King George V opens the Ulster Parliament

Royal yacht arrives in Belfast Lough (June 1921)

Monday, 3rd May 2021, 4:00 pm
View from top floor window of building on corner of Castle Place and Royal Avenue showing crowds watching the Royal Procession approaching the City Hall for the state opening of the first Northern Ireland Parliament 22 June 1921, with people sitting on window ledge. Catalogue number:BELUM.Y22657. Robert John Welch, (1859-1936), © National Museums NI, Collection Ulster Museum

June 22, 1921, was a day of much pageantry in Northern Ireland as King George V travelled to the province to open parliament. Before the pomp and glory of the official reception the King George V and Queen Mary had already had experienced the welcome of Belfast, for the task of bringing the Royal yacht to Donegall Quay had been entrusted to the Harbour Commissioners’ tender, the Musgrave.

The News Letter reported: “It was not the most spectacular the many functions the day, but it was one of the most important. ”

At eight o’clock, “with a drizzling rain both sides of the lough”, the Musgrave left her moorings at the Albert Quay on her journey to where the Victoria and Albert lay guarded by battleship and destroyers.

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Belfast Museum and Art Gallery, laying of foundation stone by HRH the Duke of York. Catalogue number: BELUM.Y4135. AR Hogg, © National Museums NI, Collection Ulster Museum

The harbour itself had strange air stillness over it, for the shipyards, which would have normally resounded to “the clang of hammers on steel” were silent, and the ships quays looked deserted.

With the ease of long experience and expert knowledge, Captain Porter of the Musgrave ran his vessel alongside the Vectus, and the pilot, Mr John Gillespie, stepped on board.

Swinging round, the Musgrave headed for the Victoria and Albert.

Shortly after eleven o’clock the Royal yacht steamed up behind the Musgrave and the three escorting destroyers to the entrance to the harbour, and when the stately vessel came to its berth at Donegall Quay, and the Royal Standard was broken on the quay, the guns of the land battery commenced to thunder forth the Royal salute.

‘A right royal day’

“Yesterday was a right royal day in Belfast,” declared the News Letter’s editorial on Thursday, June 23, 1921, the day after the opening of the Northern Ireland Parliament by His Majesty King George V.

The editorial added: “With their King and Queen in their midst, the people gave themselves up to a demonstration of loyalty and affection that must have touched the deepest feelings of their Majesties. It was not so much the tumult of the cheering of the solid masses that ran along the line of the Royal procession that was impressive; rather was it the marvellous order, if the multitudes had imposed on themselves discipline that was almost military in its unanimity.

“It was as if everyone had taken upon himself and herself vow that nothing should occur that might tend to disturb the harmony and joy of the day. The result was that all the elaborate arrangements for the reception of their Majesties fitted into each other perfectly, and the proceedings of the whole day passed off with a success that was unmarred and that will leave nothing but happy memories behind it.”

The King’s Speech

Addressing the members of the Northern Ireland Senate and House of Commons in Belfast City Hall the King urged conciliation.

With all those in attendance standing the King said: “For all who love Ireland, as I do with all my heart, this a profoundly moving occasion in Irish history. My memories of the Irish people date back to the time when spent many happy days in Ireland as a midshipman.

“My affection for the Irish people has been deepened by the successive visits since that time, and I have watched with constant sympathy the course of their affairs.

“I could not have allowed myself to give Ireland by deputy alone my earnest prayers and good wishes in the new era which opens with this ceremony, and I have therefore come in person, as the Head of the Empire, to inaugurate this Parliament on Irish soil.

“I inaugurate it with deep-felt hope, and I feel assured that you will do your utmost to make it an instrument of happiness and good government for all parts the community which you represent.

“This is a great and critical occasion in the history of the Six Counties, but not for the Six Counties alone, for everything which interests them touches Ireland, and everything which touches Ireland finds an echo the remotest parts of the Empire.

“Few things are more earnestly desired world than a that every man of Irish birth, whatever be his creed and wherever be him home, should work in loyal co-operation with the free communities on which the British Empire is based.

“I am confident that the important matters entrusted to the control and guidance of the Northern Parliament will be managed with wisdom and with moderation, with fairness and due regard to every faith and interest, and with no abatement of that patriotic duty to the Empire which you proved gallantly in the Great War.

The King concluded by saying: “For this the Parliament of the United Kingdom has in the fullest measure provided the powers; for this the Parliament of Ulster is pointing the way. The future lies in the hands of my Irish people themselves.

“May this historic gathering be the prelude of a day which the Irish people. North and South, under one Parliament or two, as those Parliaments may themselves decide, shall work together in common love for Ireland upon sure foundations of mutual justice and respect.”