his opponents was much account taken of his own personal disapproval of extremes both of means and ends. His opponents in Ulster simply accepted such utterances as confirmation of what they had known all along from other sources to be the actual facts, namely, that the Home Rule agitation was "in its essence" a separatist movement; that its adherents were, as Mr. Redmond himself said on another occasion, "as much rebels as their fathers were in 1798"; and that the men of Ulster were, together with some scattered sympathisers in the other Provinces, the depositaries of the "loyal" tradition.

The latter could boast of a pedigree as long as that of the rebels. If Mr. Redmond's followers were to trace their political ancestry, as he told them, to the great Earl of Tyrone who essayed to overthrow England with the help of the Spaniard and the Pope, the Ulster Protestants could claim descent from the men of the Plantation, through generation after generation of loyalists who had kept the British flag flying in Ireland in times of stress and danger, when Mr. Redmond's historical heroes were making England's difficulty Ireland's opportunity.

There have been, and are, many individual Nationalists, no doubt, especially among the more educated and thoughtful, to whom it would be unjust to impute bad faith when they professed that their political aspirations for Ireland were really limited to obtaining local control of local affairs, and who resented being called "Separatists," since their desire was not for separation from Great Britain but for the "union of hearts," which they believed would grow out of extended self-government. But the answer of Irish Unionists, especially in Ulster, has always been that, whatever such "moderate," or "constitutional" Nationalists might dream, it would be found in practice, if the experiment were made, that no halting-place could be found between legislative union and complete separation. Moreover, the same view was held by men as far as possible removed from the standpoint of the Ulster Protestant. Cardinal Manning, for example, although an intimate personal friend of Gladstone, in a letter to Leo XIII, wrote: "As for myself, Holy Father, allow me to say that I consider a Parliament in Dublin and a separation to be equivalent to the same thing. Ireland is not a Colony like Canada, but it is an integral and vital part of one country."[1]

It is improbable that identical lines of reasoning led the Roman Catholic Cardinal and the Belfast Orangeman and Presbyterian to this identical conclusion; but a position reached by convergent paths from such distant points of departure is defensible presumably on grounds more solid than prejudice or passion. It is unnecessary here to examine those grounds at length, for the present purpose is not to argue the Ulster case, but to let the reader know what was, as a matter of fact, the Ulster point of view, whether that point of view was well or ill founded.

But, while the opinion that a Dublin Parliament meant separation was shared by many who had little else in common with the Ulster Protestants, the latter stood alone in the intensity of their conviction that "Home Rule meant Rome Rule." It has already been mentioned that it is the "disloyalty" attributed rightly or wrongly to the Roman Catholics as a body that has been, in recent times at all events, the mainspring of Protestant distrust. But sectarian feeling, everywhere common between rival creeds, is, of course, by no means absent. Englishmen find it hard to understand what seems to them the bigoted and senseless animosity of the rival faiths in Ireland. This is due to the astonishing shortness of their memory in regard to their own history, and their very limited outlook on the world outside their own island. If, without looking further back in their history, they reflected that the "No Popery" feeling in England in mid-Victorian days was scarcely less intense than it is in Ulster to-day; or if they realised the extent to which Gambetta's "Le clericalisme, voila l'ennemi" continues still to influence public life in France, they might be less ready to censure the Irish Protestant's dislike of priestly interference in affairs outside the domain of faith and morals. It is indeed remarkable that Nonconformists, especially in Wales, who within living memory have displayed their own horror of the much milder form of sacerdotalism to be found in the Anglican Church, have no sympathy apparently with the Presbyterian and the Methodist in Ulster when the latter kick against the encompassing pressure of the Roman Catholic priesthood, not in educational matters alone, but in all the petty activities of every-day life.

Whenever this aspect of the Home Rule controversy was emphasised Englishmen asked what sort of persecution Irish Protestants had to fear from a Parliament in Dublin, and appeared to think all such fear illusory unless evidence could be adduced that the Holy Office was to be set up at Maynooth, equipped with faggot and thumb-screw. Of persecution of that sort there never has been, of course, any apprehension in modern times. Individual Catholics and Protestants live side by side in Ireland with fully as much amity as elsewhere, but whereas the Catholic instinctively, and by upbringing, looks to the parish priest as his director in all affairs of life, the Protestant dislikes and resists clerical influence as strongly as does the Nonconformist in England and Wales—and with much better reason. For the latter has never known clericalism as it exists in a Roman Catholic country where the Church is wholly unrestrained by the civil power. He has resented what he regards as Anglican arrogance in regard to educational management or the use of burying-grounds, but he has never experienced a much more aggressive clerical temper exercised in all the incidents of daily life—in the market, the political meeting, the disposition of property, the amusements of the people, the polling booth, the farm, and the home.

This involves no condemnation of the Irish priest as an individual or as a minister of his Church. He is kind-hearted, charitable, and conscientious; and, except that it does not encourage self-reliance and enterprise, his influence with his own people is no more open to criticism than that of any other body of religious ministers. But the Roman Catholic Church has always made a larger claim than any other on the obedience of its adherents, and it has always enforced that obedience whenever it has had the power by methods which, in Protestant opinion, are extremely objectionable. In theory the claim may be limited to affairs concerned with faith and morals; but the definition of such affairs is a very elastic one. Cardinal Logue not many years ago said: "When political action trenches upon faith or morals or affects religion, the Vicar of Christ, as the supreme teacher and guardian of faith and morals, and as the custodian of the immunities of religion, has, by Divine Right, authority to interfere and to enforce his decisions." How far this principle is in practice carried beyond the limits so denned was proved in the famous Meath election petition in 1892, in which the Judge who tried it, himself a devout Catholic, declared: "The Church became converted for the time being into a vast political agency, a great moral machine moving with resistless influence, united action, and a single will. Every priest who was examined was a canvasser; the canvas was everywhere—on the altar, in the vestry, on the roads, in the houses." And while an election was in progress in County Tyrone in 1911 a parish priest announced that any Catholic who should vote for the Unionist candidate "would be held responsible at the Day of Judgment." A still more notorious example of clericalism in secular affairs, within the recollection of Englishmen, was the veto on the Military Service Act proclaimed from the altars of the Catholic Churches, which, during the Great War, defeated the application to Ireland of the compulsory service which England, Scotland, and Wales accepted as the only alternative to national defeat and humiliation.

But these were only conspicuous examples of what the Irish Protestant sees around him every day of his life. The promulgation in 1908 of the Vatican decree, Nec Temere, a papal reassertion of the canonical invalidity of mixed marriages, followed as it was by notorious cases of the victimisation of Protestant women by the application of its principles, did not encourage the Protestants to welcome the prospect of a Catholic Parliament that would have control of the marriage law; nor did they any more readily welcome the prospect of national education on purely ecclesiastical lines. Another Vatican decree that was equally alarming to Protestants was that entitled Motu Proprio, by which any Catholic layman was ipso facto excommunicated who should have the temerity to bring a priest into a civil court either as defendant or witness. Medievalism like this was felt by Ulster Protestants to be irreconcilable with modern ideas of democratic freedom, and to indicate a temper that boded ill for any regime which would be subject to its inspiration. These were matters, it is true,—and there were perhaps some others of a similar nature—on which it is possible to conceive more or less satisfactory legislative safeguards being provided; but as regards the indefinable but innumerable minutiae in which the prevailing ecclesiastical standpoint creates an atmosphere in which daily life has to be carried on, no safeguards could be devised, and it was the realisation of this truth in the light of their own experience that made the Ulstermen continually close their ears to allurements of that sort.

