36th Ulster Division Memorial Association
Apprentice Boys of Derry
Confederation of Ulster Bands
Democratic Unionist Party
Grand Lodge of Ireland
Independent Loyal Orange Institution
Progressive Unionist Party
Ulster Volunteer Force Memorial Regimental Band Association.
Traditional Unionist Voice
Ulster Bands Association
Ulster Defence Union 1893
Ulster Unionist Party
So what is the purpose of this festival and why is an event called the Balmoral Review being held in Ormeau Park?
To put it simply the Joint Unionist Centenary Committee (JUCC) which consists of members of the Unionist Centenary Committee and Belfast County Orange Order decided that our forefathers opposition to Home Rule was outstanding. It was superbly organised, brought unionism together, won influential support from politicians on the mainland and most importantly was a huge success.
The demonstration held on Easter Tuesday at Balmoral in 1912 was magnificent and the parade was reviewed by dignitaries on the day. The JUCC decided not to hold a festival on Easter Tuesday 2012 for various reasons and selected the 19th May instead. Ormeau Park was chosen due to it’s proximity to central Belfast.
The JUCC wishes to celebrate our forefathers stance against and this for many commenced with the events on the 23rd September 1911 in east Belfast.
The Craigavon Demonstration, 23 September 1911
Anticipating the Parliament Bill reaching the Statute Book before the end of the summer and the struggle with which Irish Unionists would then be confronted, Sir Edward Carson, who had become chairman of the Irish Unionist Parliamentary Party in February 1910, wrote to Captain James Craig, the MP for East Down, in July 1911:
‘What I am anxious about is that the people over there really mean to resist. I am not for a mere game of bluff, and unless men are prepared to make great sacrifices which they clearly understand, the task of resistance is of no use. We... will be confronted by many weaklings in our own camp who talk very loud and mean nothing and will be the first to criticise us when the moment of action comes.’
Carson continued by expressing the strength of his commitment to the Union and the value he attached to Craig’s friendship:
‘Personally I would be prepared to make any sacrifice – my time, business, money or even my liberty if I felt assured we would not in the end be abandoned – I am glad to have so good and true a friend as you are to work with and if we get sufficient help we ought to be able to call a halt.’
In order to reassure Sir Edward that Ulster unionists did indeed mean to resist, Craig set about organizing a huge demonstration at Craigavon House, Craig’s home on the outskirts of east Belfast. It was a superb setting for such an occasion, as Ronald McNeill explained in Ulster’s Stand for Union (London, 1922):
‘The lawn in front of the house, sloping steeply to the shore road, forms a sort of natural amphitheatre offering ideal conditions for out-of-door oratory to an unlimited audience. At the meeting … the platform was erected near the crest of the hill, enabling the vast audience to spread fan-wise over the lower levels, where even the most distant had the speakers clearly in view, even if many of them, owing to the size of the gathering, were unable to hear the spoken word’.
Craig also wished to introduce Carson to rank and file unionists, the people he would lead over the next decade. As a southern Irish Unionist, Carson had very little contact with Ulster up to this point. He had addressed a public meeting in the Ulster Hall in December 1910 during the General Election campaign and he had attended the Ulster Unionist Council, of which he was Vice-President by virtue of his chairmanship of the Irish Unionist Parliamentary Party, on 31 January 1911. When the annual report of the Ulster Unionist Council stated that Carson needed ‘no introduction to Ulstermen’, it was only true in the sense that his formidable legal reputation preceded him.
Craig organized the event meticulously. The day after the Craigavon demonstration Carson wrote to Lady Londonderry that ‘it [the demonstration] was all magnificent and Craig managed everything splendidly’.
The Liberal Unionist Northern Whig wrote that it was ‘the largest demonstration ever mustered in Belfast’, surpassing even the Ulster Unionist Convention of 17 June 1892. The Conservative Belfast News Letter estimated that at least 100,000 people, drawn from the Unionist Clubs and the Orange Institution, were present.
Those attending the Craigavon demonstration paraded to Craig’s home from the city centre. The Whig reported that ‘the order was much closer and the pace better than in an ordinary Twelfth procession’. Edward Pearson of the RIC’s Special Branch was of the opinion that ‘by far the greater number of the men who marched in the procession carried themselves as men who had been drilled, particularly the members of the Unionist Clubs and the Orangemen from Counties Tyrone and Armagh’, an observation of some significance.
The Orangemen of Larne led the parade and they were followed by the Orangemen of Antrim, Ballymena, Londonderry, Carrick, Banbridge, Ballynahinch, Armagh, Bangor, Glenavy, Rathfriland, Ballyroney, Derriaghy and Gilford.
