Up to 30,000 set for unionist Ulster Covenant centenary parade


UP TO 30,000 people and several thousand more spectators are expected to march in and watch a Belfast Orange Order parade today marking the centenary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant which Peter Robinson last night described as perhaps the most important day in the history of unionism.

While there is still some security anxiety around the parade there was hope last night that a decision by the Orange Order and nationalist protesters to observe a Parades Commission ruling relating to a feeder parade would ensure a relatively trouble-free day.

After alleged sectarian incidents by loyalist bands outside St Patrick’s Church in Donegall Street during the summer, the order said it would abide by a commission determination that bands only play sacred music when passing the church.

A resident of the area failed in a judicial review at Belfast High Court yesterday challenging the commission’s ruling. He sought a ruling that the bands only play a single drumbeat past the church.

Mr Justice Treacy in his decision upholding the commission’s determination said: “Troubled waters that have been calmed should not be disturbed by such futile judicial reviews.”

Orange Order leaders said they were determined that the commemoration of the 1912 signing of the anti-Irish Home Rule Ulster Covenant should be a success. The commission gave permission for 150 members of the local nationalist Carrick Hill Concerned Residents group to stage a protest against the parade outside the church today.

The main security concern is that dissident republicans might seek to exploit tensions around the parade. The chairman of the Carrick Hill group, Frank Dempsey, said he did not want people from outside the area joining the protest. Nationalists would stage a “dignified” protest, he said.

Orange Order leaders estimate that between members of the various loyal orders plus the membership of up to 200 bands who are participating, there could be 25,000-30,000 marching today – with many thousands more spectators along the main six-mile parade route from Belfast City Hall to Stormont.

The Ulster Covenant was actually signed on Ulster Day, September 28th, 1912. Today was chosen for the commemorative parade to facilitate a larger attendance of members of the different loyal orders such as the Orange Order, the Royal Black Institution and the Apprentice Boys of Derry.

The centenary calendar date for Ulster Day, however, was marked with a grand dinner in the conference room of the new Titanic Belfast building jointly hosted by the leaders of the Democratic Unionist Party and the Ulster Unionist Party, First Minister Peter Robinson and Mike Nesbitt.

Mr Robinson said unionists were coming together this weekend to “rejoice in the memory of the generation of men and women who saved the union for Ulster, and who ensured the British birthright that we all enjoy today”.

“In unionist history there is perhaps no more important event than the signing of the Ulster Covenant and the resistance to Home Rule,” he said.


In April 1912 constitutional nationalism appeared about to achieve its greatest triumph with the publication of the third Home Rule Bill at Westminster. But its leader John Redmond did not fully reckon how strong the resistance in unionist parts of Ulster would be.

Unionists led by James Craig and the so-called uncrowned king of Ulster Edward Carson, even before publication of the Bill, were preparing to rally against Home Rule. In 1910 Carson pledged himself to become leader of Irish unionists and to resist Home Rule “whatever may happen”.

The campaign of mass rallies in the north of Ireland culminated in Ulster Day on September 28th, 1912, when Carson led almost half a million unionists in opposing Home Rule by signing Ulster’s Solemn League and Covenant. This pledged that unionists would use “all means” to defeat Home Rule. On that date 100 years ago 237,368 men signed the covenant while 234,046 women signed a similar declaration. Unionists led by Carson demonstrated that they would resist Home Rule even up to civil war in Ireland – a threat that only receded with the outbreak of the first World War.