The Roman Church is quite consistent, and from its own point of view praiseworthy, in its assertion of its right, and its duty, to control the lives and thoughts of men; but this assertion has produced a clash with the non-ecclesiastical mind in almost every country, where Catholicism is the dominant religious faith. But in Ireland, unlike Continental countries, there is no Catholic lay opinion—or almost none—able to make its voice heard against clerical dictation, and consequently the Protestants felt convinced, with good reason, that any legislature in Ireland must take its tone from this pervading mental and moral atmosphere, and that all its proceedings would necessarily be tainted by it.

Prior to 1885 the political complexion of Ulster was in the main Liberal. The Presbyterians, who formed the majority of the Protestant population, collateral descendants of the men who emigrated in the eighteenth century and formed the backbone of Washington's army, and direct descendants of those who joined the United Irishmen in 1798, were of a pronounced Liberal type, and their frequently strong disapproval of Orangeism made any united political action an improbable occurrence. But the crisis brought about by Gladstone's declaration in favour of Home Rule instantly swept all sections of Loyalists into a single camp. There was practically not a Liberal left who did not become Unionist, and, although a separate organisation of Liberal Unionists was maintained, the co-operation with Conservatives was so whole-hearted and complete as almost to amount to fusion from the outset.

The immediate cessation of class friction was still more remarkable. For more than a decade the perennial quarrel between landlord and tenant had been increasing in intensity, and the recent land legislation had disposed the latter to look upon Gladstone as a deliverer. Their gratitude was wiped out the moment he hoisted the green flag, while the labourers enfranchised by the Act of 1884 eagerly enrolled themselves as the bitterest enemies of his new Irish policy. The unanimity of the country-side was matched in the towns, and especially in Belfast, where, with the single exception of a definitely Catholic quarter, employer and artisan were as whole-heartedly united as were landlord and tenant in passionate resentment at what they regarded as the betrayal by England's foremost statesman of England's only friends in Ireland.

The defeat of the Home Rule Bill of 1886 brought relief from the immediate strain of anxiety. But it was at once realised that the encouragement and support given to Irish disloyalty for the first time by one of the great political parties in Great Britain was a step that could never be recalled. Henceforth the vigilance required to prevent being taken unawares, and the untiring organisation necessary for making effective defence against an attack which, although it had signally failed at the first onslaught, was certain to be renewed, welded all the previously diverse social and political elements in Ulster into a single compact mass, tempered to the maximum power of resistance. There was room for no other thought in the minds of men who felt as if living in a beleaguered citadel, whose flag they were bound in honour to keep flying to the last. The "loyalist" tradition acquired fresh meaning and strength, and its historical setting took a more conscious hold on the public mind of Ulster, as men studied afresh the story of the Relief of Derry or the horrors of 1641. Visits of encouragement from the leaders of Unionism across the Channel, men like Lord Salisbury, Mr. Balfour, Mr. Chamberlain, Lord Randolph Churchill, fortified the resolution of a populace that came more and more to regard themselves as a bulwark of the Empire, on whom destiny, while conferring on them the honour of upholding the flag, had imposed the duty of putting into actual practice the familiar motto of the Orange Lodges—"No surrender."

From a psychology so bred and nourished sprang a political temper which, as it hardened with the passing years, appeared to English Home Rulers to be "stiff-necked," "bigoted," and "intractable." It certainly was a state of mind very different from those shifting gusts of transient impression which in England go by the name of public opinion; and, if these epithets in the mouths of opponents be taken as no more than synonyms for "uncompromising," they were not undeserved. At a memorable meeting at the Albert Hall in London on the 22nd of April, 1893, Dr. Alexander, Bishop of Derry, poet, orator, and divine, declared in an eloquent passage that was felt to be the exact expression of Ulster conviction, that the people of Ulster, when exhorted to show confidence in their southern fellow-countrymen, "could no more be confiding about its liberty than a pure woman can be confiding about her honour."

Here was the irreconcilable division. The Nationalist talked of centuries of "oppression," and demanded the dissolution of the Union in the name of liberty. The Ulsterman, while far from denying the misgovernment of former times, knew that it was the fruit of false ideas which had passed away, and that the Ireland in which he lived enjoyed as much liberty as any land on earth; and he feared the loss of the true liberty he had gained if put back under a regime of Nationalist and Utramontane domination. And so for more than thirty years the people of Ulster for whom Bishop Alexander spoke made good his words. If in the end compromise was forced upon them it was not because their standpoint had changed, and it was only in circumstances which involved no dishonour, and which preserved them from what they chiefly dreaded, subjection to a Dublin Parliament inspired by clericalism and disloyalty to the Empire.

The development which brought about the change from Ulster's resolute stand for unimpaired union with Great Britain to her reluctant acceptance of a separate local constitution for the predominantly Protestant portion of the Province, presents a deeply interesting illustration of the truth of a pregnant dictum of Maine's on the working of democratic institutions.

"Democracies," he says, "are quite paralysed by the plea of nationality. There is no more effective way of attacking them than by admitting the right of the majority to govern, but denying that the majority so entitled is the particular majority which claims the right."[2]

This is precisely what occurred in regard to Ulster's relation to Great Britain and to the rest of Ireland respectively. The will of the majority must prevail, certainly. But what majority? Unionists maintained that only the majority in the United Kingdom could decide, and that it had never in fact decided in favour of repealing the Act of Union; Lord Rosebery at one time held that a majority in Great Britain alone, as the "Predominant Partner," must first give its consent; Irish Nationalists argued that the majority in Ireland, as a distinct unit, was the only one that should count. Ulster, whilst agreeing with the general Unionist position, contended ultimately that her own majority was as well entitled to be heard in regard to her own fate as the majority in Ireland as a whole. To the Nationalist claim that Ireland was a nation she replied that it was either two nations or none, and that if one of the two had a right to "self-determination," the other had it equally. Thus the axiom of democracy that government is by the majority was, as Maine said, "paralysed by the plea of nationality," since the contending parties appealed to the same principle without having any common ground as to how it should be applied to the case in dispute.

If the Union with Great Britain was to be abrogated, which Pitt had only established when "a full measure of Home Rule" had produced a bloody insurrection and Irish collusion with England's external enemies, Ulster could at all events in the last resort take her stand on Abraham Lincoln's famous proposition which created West Virginia: "A minority of a large community who make certain claims for self-government cannot, in logic or in substance, refuse the same claims to a much larger proportionate minority among themselves."

The Loyalists of Ulster were successful in holding this second line, when the first was no longer tenable; but they only retired from the first line—the maintenance of the legislative union—after a long and obstinate defence which it is the purpose of the following pages to relate.


[1] Henry Edward Manning, by Shane Leslie, p. 406.

[2] Sir S.H. Maine, Popular Government, p. 28.



We profess to be a democratic country in which the "will of the people" is the ultimate authority in determining questions of policy, and the Liberal Party has been accustomed to regard itself as the most zealous guardian of democratic principles. Yet there is this curious paradox in relation to the problem which more than any other taxed British statesmanship during the thirty-five years immediately following the enfranchisement of the rural democracy in 1884, that the solution propounded by the Liberal Party, and inscribed by that party on the Statute-book in 1914, was more than once emphatically rejected, and has never been explicitly accepted by the electorate.

