COVENANT: Missing page riddle solved

Signed Covenant - Edward Carson
Signed Covenant - Edward Carson

The fate of the first page of the Ulster Covenant which was signed by unionist greats such as Lord Carson has finally been revealed after decades of mystery.

The Ulster Unionist Party revealed yesterday that they think it was destroyed in one of several bomb attacks on their former headquarters at Glengall Street in the 1970s.

Earlier this year there was tension between the Public Records Office and the UUP when it emerged the page was missing.

The Public Records Office has held most of the Covenant documents since the party, then known as the Ulster Unionist Council, deposited the historic documents there in 1959.

But a spokeswoman for the Public Records Office insisted it had never held the first page of the Ulster Covenant.

“The council retained the first page, which was on display in their office for many years,” she said.

“PRONI has a photograph of the first page of the Covenant which has been used on PRONI’s website and in other publications.

“This photograph was not taken by PRONI and would appear to date from the late 1960s. PRONI has no knowledge of the current whereabouts of the first page.”

Earlier this year the Ulster Unionist Party said that it cannot verify this.

However since then the party has been hunting for it as it moved headquarters to Strandtown Hall on the Belmont Road, and discovered that it had indeed been hanging on display in Glengall Street and was destroyed in a bomb attack in the 1970s.

A spokesman for the UUP told the News Letter yesterday: “That page was destroyed in a fire following one of the many bomb attacks on the party’s former Glengall Street headquarters.”

Just under half a million men signed the Covenant and women signed the Declaration 100 years ago tomorrow.

The very first signature placed on the Covenant was by Lord Carson, followed by the eminent politician Lord Londonderry who is best known for introducing the 1902 education act governing how religion was taught in schools.

Also among the elite first 10 to sign the Covenant were Presbyterian moderator Henry Montgomery, Church of Ireland Bishop of Down, Connor and Dromore Charles Frederick D’Arcy, Dean of Belfast Charles Thornton Primrose Grierson, Clerk of the Presbyterian General Assembly Revd Dr William James Lowe, vice president of the Methodist Church in Ireland George W Wedgwood.

Ex-chairman of the Congregational Union William James Hanson was also one of the first ten to sign it, along with the future Northern Ireland Government minister Viscount Castlereagh and South Belfast MP James Chambers.

These notables signed in front of crowds of thousands that gathered at City Hall and filled Donegall Place.

The Ulster Unionist Party moved out of its historic city centre Glengall Street offices in 2001.

It moved to Cunningham House on the Holywood Road in east Belfast where it stayed around eight years until moving to the Albertbridge Road, and most recently to Strandtown Hall on the Belmont Road.