FOR our generation, the nearest memory we have in scale to the numbers thronging the City Hall on Ulster Day 1912, are the Anti Anglo-Irish Agreement rallies.
Those rallies, and indeed that period in our history, also gave our generation a taste of what Unionist unity means – its potential and its pitfalls. That time of unity required compromises among us. In some unlikely cases it revealed the ugly side of personal ambition and the disease of short-sightedness, while in others it revealed a willingness to put aside their own desires, and with a heart and a half join forces for the greater good.
Ulster Day and the times following, no doubt revealed similar out-workings. Human nature is the same old, same old beast from Eden’s fall until now!
In total 471,414 people signed Ulster’s Solemn League and Covenant. It was a confident and determined man in the person of Sir Edward Carson who put pen to paper first. The Covenant does not make for easy reading, and its pledge did not leave room for light-heartedness. The business of maintaining the Union without the partition of Ireland, had caused Sir Edward Carson to state in 1907: “If you (the British Government) are not prepared to govern Ireland according to the ordinary elemental conditions of civilisation that prevail in every country, then go out of Ireland and leave us to govern ourselves.”
Indeed, the long succession of Secretaries of State we lived through during Direct Rule gives us a deep understanding of that sentiment! Even yet, Ulster is nothing more than a rung on the ladder for English politicians whose heart knowledge of this Province is a void, and their head knowledge of what makes us tick a mere thimble’s worth.
Happy will be the day when Secretaries of State are surplus to requirement. Edward Carson was a life-long Irishman, as well as being a life-long unionist, and that made all the difference.
He was in politics because of Ireland. He cared about the welfare of all classes and creeds, and believed that Ireland was at its best as one unit within the United Kingdom. That prize would not be his and as we know, partition became the reality.
We are all of our time and can only do the best in the circumstances we find ourselves in. We can only lead in the present, but we can prepare for the future.
Carson’s idea for the future of his country did not tally with that held by men like Pearse or Connolly. His leadership was that of a man who was loved by the people, but in the end cast aside by his colleagues. He remains in the hearts of Ulster Unionists because he was a man of the masses, not because he was an establishment figure, and that is a rare gem indeed. There are politician’s politicians, and there are people’s politicians. The former are two a-penny, the latter are one a century. That is why it is Lord Carson who stands on Stormont’s hill, and that is why Ulster and Carson are forever synonymous. On this 28th day of September, 100 years after his pen touched parchment, we salute the man who taught us all how to be true Irishmen and women.