No policy ever submitted to the country was more decisively condemned at the polls than Mr. Gladstone's Home Rule proposals in the General Election of 1886. The issue then for the first time submitted to the people was isolated from all others with a completeness scarcely ever practicable—a circumstance which rendered the "mandate" to Parliament to maintain the legislative union exceptionally free from ambiguity. The party which had brought forward the defeated proposal, although led by a statesman of unrivalled popularity, authority, and power, was shattered in the attempt to carry it, and lost the support of numbers of its most conspicuous adherents, including Chamberlain, Hartington, Goschen, and John Bright, besides a multitude of its rank and file, who entered into political partnership with their former opponents in order to withstand the new departure of their old Chief.

The years that followed were a period of preparation by both sides for the next battle. The improvement in the state of Ireland, largely the result of legislation carried by Lord Salisbury's Government, especially that which promoted land purchase, encouraged the confidence felt by Unionists that the British voter would remain staunch to the Union. The downfall of Parnell in 1890, followed by the break-up of his party, and by his death in the following year, seemed to make the danger of Home Rule still more remote. The only disquieting factor was the personality of Mr. Gladstone, which, the older he grew, exercised a more and more incalculable influence on the public mind. And there can be no doubt that it was this personal influence that made him, in spite of his policy, and not because of it, Prime Minister for the fourth time in 1892. In Great Britain the electors in that year pronounced against Home Rule again by a considerable majority, and it was only by coalition with the eighty-three Irish Nationalist Members that Gladstone and his party were able to scrape up a majority of forty in support of his second Home Rule Bill. Whether there was any ground for Gladstone's belief that but for the O'Shea divorce he would have had a three-figure majority in 1892 is of little consequence, but the fall of his own majority in Midlothian from 4,000 to below 700, which caused him "intense chagrin,"[3] does not lend it support. Lord Morley says Gladstone was blamed by some of his friends for accepting office "depending on a majority not large enough to coerce the House of Lords"[4]; but a more valid ground of censure was that he was willing to break up the constitution of the United Kingdom, although a majority of British electors had just refused to sanction such a thing being done. That Gladstone's colleagues realised full well the true state of public opinion on the subject, if he himself did not, was shown by their conduct when the Home Rule Bill, after being carried through the House of Commons by diminutive majorities, was rejected on second reading by the Peers. Even their great leader's entreaty could not persuade them to consent to an appeal to the people[5]; and when they were tripped up over the cordite vote in 1895, after Gladstone had disappeared from public life, none of them probably were surprised at the overwhelming vote by which the constituencies endorsed the action of the House of Lords, and pronounced for the second time in ten years against granting Home Rule to Ireland.

If anything except the personal ascendancy of Gladstone contributed to his small coalition majority in 1892 it was no doubt the confidence of the electors that the House of Lords could be relied upon to prevent the passage of a Home Rule Bill. It is worth noting that nearly twenty years later Lord Crewe acknowledged that the Home Rule Bill of 1893 could not have stood the test of a General Election or of a Referendum.[6]

During the ten years of Unionist Government from 1895 to 1905 the question of Home Rule slipped into the background. Other issues, such as those raised by the South African War and Mr. Chamberlain's tariff policy, engrossed the public mind. English Home Rulers showed a disposition to hide away, if not to repudiate altogether, the legacy they had inherited from Gladstone. Lord Rosebery acknowledged the necessity to convert "the predominant partner," a mission which every passing year made appear a more hopeless undertaking. At by-elections Home Rule was scarcely mentioned. In the eyes of average Englishmen the question was dead and buried, and most people were heartily thankful to hear no more about it. Mr. T.M. Healy's caustic wit remarked that "Home Rule was put into cold storage."[7]

Then came the great overthrow of the Unionists in 1906. Home Rule, except by its absence from Liberal election addresses, contributed nothing at all to that resounding Liberal victory. The battle of "terminological inexactitudes" rang with cries of Chinese "slavery," Tariff Reform, Church Schools, Labour Dispute Bills, and so forth; but on Ireland silence reigned on the platforms of the victors. The event was to give the successors of Mr. Gladstone a House of Commons in complete subjection to them. For the first time since 1885 they had a majority independent of the Nationalists, a majority, if ever there was one, "large enough to coerce the House of Lords," as they would have done in 1893, according to Lord Morley, if they had had the power. But to do that would involve the danger of having again to appeal to the country, which even at this high tide of Liberal triumph they could not face with Home Rule as an election cry. So, with the tame acquiescence of Mr. Redmond and his followers, they spent four years of unparalleled power without laying a finger on Irish Government, a course which was rendered easy for them by the fact that, on their own admission, they had found Ireland in a more peaceful, prosperous, and contented condition than it had enjoyed for several generations. Occasionally, indeed, as was necessary to prevent a rupture with the Nationalists, some perfunctory mention of Home Rule as a desideratum of the future was made on Ministerial platforms—by Mr. Churchill, for example, at Manchester in May 1909. But by that date even the contest over Tariff Reform—which had raged without intermission for six years, and by rending the Unionist Party had grievously damaged it as an effective instrument of opposition—had become merged in the more immediately exciting battle of the Budget, provoked by Mr. Lloyd George's financial proposals for the current year, and by the possibility that they might be rejected by the House of Lords. This the House of Lords did, on the 30th of November, 1909, and the Prime Minister at once announced that he would appeal to the country without delay.

Such a turn of events was a wonderful windfall for the Irish Nationalists, beyond what the most sanguine of them can ever have hoped for. The rejection of a money Bill by the House of Lords raised a democratic blizzard, the full force of which was directed against the constitutional power of veto possessed by the hereditary Chamber in relation not merely to money Bills, but to general legislation. For a long time the Liberal Party had been threatening that part of the Constitution without much effect. Sixteen years had passed since Mr. Gladstone in his last speech in the House of Commons declared that issue must be joined with the Peers; but the emphatic endorsement by the constituencies in 1895 of the Lords' action which he had denounced, followed by ten years of Unionist Government, damped down the ardour of attack so effectually that, during the four years in which the Liberals enjoyed unchallengeable power, from 1906 to 1910, they did nothing to carry out Gladstone's parting injunction. Had they done so at any time when Home Rule was a living issue in the country an attack on the Lords would in all probability have proved disastrous to themselves. For there was not a particle of evidence that the electors of Great Britain had changed their minds on this subject, and there were great numbers of voters in the country—those voters, unattached to party, who constitute "the swing of the pendulum," and decide the issue at General Elections—who felt free to vote Liberal in 1906 because they believed Home Rule was practically dead, and if revived would be again given its quietus, as in 1893, by the House of Lords. But the defeat of the Budget in November 1909 immediately opened a line of attack wholly unconnected with Ireland, and over the most favourable ground that could have been selected for the assault.

Nothing could have been more skilful than the tactics employed by the Liberal leaders. Concentrating on the constitutional question raised by the alleged encroachment of the Lords on the exclusive privilege of the Commons to grant supply, they tried to excite a hurricane of popular fury by calling on the electorate to decide between "Peers and People." The rejected Finance Bill was dubbed "The People's Budget." A "Budget League" was formed to expatiate through the constituencies on the democratic character of its provisions, and on the personal and class selfishness of the Peers in throwing it out. As little as possible was said about Ireland, and probably not one voter in ten thousand who went to the poll in January 1910 ever gave a thought to the subject, or dreamed that he was taking part in reversing the popular verdict of 1886 and 1895. Afterwards, when it was complained that an election so conducted had provided no "mandate" for Home Rule, it was found that in the course of a long speech delivered by Mr. Asquith at the Albert Hall on the 10th of December there was a sentence in which the Prime Minister had declared that "the Irish problem could only be solved by a policy which, while explicitly safeguarding the supreme authority of the Imperial Parliament, would set up self-government in Ireland in regard to Irish affairs." The rest of the speech dealt with Tariff Reform and with the constitutional question of the House of Lords, on which the public mind was focused throughout the election.

