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
Early 20th-century Belfast was one of the major industrial powerhouses of the world. The city boasted the greatest shipyard, rope works, tobacco factory, linen mill, dry dock and tea machinery works in the world. Saturday was then a normal working day but on Saturday, September 28, 1912 the industrial heart of the great city was still: the great shipyards were silent; the looms were idle in the linen mills; the rope works and foundries were deserted.
At 11am in over one hundred well-attended church services across Belfast, congregations sang, as was appropriate in a time of national crisis, O God our help in ages past.
In the Ulster Hall, in the Assembly Hall, in the Grosvenor Hall, similar services were being held. Carson and the Unionist leadership stood together at the Ulster Hall and, before God and the people, dedicated themselves for the coming struggle.
When at noon the religious services ended, Carson and the Unionist leaders walked along Bedford Street from the Ulster Hall to the City Hall, preceded by the Boyne Standard and a smartly turned-out guard of men wearing bowler hats and carrying batons.
Major Frederick Crawford, one of the few who would sign the Covenant in his own blood, commanded the guard. Crawford was a man of earnest intent: he meant business, as the Larne gunrunning was to demonstrate.
There was no cheering; there was no frivolity. All was solemnity as Carson passed through the throng.
The Unionist leaders were welcomed by the Lord Mayor and the 52 Unionist members of the Corporation and were led across the great marble vestibule to a large round table appropriately draped with a Union Flag. As photographic shutters snapped and cinema handles turned, Carson stepped forward and solemnly signed the Covenant. He was followed by Lord Londonderry and then by representatives of the Protestant Churches, the Belfast Unionist MPs, members of the local public bodies, and the officers of the Ulster Unionist Council and of the Grand Orange Lodge.
At one o'clock the gates of the City Hall were thrown open and the large crowds which had assembled and filled Donegall Place and Donegall Square surged forward eager to append their signatures, to bind their fate to that of their fellow Ulstermen.
Lines of desks stretching for a third of a mile along the corridors of the City Hall allowed 540 signatures to be taken simultaneously. The signing went on unceasingly until eleven o'clock that night.
However impressive the scenes at Belfast City Hall, they should never be allowed to obscure the fact that the Covenant was signed elsewhere: in other venues in Belfast; in the towns and villages of Ulster; from the shores of south Donegal to the Ards Peninsula; from the drumlins of Co Cavan to the rugged coast of north Antrim. Within Ulster the Covenant was signed at some 500 centres.
The people of rural Ulster were no less enthusiastic than their urban fellow citizens. In the Unionist heartland the Covenant was signed almost to a man.
Elsewhere the climate was less friendly: defying the threats of their nationalist neighbours, the Unionists in Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal signed the Covenant.
Hugh Godley (the future 2nd Lord Kilbracken) in a letter to his friend Violet Asquith, the Prime Minister’s daughter, wrote: “All the people I have talked to of whatever station, from the Archbishop of Armagh to the boy who weeds the garden, are passionately anti-Home Rule. They really think that if it passes there will be a serious rising in Ulster … It is very difficult till one gets among them to realise that all these deep feelings are not merely invented by politicians for party purposes.”
Nationalists dismissed Ulster Day as a “silly masquerade”.
Nationalists claimed that most of the signatories had never bothered to read the document; even of those who had bothered, most would not have understood it. The few who had both read and understood the document had little intention of honouring their pledge. Events were to prove the nationalists comprehensively wrong. The ordinary people of Ulster clearly did value their “cherished position of equal citizenship within the United Kingdom” and “civil and religious freedom”.
Fifty-six men were signatories to the American Declaration of Independence in 1776. However, in 1912 virtually an entire community put their signatures to the Ulster Covenant. In Ulster, 218,206 men signed the Covenant; and 228,991 women signed a parallel declaration associating themselves with the men “in their uncompromising opposition to the new Home Rule Bill now before parliament”.
A further 19,162 men and 5,055 women of Ulster birth signed in Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow, York, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Bristol.
By the end of Ulster Day, Ulster’s people had demonstrated their resolve to the British Parliament, to the rest of the British people and to the world. The Times opined that the events of Ulster Day brought to a close “a fortnight memorable in the history of Ulster” and remarked that “the impression left on the mind of every competent observer is that of a community absolutely united in its resistance to the act of separation with which it is threatened”.