COVENANT Day had arrived in 1962 and Belfast was gearing up for a huge jubilee celebration of the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant.
Fifty years had passed since 471,414 Ulster men and women had pledged to “stand by one another in defending for ourselves and our children our cherished position of equal citizenship in the United Kingdom” – and Belfast was ready to mark this historic milestone with a massive demonstration at Balmoral Showgrounds.
On this day in 1962, the News Letter reported: “Months of planning have gone into preparing for the big event, and now the scene is set. All the overseas visitors have arrived and taken part in pre-Covenant ceremonies.
“Today they will take part in the big parade to Balmoral, where they are to join with Lord Brookeborough, Sir Norman Stronge and Sir George Clark, Grand Master of the Orange Order, in an act of remembrance and dedication.
“As well as the thousands of Belfast people taking part, the Ulster Transport Authority is conveying some 15,000 people from country districts to the city by road and rail.”
St John Ambulance and the British Red Cross would be on duty at Balmoral and along the route. Between them they would have 250 personnel. In addition, five ambulances would be in the showgrounds, with five more along the route, plus two “commando units” complete with walkie-talkie equipment to cope with emergencies.
A last-minute appeal had gone out for anyone who had signed the Covenant, but who had not already been allocated a place in the parade because perhaps they had no ties with the Orange Order, to contact the marshals at Carlisle Circus – he would then be allowed to join with the other signatories at the head of the procession.
A day earlier, Belfast Lord Mayor, Alderman Martin Wallace, had welcomed overseas guests at a reception in City Hall. On display was a Bible, a bugle, inkstands and the framed Covenant itself, set on the Union Jack-draped table which was used in 1912 by Sir Edward Carson to sign the historic document.
In a News Letter editorial entitled “The Covenant Spirit”, the events of Ulster Day 1912 were described as “a great act of dedication” in which almost half-a-million people “deeply conscious of their responsibilities as loyal subjects of the Crown, pledged themselves to do everything in their power to defeat a nefarious conspiracy to deprive them of their rights as British citizens”.
But even now, in 1962, danger still existed for the Ulster loyalist.
“The Irish Republic looks with envious eyes on Ulster’s great industries and virile population, and would pay almost any price to get control of them,” warned the newspaper.
“Loyalists must stand constantly on guard. There is an urgent need for a revival of the spirit which animated the men and women of 1912.”