In the unprecedented deluge of oratory that flooded the country in the month preceding the elections the Prime Minister's sentence on Ireland at the Albert Hall passed almost unnoticed in English and Scottish constituencies, or was quickly lost sight of, like a coin in a cornstack, under sheaves of rhetoric about the dear loaf and the intolerable arrogance of hereditary legislators. Here and there a Unionist candidate did his best to warn a constituency that every Liberal vote was a vote for Home Rule. He was invariably met with an impatient retort that he was attempting to raise a bogey to divert attention from the iniquity of the Lords and the Tariff Reformers. Home Rule, he was told, was dead and buried.

On the 19th of January, 1910, when the elections were over in the boroughs, Mr. Asquith claimed that "the great industrial centres had mainly declared for Free Trade," and the impartial chronicler of the Annual Register stated that "the Liberals had fought on Free Trade and the constitutional issue." The twice-repeated decision of the country against Home Rule for Ireland was therefore in no sense reversed by the General Election of January 1910.

But from the very beginning of the agitation over the Budget and the action of the House of Lords in relation to it, in the summer of 1909, the gravity of the situation so created was fully appreciated by both political parties in Ireland itself. Only the most languid interest was there taken in the questions which stirred the constituencies across the Channel. Neither Nationalist nor Unionist cared anything whatever for Free Trade; neither of them shed a tear over the rejected Budget. Indeed, Mr. Lloyd George's new taxes were so unpopular in Ireland that Mr. Redmond was violently attacked by Mr. William O'Brien and Mr. Healy for his neglect of obvious Irish interests in supporting the Government. Mr. Redmond, for his part, made no pretence that his support was given because he approved of the proposals for which he and his followers gave their votes in every division. The clauses of the Finance Bill were trifles in his eyes that did not matter. His gaze was steadily fixed on the House of Peers, which he saw before him as a huntsman views a fox with bedraggled brush, reduced to a trot a field or two ahead of the hounds. That House was, as he described it, "the last obstacle to Home Rule," and he was determined to do all he could to remove the obstacle. Lord Rosebery said at Glasgow in September 1909 that he believed Ministers wanted the House of Lords to reject the Budget. Whether they did or not, there can be no doubt that Mr. Redmond did, for he knew that, in that event, the whole strength of the Liberal Party would be directed to the task of beating down the "last obstacle," and that then it would be possible to carry Home Rule without the British constituencies being consulted. It was with this end in view that he took his party into the lobby in support of a Budget that was detested in Ireland, and threw the whole weight of his influence in British constituencies on to the Liberal side in the elections of January 1910.

But, notwithstanding the torrent of class prejudice and democratic passion that was stirred up by six weeks of Liberal oratory, the result of the elections was a serious loss of strength to the Government. The commanding Liberal majority of 1906 over all parties in the House of Commons disappeared, and Mr. Asquith and his Cabinet were once more dependent on a coalition of Labour Members and Nationalists. The Liberals by themselves had a majority of two only over the Unionists, who had won over one hundred seats, so that the Nationalists were easily in a position to enforce their leader's threat to make Mr. Asquith "toe the line."

When the Parliament elected in January 1910 assembled disputes arose between the Government and the Nationalists as to whether priority was to be given to passing the Budget rejected in the previous session, or to the Parliament Bill which was to deprive the House of Lords of its constitutional power to reject legislation passed by the Commons; and Mr. Redmond expressed his displeasure that "guarantees" had not yet been obtained from the King, or, in plain language, that a promise had not been extorted from the Sovereign that he would be prepared to create a sufficient number of Peers to secure the acceptance of the Parliament Bill by the Upper House.

The whole situation was suddenly changed by the death of King Edward in May 1910. Consideration for the new and inexperienced Sovereign led to the temporary abandonment of coercion of the Crown, and resort was had to a Conference of party leaders, with a view to settlement of the dispute by agreement. But no agreement was arrived at, and the Conference broke up on the 10th of November. Parliament was again dissolved in December, "on the assumption," as Lord Crewe stated, "that the House of Lords would reject the Parliament Bill."

During the agitation of this troubled autumn preceding the General Election, the question of Home Rule was not quite so successfully concealed from view as in the previous year. The Liberals, indeed, maintained the same tactical reserve on the subject, alike in their writings and their speeches. The Liberal Press of the period may be searched in vain for any clear indication that the electors were about to be asked to decide once more this momentous constitutional question. Such mention of it as was occasionally to be found in ministerial speeches seemed designed to convey the idea that, while the door leading to Home Rule was still formally open, there was no immediate prospect of its being brought into use. The Prime Minister in particular did everything in his power to direct the attention of the country to the same issues as in the preceding January, among which Ireland had had no place. In presenting the Government's case at Hull on the 25th of November, he reminded the country that in the January elections the veto of the Peers was "the dominant issue"; in the intervening months the Government, he said, had brought forward proposals for dealing with the veto, and had given the Lords an opportunity to make proposals of their own; a defeat of the Liberals in the coming elections would bring in "Protection disguised as Tariff Reform"; but he (Mr. Asquith) preferred to concentrate his criticism on Lord Lansdowne's "crude and complex scheme" for Second Chamber reform; he made a passing mention of "self-government for Ireland" as a policy that would have the sympathy of the Dominions, but added that "the immediate task was to secure fair play for Liberal legislation and popular government." And in his election address Mr. Asquith declared that "the appeal to the country was almost narrowed to a single issue, and on its determination hung the whole future of democratic Government."

This zeal for "popular," or "democratic" government was, however, not inconsistent apparently with a determination to avoid at all hazards consulting the will of the people, before doing what the people had hitherto always refused to sanction. The suggestion had been made earlier in the autumn that a Referendum, or "Poll of the People" might be taken on the question of Home Rule. The very idea filled the Liberals with dismay. Speaking at Edinburgh on the 2nd of December, Mr. Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, made the curiously naive admission, for a "democratic" politician, that the Referendum would amount to "a prohibitive tariff against Liberalism." A few days earlier at Reading (November 29th) his Chief sought to turn the edge of this disconcerting proposal by asking whether the Unionists, if returned to power, would allow Tariff Reform to be settled by the same mode of appeal to the country; and when Mr. Balfour promptly accepted the challenge by promising that he would do so Mr. Asquith retreated under cover of the excuse that no bargain had been intended.

While the Liberal leaders were thus doing all they could to hold down the lid of the Home Rule Jack-in-the-box, the Unionists were warning the country that as soon as Mr. Asquith secured a majority his thumb would release the spring. Speakers from Ulster carried the warning into many constituencies, but it was noticed that they were constantly met with the same retort as in January—that Home Rule was a "bogey," or a "red herring" dragged across the trail of Tariff Reform and the Peers' veto; and it is a significant indication of the straits to which the Government afterwards felt themselves driven to find justification for dealing with so fundamental a question as the repeal of the Union without the explicit approval of the electorate, that they devised the strange doctrine that speeches by their opponents provided them with a mandate for a policy about which they had themselves kept silence, even although those speeches had been disbelieved and derided on the very ground that it would be impossible for Ministers to bring forward a policy they had not laid before the country during the election.