They were followed by members of the Unionist Clubs of Ireland. In all 139 Unionist Clubs were represented. The Unionist Clubs were followed by the ten Belfast Orange Districts, accounting for between 10,000 and 12,000 men. After them came Orangemen from various country districts, including Portadown, Lurgan and Lisburn. The morning was grey and wet but the sun came out in the afternoon. The platform party at Craigavon included Carson, the Earl of Erne (the Grand Master of the Orange Order who chaired the proceedings in the absence of the Duke of Abercorn), Viscount Templetown (the founder of the Unionist Clubs), the Earl of Leitrim (the most prominent Unionist in County Donegal), Thomas Andrews (a leading Liberal Unionist and father of the designer of the Titanic), the Marquess of Hamilton (eldest son of the Duke of Abercorn and MP for the City of Londonderry), Thomas Sinclair (the Liberal Unionist who would draft the text of the Covenant), William Moore MP (the co-founder of the Ulster Unionist Council) and Captain James Craig.
In his opening remarks, the Earl of Erne captured the mood of the meeting by quoting the defiant letter of Gustavus Hamilton, the Governor of Enniskillen in 1689, to ‘divers of the nobility and gentry in the north-east part of Ulster’: ‘We stand upon our guard, and do resolve by the blessing of God to meet our danger rather than await it.’
The Rt Hon. Thomas Andrews, a leading Liberal Unionist, moved a resolution welcoming Carson as their leader. Denouncing the Land League and other illegal societies, and the men who had cheered British reverses during the Boer War, Andrews assured Sir Edward that they would ‘never bow the knee to the disloyal factions led by Mr John Redmond and his colleagues’. The motion was seconded by William Moore, the MP for North Armagh, representing the Conservative wing of the Unionist alliance.
Carson was then presented with a great a number of addresses of welcome from various unionist organizations and the various County Grand Lodges:
Carson’s speech was the highlight of the day’s events. He told his audience that he was entering into ‘a compact, or bargain, with them. He continued, ‘with the help of God, you and I joined together – I giving the best I can, and you giving all your strength behind me – we will yet defeat the most nefarious conspiracy [Home Rule] that has ever been hatched against a free people’. As a covenant is a bargain or agreement, this passage could be viewed as anticipating Ulster’s Solemn League and Covenant.
The Dubliner offered ‘an admirably lucid and forceful’ statement of the Unionist position:
‘Our demand is a very simple one. We ask for no privileges, but we are determined that no one shall have privileges over us. We ask for no special rights, but we claim the same rights from the same Government as every other part of the United Kingdom. We ask for nothing more; we will take nothing less. It is our inalienable right as citizens of the British Empire and Heaven help the men who will try and take it from us.’
In the crucial passage of his speech, Carson told the assembled multitudes at Craigavon: ‘We must be prepared ... the morning Home Rule passes, ourselves to become responsible for the government of the Protestant Province of Ulster’.
Carson’s aim was the comprehensive defeat of Home Rule. He believed that Home Rule was not economically viable without Ulster’s – and more specifically Belfast’s – heavy industry and that John Redmond, the Nationalist leader, and Irish Nationalist opinion would never accept Home Rule with Ulster exclusion. Therefore, Carson was convinced that if he could demonstrate that Ulster Unionists were resolute in their determination to oppose Home Rule, Home Rule would be ‘dead as a stone’. Therefore, this provides the context for Carson’s statement: ‘We must be prepared ... the morning Home Rule passes, ourselves to become responsible for the government of the Protestant Province of Ulster’.
In January 1912 Leo Amery, the newly-elected Unionist MP for South Birmingham, spent two weeks touring of Ireland. In his report to Bonar Law, his party leader, he made it clear that his experience of Ulster suggested that Carson’s speech was not bluff and bluster: He wrote:
‘Ulster I think we can count on absolutely. They are determined from top to bottom … and are quietly working out all their plans for keeping order and carrying on the local administration within their own area … if attacked they will fight …’
The menu cards at Craig’s luncheon party for special guests attending the Craigavon demonstration provided evidence of the serious intent of Ulster Unionists. Each card carried the illustration of crossed rifles and the motto – ‘The Arming of Ulster’. If the menu cards anticipated the Larne gunrunning, Carson’s speech anticipated both the formation of a provisional government and, in effect, the UVF, because the provisional government would require the means to exert its authority. Carson was serving notice on the Government and had the administration listened, the events of the years that followed would not have come as such a surprise to ministers. Ulster Unionists moved rapidly. Having observed Sunday in the conventional way, a commission of five was appointed on the Monday to frame a constitution for a provisional government.
The events of 23 September 1911 had a profound significance;
First, the Craigavon demonstration marked the formal and public beginning of the Ulster Unionist campaign against the third Home Rule bill.
