Exhibition remembers Ulster Covenant


A BELLEEK chamber pot with William Gladstone as the “target”, a chair owned by James Connolly and German rifles smuggled for the UVF are among dozens of artefacts going on show today at Belfast’s Ulster Museum.

It is all part of an exhibition commemorating the centenary of the Ulster Covenant.

Entitled The Ulster Crisis: Irish Home Rule and the Ulster Covenant, the exhibition takes in the turbulent years of the campaign for Home Rule and the birth of Ulster unionism. It also looks at how the workers’ movement and the nascent women’s movement fed into the zeitgeist of pre-partition Ireland.

The exhibition will run until 2014, when it will merge with a redeveloped modern history section at the museum, to include a major focus on the anniversary of the first World War.

The memorabilia includes postcards, pamphlets, posters and photographs from the pro- and anti-Home Rule movements.

Among the most amusing postcards is one of “Belfast Under Home Rule”, depicting the City Hall physically disintegrating, with livestock and fowl grazing in the grounds. Elsewhere, a glass tumbler bears the motto: “It seems to us as clear as glass the Home Rule Bill will never pass”.

On the nationalist side of the battle for hearts and minds, a souvenir jug is painted with the image of John Redmond, the Waterford MP and leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party. The Gaelic Revival is well represented by a linen coat collar embroidered with shamrocks by one Lily Yeats, the sister of poet W B Yeats.

A white, wooden chair – on which labour leader James Connolly, who lived in Belfast from 1911-1913. apparently stood when addressing crowds – looks so unassuming it seems out of place among all the propaganda, but is the more memorable for it.

There are original copies of the Ulster Covenant, which 237,000 men signed in the run-up to September 28th, 1912. Almost the same amount of women signed a parallel declaration.

Head of history at the museum, William Blair, said he was most proud of the way in which the exhibition “reflected the diversity of opinion”. “Good history is inclusive and through this exhibition you can see how intertwined our history is.

“You can’t understand unionism without nationalism, and vice versa. Here, you can see some of the DNA of the society we know today. It also reflects the delicious ironies of the period. For example, the hostile reaction Churchill got from unionists when he visited Belfast in 1912. Or the fact that 25,000 rifles were smuggled from Germany and Austria to arm Ulstermen fighting for allegiance to the British crown.”

A parallel online exhibition, with about 1,000 images, is available at nmni.com