The extent to which this ministerial reserve was carried was shown by a question put to Mr. Asquith in his own constituency in East Fife on the 6th of December. Scottish "hecklers" are intelligent and well informed on current politics, and no one who knows them can imagine one of them asking the Prime Minister whether he intended to introduce a Home Rule Bill if Home Rule had been proclaimed as one of the chief items in the policy of the Government. Mr. Asquith gave an affirmative reply; but the elections were by this time half over, and in the following week Mr. Balfour laid stress on the fact that five hundred contests had been decided before any Minister had mentioned Home Rule. Even after giving this memorable answer in East Fife Mr. Asquith, speaking at Bury St. Edmunds on the 12th of December, declared that "the sole issue at that moment was the supremacy of the people," and he added, in deprecation of all the talk about Ireland, that "it was sought to confuse this issue by catechising Ministers on the details of the next Home Rule Bill."

Even if this had been, as it was not, a true description of the attempts that had been made to extract a frank declaration from the Government as to their intentions in regard to this vitally important matter—far more important to hundreds of thousands of people than any question of Tariff, or of limiting the functions of the Second Chamber —it was surely a curious doctrine to be propounded by a statesman zealous to preserve "popular government "! There had been two Home Rule Bills in the past, differing one from the other in not a few important respects; discussion had shown that many even of those who supported the principle of Home Rule objected strongly to this or that proposal for embodying it in legislation Language had been used by Mr. Asquith himself, as well as by some of his principal colleagues, which implied that any future Home Rule Bill would be part of a general scheme of "devolution," or federation, or "Home Rule All Round"—a solution of the question favoured by many who hotly opposed separate treatment for Ireland Yet here was the responsible Minister, in the middle of a General Election, complaining that the issue was being "confused" by presumptuous persons who wanted to know what sort of Home Rule, if any, he had in contemplation in the event of obtaining a majority sufficient to keep him in power.

Under such circumstances it would have been a straining of constitutional principles, and a flagrant violation of the canons of that "democratic government" of which Mr Asquith had constituted himself the champion, to pass a Home Rule Bill by means of a majority so obtained, even if the majority had been one that pointed to a sweeping turnover of public opinion to the side of the Government The elections of December 1910, in point of fact, gave no such indication. The Government gained nothing whatever by the appeal to the country. Liberals and Unionists came back in almost precisely the same strength as in the previous Parliament. They balanced each other within a couple of votes in the new House of Commons, and the Ministry could not have remained twenty-four hours in office except in coalition with Labour and the Irish Nationalists.

The Parliament so elected and so constituted was destined not merely to destroy the effective power of the House of Lords, and to place on the Statute-book a measure setting up an Irish Parliament in Dublin, but to be an assembly longer in duration and more memorable in achievement than any in English history since the Long Parliament. During the eight years of its reign the Great War was fought and won; the "rebel party" in Ireland once more, as in the Napoleonic Wars, broke into armed insurrection in league with the enemies of England; and before it was dissolved the political parties in Great Britain, heartily supported by the Loyalists of Ulster, composed the party differences which had raged with such passion over Home Rule and other domestic issues, and joined forces in patriotic resistance to the foreign enemy.

But before this transformation took place nearly four years of agitation and contest had to run their course. In the first session of the Parliament, by a violent use of the Royal Prerogative, the Parliament Bill became law, the Peers accepting the measure under duress of the threat that some four or five hundred peerages would, if necessary, be created to form a majority to carry it. It was then no longer possible for the Upper House to force an appeal to the country on Home Rule, as it had done in 1893. All that was necessary was for a Bill to be carried in three successive sessions through the House of Commons, to become law. "The last obstacle to Home Rule," as Mr. Redmond called it, had been removed. The Liberal Government had taken a hint from the procedure of the careful burglar, who poisons the dog before breaking into the house.

The significance of the manner in which the Irish question had been kept out of view of the electorate by the Government and their supporters was not lost upon the people of Ulster. In January 1911, within a month of the elections, a meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council was held at which a comprehensive resolution dealing with the situation that had arisen was adopted, and published as a manifesto. One of its clauses was:

"The Council has observed with much surprise the singular reticence as regards Home Rule maintained by a large number of Radical candidates in England and Scotland during the recent elections, and especially by the Prime Minister himself, who barely referred to the subject till almost the close of his own contest. In view of the consequent fact that Home Rule was not at the late appeal to the country placed as a clear issue before the electors, it is the judgment of the Council that the country has given no mandate for Home Rule, and that any attempt in such circumstances to force through Parliament a measure enacting it would be for His Majesty's Ministers a grave, if not criminal, breach of constitutional duty."

The great importance, in relation to the policy subsequently pursued by Ulster, of the historical fact here made clear—namely, that the "will of the people" constitutionally expressed in parliamentary elections has never declared itself in favour of granting Home Rule to Ireland, lies, first, in the justification it afforded to the preparations for active resistance to a measure so enacted; and, secondly, in the influence it had in procuring for Ulster not merely the sympathy but the open support of the whole Unionist Party in Great Britain. Lord Londonderry, one of Ulster's most trusted leaders, who afterwards gave the whole weight of his support to the policy of forcible resistance, admitted in the House of Lords in 1911, in the debates on the Parliament Bill, that the verdict of the country, if appealed to, would have to be accepted. The leader of the Unionist Party, Mr. Bonar Law, made it clear in February 1914, as he had more than once stated before, that the support he and his party were pledging themselves to give to Ulster in the struggle then approaching a climax, was entirely due to the fact that the electorate had never sanctioned the policy of the Government against which Ulster's resistance was threatened. The chance of success in that resistance "depended," he said, "upon the sympathy of the British people, and an election would undoubtedly make a great difference in that respect"; he denied that Mr. Asquith had a "right to pass any form of Home Rule without a mandate from the people of this country, which he has never received"; and he categorically announced that "if you get the decision of the people we shall obey it." And if, as then appeared likely, the unconstitutional conduct of the Government should lead to bloodshed in Ireland, the responsibility, said Mr. Bonar Law, would be theirs, "because you preferred to face civil war rather than face the people."[8]


[3] Morley's Life of Gladstone, in, 492.

[4] Ibid., 493.

[5] Ibid., 505.

[6] Annual Register, 1910, p. 240.

[7] See Letters to Isabel, by Lord Shaw of Dunfermline, p. 130.

[8] Parliamentary Debates (5th Series), vol. I viii, pp. 279-84.



From the day when Gladstone first made Home Rule for Ireland the leading issue in British politics, the Loyalists of Ulster—who, as already explained, included practically all the Protestant population of the Province both Conservative and Liberal, besides a small number of Catholics who had no separatist sympathies—set to work to organise themselves for effective opposition to the new policy. In the hour of their dismay over Gladstone's surrender Lord Randolph Churchill, hurrying from London to encourage and inspirit them, told them in the Ulster Hall on the 22nd of February, 1886, that "the Loyalists in Ulster should wait and watch—organise and prepare."[9] They followed his advice. Propaganda among themselves was indeed unnecessary, for no one required conversion except those who were known to be inconvertible. The chief work to be done was to send speakers to British constituencies; and in the decade from 1885 to 1895 Ulster speakers, many of whom were ministers of the different Protestant Churches, were in request on English and Scottish platforms.