Secondly, if the day did not reveal the blueprint for that campaign, it came remarkably close to doing so because in his speech Carson, either explicitly or implicitly, outlined the course of action Unionists would adopt in the next three years, a fact that Unionism’s opponents stunningly failed to appreciate.
Carson’s speech, if not a blueprint, clearly demonstrated that Unionists possessed a strategy.
Andrew Bonar Law & the Balmoral Demonstration, Easter Tuesday 1912
While Ulster Scots lay claim to seventeen or more Presidents of the United States, to date there has only been one Ulster-Scots Prime Minister of the United Kingdom: Andrew Bonar Law. Law was Prime Minister from 23 October 1922 to 20 May 1923. His short tenure is no reflection on his ability. Ill-health alone curtailed his occupancy of 10 Downing Street. In April 1912 Law was the recently elected leader of the Conservative Party and the Leader of the Opposition. He had been appointed leader in November 1911 in order to restore his party’s electoral fortunes. He could not fail to be conscious of the fact that he was party leader because his predecessor, Balfour, had led the party to defeat in three successive elections and that the Conservatives were unforgiving when it came to electoral failure.
On Easter Tuesday 1912, two days before the introduction of the third Home Rule bill in the House of Commons, Law was the guest of honour at a meticulously planned Ulster unionist demonstration at the Royal Ulster Agricultural Showground at Balmoral. Whereas Winston Churchill’s speech in Celtic Park on 8 February 1912 had an audience of perhaps 5,000 nationalists and liberals, Law was astounded to find himself with an audience of between 100,000 and 200,000, one of the largest political demonstrations in British history. Seventy special trains brought unionists from all over Ulster. Large contingents of unionists and Orangemen marched in formation from the centre of Belfast to Balmoral. Law and Sir Edward Carson were the principal speakers. The Church of Ireland Primate of All Ireland and the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church conducted a religious service. Their presence contributed to the solemnity of the occasion. The presence of seventy Conservative MPs representing English and Scottish constituencies demonstrated that Ulster unionists did not lack influential friends. The largest Union Flag ever woven was dramatically unfurled above the assembled multitudes. The event was designed to impress upon both the Liberal Government and British public opinion the unrelenting opposition of Ulster unionists to Home Rule.
Law spoke eloquently, invoking the siege of Derry as a paradigm for Ulster’s plight, identifying the Parliament Act of 1911 as the equivalent of the boom constructed by the Jacobites across the Foyle during the great siege: ‘You are a besieged city … The Government by their Parliament Act have erected a boom against you, a boom to cut you off from the help of the British people. You will burst that boom. The help will come and when the crisis is over men will say of you in words not unlike those once used by Pitt, “You have saved yourselves by your exertions and you will save the Empire by your example”’.
At the conclusion of his speech, Carson invited every one present to raise their hands and repeat after him: ‘Never under any circumstances will we submit to Home Rule’. Law joined Carson in raising his hand and repeating Carson’s pledge.
At a Unionist demonstration at Blenheim Palace on 29 July 1912 Law went further: ‘I can imagine no length of resistance to which Ulster can go in which I would not be prepared to support them, and in which, in my belief, they would not be supported by the overwhelming majority of the British people’.
Why was Law pledging his party’s unlimited support for Ulster? Law wished to force a General Election on the issue. It was Law’s contention that the Liberal Party had not sought a mandate for Home Rule in three successive General Elections. As a major constitutional issue, Law wished to give the electorate the opportunity to pronounce on the issue. Law also wished to frustrate the operation of the Parliament Act of 1911 and prevent Home Rule becoming law. The Act deprived the House of Lords of its veto, replacing it with only the power to delay. Under the terms of the Act, bills which were passed by the Commons in three successive sessions but which were rejected by the Lords, would automatically receive Royal Assent and become law. The most obvious way to prevent Asquith’s Home Rule bill being passed in three successive sessions in the House of Commons was for Law to secure a dissolution and win a Unionist parliamentary majority at the ensuing election before the Liberals could complete three parliamentary circuits with their Home Rule bill. While historians remain divided on the matter, Law believed he could win an election on the Home Rule issue by placing Ulster at the heart of the campaign.
Despite Law’s rhetoric, his views were essentially moderate and his case reasonable. If Ireland, by virtue of history, religion and race, merited special treatment from the rest of the UK, by the same criteria Ulster differed from the rest of Ireland. Therefore, Ulster merited different treatment from the rest of Ireland. Law also denied the right of the Government to expel loyal and contented citizens from a community to which by birth they belonged and to place them under the rule of a Dublin Parliament. Law believed that Home Rule was not in the best interests of nationalist Ireland but if that was what nationalist Ireland wanted, he would waive his opposition to Home Rule, subject only to the proviso that Ulster should not be subject to Dublin rule.