The Ulster Covenant Explained In Detail

Understanding The Ulster Covenant

The hundredth anniversary of the Ulster Covenant will soon happen in Northern Ireland. This post explains what it was in simple terms and what it meant to the people of Ireland at that time.

Ulster Covenant - Sir Edward Carson

 He was born in Dublin in 1854 and died in 1935.  He was a lawyer by profession and was also a Unionist member of parliament for Dublin University from 1892 - 1918.  He also held a number of positions in Ireland and Britain which included:
  • Solicitor General for Ireland (1900-1905)
  • Attorney General in Britain (1915)
  • First Lord of The Admiralty (1916)

Ulster Covenant
He also served as a member of the war cabinet and from 1918 sat for a Belfast constituency. He was the leader of the Unionist Party from 1910 and was a prominent organiser of the huge campaign against Home Rule in Ireland with his focus on the Ulster Volunteers.

When the Northern Ireland parliament was first established in 1921 he was offered the position of Prime Minister.  He declined this offer as he believed that partition in Ireland was a very bad thing for Unionists. His main belief was that all of Ireland should have remained as a part of the United Kingdom.

He visited Belfast in 1911 and informed a huge audience the Home Rule should be resisted.  He stated that if the Home Rule Bill became law that the Unionist Members of Parliament would set up a government for the nine county province of Ulster.

Carson believed that Redmond would not accept Home Rule for a part of Ireland and that is Ulster opposition was strong enough, then the whole bill would have to be abandoned. He was support in this view by the British Conservative Party who viewed Home Rule as a weakening of the British Empire and that impacted many of the landed classes who still retained property in Ireland.

Carson was referring to the full nine counties of Ulster but he was also referring to the Protestant Ulster despite the fact that Ulster's population was half Catholic.

Understanding the Ulster Covenant - Home Rule

Those in favour of Home Rule wanted a separate Irish Parliament but their campaign was defeated by a number of groups, including many Irish Unionists who wanted to remain under British Rule. This happened as far back as the 1870s and when the Home Rule Bill was presented again in 1911 Carson got thousands of Unionists to sign what was called the, "Ulster Solemn League and Covenant" on 28th September 1912 which firmly opposed the Home Rule Bill.

Carson declared that he regarded the Bill as more a British than an Irish question. He viewed any attempt at passing this Bill as a way to appease Irish Republican violence.

The following year a Protestant militia was raised and became known as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). This militia was raised to oppose by force any moves towards self-government in Ireland.  It did become a force to reckon with when a boat load of arms landed in N.Ireland in 1914.

Despite this resistance, a bill granting Home Rule was passed through parliamentary stages and was only postponed because of the outbreak of the First World War.