A number of organisations were formed for this purpose, some of which, like the Irish Unionist Alliance, represented Unionist opinion throughout Ireland, and not in Ulster alone. Others were exclusively concerned with the northern Province, where from the first the opposition was naturally more concentrated than elsewhere. In the early days, the Ulster Loyalist and Patriotic Union, organised by Lord Ranfurly and Mr. W.R. Young, carried on an active and sustained campaign in Great Britain, and the Unionist Clubs initiated by Lord Templetown provided a useful organisation in the smaller country towns, which still exists as an effective force. The Loyal Orange Institution, founded at the end of the eighteenth century to commemorate, and to keep alive the principles of, the Whig Revolution of 1688, had fallen into not unmerited disrepute prior to 1886. Few men of education or standing belonged to it, and the lodge meetings and anniversary celebrations had become little better than occasions for conviviality wholly inconsistent with the irreproachable formularies of the Order. But its system of local Lodges, affiliated to a Grand Lodge in each county, supplied the ready-made framework of an effective organisation. Immediately after the introduction of Gladstone's first Bill in 1886 it received an immense accession of strength. Large numbers of country gentlemen, clergymen of all Protestant denominations, business and professional men, farmers, and the better class of artisans in Belfast and other towns, joined the local Lodges, the management of which passed into capable hands; the character of the Society was thereby completely and rapidly transformed, and, instead of being a somewhat disreputable and obsolete survival, it became a highly respectable as well as an exceedingly powerful political organisation, the whole weight of whose influence has been on the side of the Union.

A rallying cry was given to the Ulster Loyalists in the famous phrase contained in a letter from Lord Randolph Churchill to a correspondent in May 1886: "Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right." From this time forward the idea that resort to physical resistance would be preferable to submission to a Parliament in Dublin controlled by the "rebel party" took hold of the popular mind in Ulster, although after the elections of 1886 there was no serious apprehension that the necessity would arise, until the return to power of Mr. Gladstone at the head of a small majority in 1892 brought about a fresh crisis.

The work of organisation was then undertaken with greater energy and thoroughness than before. It was now that Lord Templetown founded the Unionist Clubs, which spread in an affiliated network through Ulster, and proved so valuable that, after falling into neglect during the ten years of Conservative Government, they were revived at the special request of the Ulster Unionist Council in December 1910. Nothing, however, did so much to stimulate organisation and concentration of effort as the great Convention held in Belfast on the 19th of June 1892, representing on a democratic basis all the constituencies in Ulster. Numerous preliminary meetings were arranged for the purpose of electing the delegates; and of these the Special Correspondent of The Times wrote:

"Nothing has struck me more in the present movement than the perfect order and regularity with which the preliminary meetings for the election of delegates has been conducted. From city and town and village come reports of crowded and enthusiastic gatherings, all animated by an equal ardour, all marked by the same spirit of quiet determination. There has been no 'tall talk,' no over-statement; the speeches have been dignified, sensible, and practical. One of the most marked features in the meetings has been the appearance of men who have never before taken part in public life, who have never till now stood on a public platform. Now for the first time they have broken with the tranquil traditions of a lifetime, and have come forward to take their share and their responsibility in the grave danger which threatens their country."[10]

There being no building large enough to hold the delegates, numbering nearly twelve thousand, every one of whom was a registered voter appointed by the polling districts to attend the Convention, a pavilion, the largest ever used for a political meeting in the kingdom, was specially constructed close to the Botanical Gardens in Belfast. It covered 33,000 square feet, and, owing to the enthusiasm of the workmen employed on the building, it was erected (at a cost of over L3,000) within three weeks. It provided seating accommodation for 13,000 people, but the number who actually gained admittance to the Convention was nearly 21,000, while outside an assemblage, estimated by the correspondent of The Times at 300,000, was also addressed by the principal speakers.

The commencement of the proceedings with prayer, conducted by the Primate of all Ireland and the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, set a precedent which was extensively followed in later years throughout Ulster, marking the spirit of seriousness which struck numerous observers as characteristic of the Ulster Movement. The speakers were men representative of all the varied interests of the Province—- religious, agricultural, commercial, and industrial—and among them were two men, Mr. Thomas Sinclair and Mr. Thomas Andrews, who had been life-long Liberals, but who from this time forward were distinguished and trusted leaders of Unionist opinion in Ulster. It was Mr. Andrews who touched a chord that vibrated through the vast audience, making them leap to their feet, cheering for several minutes. "As a last resource," he cried, "we will be prepared to defend ourselves." But the climax of this memorable assembly was reached when the chairman, the Duke of Abercorn, with upraised arm, and calling on the audience solemnly to repeat the words one by one after him, gave out what became for the future the motto and watchword of Ulster loyalty: "We will not have Home Rule." It was felt that this simple negation constituted a solemn vow taken by the delegates, both for themselves and for those they represented—an act of self-dedication to which every loyal man and woman in Ulster was committed, and from which there could be no turning back.

The principal Resolution, adopted unanimously by the Convention, formulated the grounds on which the people of the Province based their hostility to the separatist policy of Home Rule; and as frequent reference was made to it in after-years as an authoritative definition of Ulster policy, it may be worth while to recall its terms:

"That this Convention, consisting of 11,879 delegates representing the Unionists of every creed, class, and party throughout Ulster, appointed at public meetings held in every electoral division of the Province, hereby solemnly resolves and declares: 'That we express the devoted loyalty of Ulster Unionists to the Crown and Constitution of the United Kingdom; that we avow our fixed resolve to retain unchanged our present position as an integral portion of the United Kingdom, and protest in the most unequivocal manner against the passage of any measure that would rob us of our inheritance in the Imperial Parliament, under the protection of which our capital has been invested and our homes and rights safeguarded; that we record our determination to have nothing to do with a Parliament certain to be controlled by men responsible for the crime and outrages of the Land League, the dishonesty of the Plan of Campaign, and the cruelties of boycotting, many of whom have shown themselves the ready instruments of clerical domination; that we declare to the people of Great Britain our conviction that the attempt to set up such a Parliament in Ireland will inevitably result in disorder, violence, and bloodshed, such as have not been experienced in this century, and announce our resolve to take no part in the election or proceedings of such a Parliament, the authority of which, should it ever be constituted, we shall be forced to repudiate; that we protest against this great question, which involves our lives, property, and civil rights, being treated as a mere side-issue in the impending electoral struggle; that we appeal to those of our fellow countrymen who have hitherto been in favour of a separate Parliament to abandon a demand which hopelessly divides Irishmen, and to unite with us under the Imperial Legislature in developing the resources and furthering the best interests of our common country.'"

There can be no doubt that the Ulster Convention of 1892, and the numerous less imposing demonstrations which followed on both sides of the Channel and took their tone from it, of which the most notable was the great meeting at the Albert Hall in London on the 22nd of April, 1893, had much effect in impressing and instructing public opinion, and thus preparing the way for the smashing defeat of the Liberal Home Rule Party in the General Election of 1895. After that event vigilance again relaxed during the ten years of Unionist predominance which followed. But the organisation was kept intact, and its democratic method of appointing delegates in every polling district provided a permanent electoral machinery for the Unionist Party in the constituencies, as well as the framework for the Ulster Unionist Council, which was brought into existence in 1905, largely through the efforts of Mr. William Moore, M.P. for North Armagh. This Council, with its executive Standing Committee, was thenceforward the acknowledged authority for determining all questions of Unionist policy in Ulster.

