In September 1912, nearly half a million Unionist men and women signed the Ulster Covenant. Now, 100 years on from this historic moment, a new Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund documentary from DoubleBand Films explores the dramatic story behind this event which laid the foundations of the political landscape we live in today. The Ulster Covenant, Thursday 27th September at 9pm on BBC One Northern Ireland.
William Crawley attempts to uncover the mysteries, myths and misconceptions surrounding this extraordinary event. The Ulster Covenant was created as a Unionist protest against a Third Home Rule Bill by the House of Commons in Westminster, under Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, which called for a separate parliament in Dublin which would have extensive powers over Irish affairs.
On Saturday, September 28, 1912, almost a quarter of a million Unionist men signed the Covenant while a quarter of a million Unionist women signing its counterpart, the Declaration. These people, from all walks of life in Ireland, vowed to oppose the Third Home Rule Bill ‘by any means necessary’ and legend has it some were so passionate about the cause that they signed their names in their own blood.
The first person to sign their name to the Covenant was the-then unionist leader Edward Carson - perhaps the most famous name synonymous with the Ulster Covenant. But how did Carson, a Dublin barrister and judge, become the leader of Irish Unionism? And what of the other main players in the lead up to the signing of the Ulster Covenant and in the weeks and years afterwards?
The programme explores the involvement of Ulster Unionist MP Captain James Craig who started the Unionist ball rolling; Thomas Sinclair the man responsible for the wording of the Covenant; and Colonel Fred Crawford, the man tasked with arming the militia end of the Covenant story, the Ulster Volunteer Force. And what was Winston Churchill’s involvement in the story?
In this programme William pieces together the events which led up to the event which would change the shape of politics in Ireland and almost led to a bloody civil war. He visits many of the sites used to bring the Ulster Covenant to life; lays his hands on the pen and table used by Carson to sign the Covenant; gets a look at the original documents from the time, including the Third Home Rule Bill and the Covenant itself and the hundreds of thousands of signatures therein.
William also talks to leading historians to discover why exactly unionists were so opposed to the Home Rule Bill; what Nationalists thought of the mass Unionist protest; how some of the actions of leading Unionists were of questionable legality; and how the emergence of the First World War threatened to extinguish all that the Unionists had fought for.
Director of the documentary, Brian Henry Martin, says: "To tell the story of the Ulster Covenant was a thrilling adventure. It is a very dramatic period in our history, those few short years before the First World War, shaped the place we live in today. You cannot understand Northern Ireland without knowing about the events of 1912 and the signing of the Ulster Covenant.
“What is exciting about making history programmes, is that history is so alive here, so relevant, so crucial for us to understand to move forward. The Ulster Covenant was a mystery of history. It was amazing in talking to people, how little they knew about it. We wanted our film to get behind the myth and misconception and reveal the real story."
The Ulster Covenant is a DoubleBand Films production for BBC Northern Ireland part-funded by Northern Ireland Screen's Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund.