Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 23 November 2014

Covenant table under the spotlight

Belfast City Hall tour guide Dianne Leeman with the Covenant table, which is set to take centre stage at Belfast City Hall this year
Belfast City Hall tour guide Dianne Leeman with the Covenant table, which is set to take centre stage at Belfast City Hall this year

A rather basic table is set to take centre stage at Belfast City Hall as the building marks the centenary of one of its most significant events.

This year will see the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant - the famous Unionist protest against efforts to introduce Home Rule in Ireland. Unionist leader Sir Edward Carson was the first to sign the petition and almost half a million people followed him.

The wooden table upon which the renowned barrister and firebrand politician leant as he inked the document inside City Hall will be one of the most viewed pieces of furniture in the building this year.

But for all its historic significance, City Hall tour guide Dianne Leeman concedes it is not the prettiest table in the world.

"The Covenant table was used by all the dignitaries - Lord Carson and the dignitaries - to sign on," she said.

"It was very late in the day they discovered they hadn't got a large enough centre piece for this use and it was made quickly and roughly by craftsmen from the ship yard specifically for the signing.

"There are lots of myths about it - stories went about around the city that it was lost in City Hall and found in that awful condition but it always looked like that, it was made so quickly and roughly. At the time of the signing they draped it with a huge Union flag and the purpose really was to camouflage the table and make it look better."

The table now sits at the back of the main council chamber.

While interest in the table will peak in the autumn, Mrs Leeman revealed that an important guest has already asked to see it.

"The Taoiseach visited City Hall on November 29 and that was one of the particular artefacts in the building he specifically asked to see and he had a great knowledge of the event," she said.

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