September 28th, 1912


FROM THE ARCHIVES:This editorial appeared on “Ulster Day”, Saturday, September 28th, 1912, when the Ulster Covenant was signed. – JOE JOYCE

IN IRELAND the word “historic” is soiled by so much ignoble use that is has acquired a dubious meaning.

Without any danger, however, we can apply it, in its fullest and most exact sense, to the events of to-day in Ulster. Ulster Day will be historic within the limit of its twenty-four hours; beyond that limit it may affect, far into the future, the currents of national and Imperial history. To-day in the great city of Belfast, and in every other city, town, and hamlet of Ulster, men will sign their names to a solemn Covenant. The Unionists of Ulster – the most purposeful and virile community in the British Empire – will pledge themselves to-day to resist, by every means in their power, the enforcement of the Imperial Government’s chief measure of legislation for the present Session.

The Home Rule Bill will only be imposed on Ulster at the cost of civil war. This is a terribly grave situation – so grave that the men who are responsible for it have not dared to look it in the face. They say, and their newspapers say, that the thing is a huge joke, that Ulster is “bluffing.” If this is a genuine delusion, it is a tragic delusion. If these Radical [ie Liberal Party] and Nationalist politicians do not really believe what they say, they are guilty of a fearful crime against the nation’s peace. But whatever these men do, or do not, believe, the Ulster demonstrations have served an invaluable purpose. They have convinced every open mind in the United Kingdom that the men who sign the Covenant to-day will keep their word.

That is the only fact that counts. They may be right or wrong, loyal or disloyal, patriots or rebels; but they have taken a course, and nothing will turn them from it. Nobody can read Sir Edward Carson’s speech, in the Ulster Hall last night, without realising that he is desperately in earnest. The men who follow him are desperately in earnest, too. The wild and stern enthusiasm which hailed King William’s flag was no artificial outburst – it leaped the long distance between the seventeenth and the twentieth centuries. It spelt resolution fanaticism, if you will and superb self-confidence. [ . . . ]

Even if the Bill drags its way through the long delays of the next two years . . . there remains the grim Veto of Unionist Ulster. With what heart will Ministers prolong a farce that is destined to such a tragic ending? We do not mean the tragic ending of civil war, for civil war, as Mr Balfour says, is impossible. We mean the end – tragic enough for the Government – of a General Election. That will be the only alternative to civil war, and the country will . . . take it. Once the voice of the people has spoken, loyalty will cease to be a crime in Ulster. To-day, therefore, the men of Ulster will sign the solemn Covenant with cheerful hearts. They are ready for the worst, but may hope with every confidence for the best. The back of the great conspiracy is already broken.