Ulster Covenant: Tyrone communities unite to make clear their resolve
The signing of the Covenant is usually associated with Belfast. But the scenes in east Tyrone were more dramatic, says Gordon Lucy
Although the signing of the Covenant conjures up images of huge crowds outside the City Hall in Donegall Square and Donegall Place, in its own way the signing of the Covenant in small rural communities was even more impressive than the scenes in Ulster’s capital, a point made by Violet Martin – ‘Martin Ross’, the co-author of Some Experiences of an Irish R.M. – writing in The Spectator.
She had observed the Covenant being signed in an unfortunately unnamed village in south Londonderry and was greatly impressed by ‘the unadorned and individual action of those who had left their fields, and taken their lives and liberties in their hands laying them forth in the open sunshine as the measure of their resolve.’
Roman Catholic unionists, such as Denis Henry, the future MP for South Londonderry and Northern Ireland’s first Lord Chief Justice, appear to have chosen not to sign the Covenant or Declaration. So therefore if we consider only the Protestant population of individual counties, as revealed by the Census of 1911, it is possible to ascertain that the percentage response to the Covenant was strongest in Counties Armagh, Tyrone and Monaghan and that, in percentage terms, the response in every Ulster county surpassed that of Belfast.
What follows is intended to convey something of the flavour of Ulster Day in some venues in east Tyrone, although strictly speaking Castlecaufield was in the then parliamentary constituency of South Tyrone.
In Dungannon the streets were gaily decorated with Union Jacks, which were displayed from all Unionist dwellings and business premises and from the Protestant churches. All business was suspended from 1:30 pm for several hours, and at 2:00 pm services were held in all the Protestant churches, attracting large congregations.
In the Parish Church the address was given by Revd T. J. McEndoo, the rector, while both Presbyterian churches held a united service in the First Presbyterian Church, at which Revd Samuel Lindsay was the preacher. The service in the Methodist Church was conducted by Revd R. J. Elliott, and in the Baptist Church by Pastor Thomas Warwick. The services concluded at practically the same moment, and all the congregations proceeded to four different centres to sign the Covenant. The fifth Earl and Countess of Ranfurly and Lady Agnes Daniell, the daughter of the third Earl, were amongst the first to do so, but Viscount Northland, the Earl of Ranfurly’s eldest son who was to become a leading light in the Tyrone UVF, was confined to bed in London by an attack of influenza.
Mr D. D. Reid BL, the Unionist candidate for East Tyrone (and a future leader of the Ulster Unionist MPs at Westminster), was also unable to attend through illness, but Mrs Reid journeyed to Dungannon and signed the Women’s Declaration.
Altogether twenty-six tables were requisitioned, and an expert staff was busily engaged until late. 2,590 people signed the Covenant and Declaration in Dungannon: 1,278 men and 1,312 women. Some of those who signed had never previously shown any interest in politics
A united service was also held in held in the Parish Church at Castlecaufield. The service was conducted by Revd J. R. Sides, the Rector, and Revd R. McClean, his Presbyterian counterpart.
Mr A. L Horner, the MP for South Tyrone, attended and afterwards signed the Covenant. The Covenant was signed in the vestibule of the Church on a piece of furniture made of wood derived from a pulpit used by Revd George Walker, a former rector of Castlecaufield and a hero of the Siege of Derry.
Although it was the height of the harvest season, unionist farmers and farm labourers took the afternoon off. Well-drilled members of the Unionist Clubs marched through the town. 440 men signed the Covenant and 407 women signed the Declaration. The arrangements for the signing of the Covenant and Declaration were undertaken by J. A. Patterson, Vincent Acheson, W. S. Bennett and Colonel Brown and an enthusiastic band of assistants.
In Cookstown at 3:00 pm a united service was held in the First Presbyterian Church, which was conducted by Revd D. Maybin and at which Revd John Entrician of Molesworth Street Church preached. A united choir led the praise service, which consisted of the hymn, ‘O God our help in ages past’, and the 46th Psalm, ‘God is our refuge and strength’. J. S. Crothers, Tunisten House, presided at the organ. The preacher took his text from 2nd Corinthians, chapter 1: ‘God, who delivered us, in whom we trust that He will deliver us, ye also helping by prayer’. After the service the entire congregation proceeded to the Assembly Rooms, where men signed the Covenant and women the Declaration. Messrs Lavery and Scott, secretaries of the Unionist Club, supervised the arrangements. In some cases, the signatories brought special pens with them, purchased for the occasion, which they intend to keep as souvenirs.
At 7:00 pm a service was held in the Parish Church, at which Revd F.M. Moeran officiated. He took Nehemiah 9:38 as his text: ‘And because of all this we make a sure covenant, and write it, and our princes and Levites and priests seal unto it’. At the conclusion of the service, the congregation proceeded to the Orange Hall, where the Covenant and Declaration were signed. In Cookstown 2,193 people signed the two documents: 1,069 men and 1,124 women.
A large congregation attended the service in Sandholes Presbyterian Church on Sunday afternoon. Captain E.L.B. Lowry, Rockdale, H M Vice-Lieutenant for County Tyrone, read the lesson, Nehemiah 1. A brief address was given by Revd Dr John Logan. At the close of his address, Dr Logan read the Covenant, and the large congregation signified their assent by standing up and raising their right hand. The Covenant and Declaration were then signed by 262 men and 216 women respectively. Mr T. Macgregor Greer JP of Tullylagan Manor, a leading east Tyrone Unionist, took photographs of those attending the service in different groups in front of the church afterwards.
Gordon Lucy has compiled and written The Ulster Covenant, which has just been published by Colourpoint. He is the author of Schomberg (2004) and The Great Convention (1995). He has co-edited (with John Erskine) Varieties of Scottishness (1995), which examines the relationship between Ulster and Scotland, and (with Elaine McClure) The Twelfth: What it means to me (1997), Remembrance (1997) and Cool Britannia? What Britishness means to me (1999).