Its first meeting was held on the 3rd of March, 1905, under the presidency of Colonel James McCalmont, M.P. for East Antrim. The first ten members of the Standing Committee were nominated by Colonel Saunderson, M.P., as chairman of the Ulster Parliamentary Party. They were, in addition to the chairman himself, the Duke of Abercorn, the Marquis of Londonderry, the Earl of Erne, the Earl of Ranfurly, Colonel James McCalmont, M.P., the Hon. R.T. O'Neill, M.P., Mr. G. Wolff, M.P., Mr. J.B. Lonsdale, M.P., and Mr. William Moore, K.C., M.P. These nominations were confirmed by a ballot of the members of the Council, and twenty other members were elected forthwith to form the Standing Committee. This first Executive Committee of the organisation which for the next fifteen years directed the policy of Ulster Unionism included several names that were from this time forward among the most prominent in the movement. There were the two eminent Liberals, Mr. Thomas Sinclair and Mr. Thomas Andrews, and Mr. John Young, all three of whom were members of the Irish Privy Council; Colonel R.H. Wallace, C.B., Mr. W.H.H. Lyons, and Sir James Stronge, leaders of the Orangemen; Colonel Sharman-Crawford, Mr. E.M. Archdale, Mr. W.J. Allen, Mr. R.H. Reade, and Sir William Ewart. Among several "Unionist candidates for Ulster constituencies" who were at the same meeting co-opted to the Council, we find the names of Captain James Craig and Mr. Denis Henry, K.C. The Duke of Abercorn accepted the position of President of the Council, and Mr. E.M. Archdale was elected chairman of the Standing Committee. Mr. T.H. Gibson was appointed secretary. In October 1906 the latter resigned his post owing to failing health, and, on the motion of Mr. William Moore, M.P., Mr. Richard Dawson Bates, a solicitor practising in Belfast, was "temporarily" appointed to fill the vacancy. This temporary appointment was never formally made permanent, but no question in regard to the secretaryship was ever raised, for Mr. Bates performed the duties year after year to the complete satisfaction of everyone connected with the organisation, and in a manner that earned the gratitude of all Ulster Unionists. The funds at the disposal of the Council in 1906 only enabled a salary of L100 a year to be paid to the secretary—a salary that was purely nominal in the case of a professional gentleman of Mr. Bates's standing; but the spirit in which he took up his duties was seen two years later, when it was found that out of this salary he had himself been paying for clerical assistance; and then, of course, this matter was properly adjusted, which the improved financial position of the Council happily rendered possible.

The declared purpose of the Ulster Unionist Council was to form a union of all local Unionist Associations in Ulster; to keep the latter in constant touch with their parliamentary representatives; and "to be the medium of expressing Ulster Unionist opinion as current events may from time to time require." It consisted at first of not more than 200 members, of whom 100 represented local Associations, and 50 represented the Orange Lodges, the remaining 50 being made up of Ulster members of both Houses of Parliament and of certain "distinguished residents in or natives of Ulster" to be co-opted by the Council. As time went on the Council was considerably enlarged, and its representative character improved. In 1911 the elected membership was raised to 370, and included representatives of local Associations, Orange Lodges, Unionist Clubs, and the Derry Apprentice Boys. In 1918 representatives of the Women's Associations were added, and the total elected membership was increased to 432. The delegates elected by the various constituent bodies were in the fullest sense representative men; they were drawn from all classes of the population; and, by the regularity with which they attended meetings of the Council whenever business of any importance was to be transacted, they made it the most effective political organisation in the United Kingdom.

A campaign of public meetings in England and Scotland conducted jointly by the Ulster Unionist Council and the Irish Unionist Alliance in 1908 led to a scheme of co-operation between the two bodies, the one representing Unionists in the North and the other those in the southern Provinces, which worked smoothly and effectively. A joint Committee of the Unionist Associations of Ireland was therefore formed in the same year, the organisations represented on it being the two already named and the Ulster Loyalist Anti-Repeal Union. The latter, which in earlier years had done excellent spade-work under the fostering zeal of Lord Ranfurly and Mr. William Robert Young, was before 1911 amalgamated with the Unionist Council, so that all rivalry and overlapping was thenceforward eliminated from the organisation of Unionism in Ulster. The Council in the North and the Irish Unionist Alliance in Dublin worked in complete harmony both with each other and with the Union Defence League in London, whose operations were carried on under the direction of its founder, Mr. Walter Long.

The women of Ulster were scarcely less active than the men in the matter of organisation. Although, of course, as yet unenfranchised, they took as a rule a keener interest in political matters—meaning thereby the one absorbing question of the Union—than their sex in other parts of the United Kingdom. When critical times for the Union arrived there was, therefore, no apathy to be overcome by the Protestant women in Ulster. Early in 1911 the "Ulster Women's Unionist Council" was formed under the presidency of the Duchess of Abercorn, and very quickly became a most effective organisation side by side with that of the men. The leading spirit was the Marchioness of Londonderry, but that it was no aristocratic affair of titled ladies may be inferred from the fact that within twelve months of its formation between forty and fifty thousand members were enrolled. A branch in Mr. Devlin's constituency of West Belfast, which over four thousand women joined in its first month of existence, of whom over 80 per cent, were mill-workers and shop-girls in the district, held a very effective demonstration on the 11th of January, 1912, at which Mr. Thomas Sinclair, the most universally respected of Belfast's business men, made one of his many telling speeches which familiarised the people with the commercial and financial aspects of Home Rule, as it would be felt in Ulster. The central Women's Council followed this up with a more imposing gathering in the Ulster Hall on the 18th, which adopted with intense enthusiasm the declaration: "We will stand by our husbands, our brothers, and our sons, in whatever steps they may be forced to take in defending our liberties against the tyranny of Home Rule."

Thus before the end of 1911 men and women alike were firmly organised in Ulster for the support of their loyalist principles. But the most effective organisation is impotent without leadership. Among the declared "objects" of the Ulster Unionist Council was that of acting "as a connecting link between Ulster Unionists and their parliamentary representatives." In the House of Commons the Ulster Unionist Members, although they recognised Colonel Edward Saunderson, M.P., as their leader until his death in 1906, did not during his lifetime, or for some years afterwards, constitute a separate party or group. When Colonel Saunderson died the Right Hon. Walter Long, who had held the office of Chief Secretary in the last year of the Unionist Administration, and who had been elected for South Dublin in 1906, became leader of the Irish Unionists—with whom those representing Ulster constituencies were included. But in the elections of January 1910 Mr. Long was returned for a London seat, and it therefore became necessary for Irish Unionists to select another leader.

By this time the Home Rule question had, as the people of Ulster perceived, become once more a matter of vital urgency, although, as explained in the preceding chapter, the electors of Great Britain were too engrossed by other matters to give it a thought, and the Liberal Ministers were doing everything in their power to keep it in the background. The Ulster Members of the House of Commons realised, therefore, the grave importance of finding a leader of the calibre necessary for dealing on equal terms with such orators and Parliamentarians as Mr. Asquith and Mr. John Redmond. They did not deceive themselves into thinking that such a leader was to be found among their own number. They could produce several capable speakers, and men of judgment and good sense; but something more was needed for the critical times they saw ahead. After careful consideration, they took a step which in the event proved to be of momentous importance, and of extreme good fortune, for the enterprise that the immediate future had in store for them. Mr. J.B. Lonsdale, Member for Mid Armagh, Hon. Secretary of the Irish Unionist Parliamentary Party, was deputed to request Sir Edward Carson, K.C., to accept the leadership of the Irish Unionist party in the House of Commons.

Several days elapsed before they received an answer; but when it came it was, happily for Ulster, an acceptance. It is easy to understand Sir Edward Carson's hesitation before consenting to assume the leadership. After carrying all before him in the Irish Courts, where he had been Law Officer of the Crown, he had migrated to London, where he had been Solicitor-General during the last six years of the Unionist Administration, and by 1910 had attained a position of supremacy at the English Bar, with the certain prospect of the highest legal advancement, and with an extremely lucrative practice, which his family circumstances made it no light matter for him to sacrifice, but which he knew it would be impossible for him to retain in conjunction with the political duties he was now urged to undertake. Although only in his fifty-seventh year, he was never one of those who feel younger than their age; nor did he minimise in his own mind the disability caused by his too frequent physical ailments, which inclined him to shrink from embarking upon fresh work the extent and nature of which could not be exactly foreseen. As to ambition, there are few men who ever were less moved by it, but he could not leave altogether out of consideration his firm conviction—which ultimately proved to have been ill-founded—that acceptance of the Ulster leadership would cut him off from all promotion, whether political or legal.[11]

Moreover, although for the moment it was the leadership of a parliamentary group to which he was formally invited, it was obvious that much more was really involved; the people in Ulster itself needed guidance in the crisis that was visibly approaching. Ever since Lord Randolph Churchill, with the concurrence of Lord Salisbury, first inspired them in 1886 with the spirit of resistance in the last resort to being placed under a Dublin Parliament, and assured them of British sympathy and support if driven to that extremity, the determination of Ulster in this respect was known to all who had any familiarity with the temper of her people. Any man who undertook to lead them at such a juncture as had been reached in 1910 must make that determination the starting-point of his policy. It was a task that would require not only statesmanship, but political courage of a high order. Lord Randolph Churchill, in his famous Ulster Hall speech, had said that "no portentous change such as the repeal of the Union, no change so gigantic, could be accomplished by the mere passing of a law; the history of the United States will teach us a different lesson." Ulster always took her stand on the American precedent, though the exemplar was Lincoln rather than Washington. But although the scale of operations was, of course, infinitely smaller, the Ulster leader would, if it came to the worst, be confronted by certain difficulties from which Abraham Lincoln was free. He might have to follow the example of the latter in forcibly resisting secession, but his legal position would be very different. He might be called upon to resist technically legal authority, whereas Lincoln had it at his back. To guide and control a headstrong people, smarting under a sense of betrayal, when entering on a movement pregnant with these issues, and at the same time to stand up against a powerful Government on the floor of the House of Commons, was an enterprise upon which any far-seeing man might well hesitate to embark.

Pondering over the invitation conveyed to him in his Chambers in the Temple, Carson may, therefore, well have asked himself what inducement there was for him to accept it. He was not an Ulsterman. As a Southerner he was not familiar with the psychology of the northern Irish; the sectarian narrowness popularly attributed to them outside their province was wholly alien to his character; he was as far removed by nature from a fire-eater as it was possible for man to be; he was not fond of unnecessary exertion; he preferred the law to politics, and disliked addressing political assemblies. In Parliament he represented, not a popular constituency, but the University of Dublin. But, on the other hand, he was to the innermost core of his nature an Irish Loyalist. His youthful political sympathies had, indeed, been with the Liberal Party, but he instantly severed his connection with it when Gladstone joined hands with Parnell. He had made his name at the Irish Bar as Crown Prosecutor in the troubled period of Mr. Balfour's Chief Secretaryship, and this experience had bred in him a hearty detestation of the whining sentimentality, the tawdry and exaggerated rhetoric, and the manufactured discontent that found vent in Nationalist politics. A sincere lover of Ireland, he had too much sound sense to credit the notion that either the freedom or the prosperity of the country would be increased by loosening the tie with Great Britain. Although he as yet knew little of Ulster, he admired her resolute stand for the Union, her passionate loyalty to the Crown; he watched with disgust the way in which her defences were being sapped by the Liberal Party in England; and the thought that such a people were perhaps on the eve of being driven into subjection to the men whose character he had had so much opportunity to gauge in the days of the Land League filled him with indignation.

If, therefore, he could be of service in helping to avert so great a wrong Sir Edward Carson came to the conclusion that it would be shirking a call of duty were he to decline the leadership that had been offered him. Realising to the full all that it meant for himself—inevitable sacrifice of income, of ease, of chances of promotion, a burden of responsibility, a probability of danger—he gave his consent; and the day he gave it—the 21st of February, 1910—should be marked for all time as a red-letter day in the Ulster calendar.


[9] Lord Randolph Churchill, by the Right Hon. W.S. Churchill, vol. ii, p. 62.

[10] The Times, June 16th, 1892.

[11] He expressed this conviction to the author in 1911.



A good many months were to elapse before the Unionist rank and file in Ulster were brought into close personal touch with the new leader of the Irish Unionist Parliamentary Party. The work to be done in 1910 lay chiefly in London, where the constitutional struggle arising out of the rejection of the "People's Budget" was raging. But shortly before the General Election of December a demonstration was held in the Ulster Hall in Belfast, in the hope of opening the eyes of the English and Scottish electors to the danger of Home Rule. Mr. Walter Long was the principal speaker, and Sir Edward Carson, in supporting the resolution, ended his speech by quoting Lord Randolph Churchill's famous jingling phrase, "Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right."

On the 31st of January, 1911, when the elections were over, he went over from London to preside at an important meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council. The Annual Report of the Standing Committee, in welcoming his succession to Mr. Long in the leadership, spoke of his requiring no introduction to Ulstermen; and it is true that he had occasionally spoken at meetings in Belfast, and that his recent speech in the Ulster Hall had made an excellent impression. But he was not yet a really familiar figure even in Belfast, while outside the city he was practically unknown, except of course by repute. That a man of his sagacity would quickly make his weight felt was never in doubt; but few at that time can have anticipated the extent to which a stranger—with an accent proclaiming an origin south of the Boyne—was in a short time to captivate the hearts, and become literally the idolised leader, of the Ulster democracy.

For the latter are a people who certainly do not wear their hearts on their sleeves for daws to peck at. In the eyes of the more volatile southern Celts they seem a "dour" people. They are naturally reserved, laconic of speech, without "gush," far from lavish in compliment, slow to commit themselves or to give their confidence without good and proved reason.

Opportunity for the populace to get into closer touch with the leader did not, however, come till the autumn. He was unable to attend the Orange celebration on the 12th of July, when the anniversary, which preceded by less than a month the "removal of the last obstacle to Home Rule" by the passing of the Parliament Act, was kept with more than the usual fervour, and the speeches proved that the gravity of the situation was fully appreciated. The Marquis of Londonderry, addressing an immense concourse of Belfast Lodges, stated that it was the first time an Ex-Viceroy had been present at an Orange gathering, but that he had deliberately created the precedent owing to his sense of the danger threatening the Loyalist cause.

It was the first of innumerable similar actions by which Lord Londonderry identified himself whole-heartedly with the popular movement, throwing aside all the conventional restraints of rank and wealth, and thereby endearing himself to every man and woman in Protestant Ulster. There was no more familiar figure in the streets of Belfast. Barefooted street urchins, catching sight of him on the steps of the Ulster Club, would gather round and, with free-and-easy familiarity, shout "Three cheers for Londonderry." He knew everybody and was everybody's friend. There was no aristocratic hauteur or aloofness about his genial personality. He was in the habit of entertaining the whole Unionist Council, some five hundred strong, at luncheon or dinner as the occasion required, when important meetings of the delegates took place. Distinguished political visitors from England could always be invited over without thought for their entertainment, since a welcome at Mount Stewart was never wanting. His financial support of the political movement was equally open-handed.

But, helpful as were his hospitality and his subscriptions, it was the countenance and support of a man who had held high Cabinet office, and especially the great position of Viceroy of Ireland, that made Lord Londonderry's full participation an asset of incalculable value to the cause he espoused. Moreover, while he was always ready to cross the Channel, even if for a few hours only, when wanted for any conference or public meeting, never pleading his innumerable social and political engagements in London or the North of England as an excuse for absence, his natural modesty of character made it easy for him to act under the leadership of another. Indeed, he underrated his own abilities; but there are probably not many men of his prominence and antecedents who, if similarly placed, would have been able to give, without a trace of amour-propre, to a leader who had in former years been his own official subordinate, the consistently loyal backing that Lord Londonderry gave to Sir Edward Carson.

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