Thursday, July 05, 2012

Gladstone and an "Ulster Covenant", 1869

In 1869, the Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone "dis-established" the Church of Ireland (see story here). Below is an excerpt from a speech he gave in Parliament that year, where he uses the term "Ulster Covenant", 43 years before the eventual Covenant was created.

Earlier in the debate Benjamin Disraeli outlined a chronology of Established church history in Ulster from 1568 onwards, and of the arrival of the Presbyterian Scots during the reign of King James I. Mr Henry Chaplin, the MP for Mid Lincolnshire*, in what was his maiden speech in the house reinforced the "historical resume" which Mr Disraeli had given and spoke of "...a bargain which had been made with the settlers of Ulster..." and the Convocation of 1634 (see story of the Convocation here).

Gladstone rose and, referring to early 1600s Ulster, and highlighting the status of both Ulster Presbyterians and Irish Catholics, said this:

" would, perhaps, be more convenient to postpone the discussion of that portion of the hon. member's speech relating to what I may call the Ulster Covenant until we come to the amendment in which it is proposed virtually to include the grants of James I, because the amendment upon which we are now engaged would not include them... a covenant may have been made between James I and the Protestant settlers of Ulster in the first place, I know not how those who look down upon the pages of history can think that the bargain has ever been kept as respects the major portion of these Protestant settlers in Ulster - namely, the Presbyterians. And I may also say that from that covenant was absent the men who had a paramount right to be consulted - namely, the men of the Irish nation..."

- Gladstone's speech as reported in The Guardian, 5 May 1869.

The language is a bit tortured, but the use of terminology is interesting. MPs knew Ulster history, understood the difference between the Church of Ireland and Presbyterians, and knew the term 'Covenant'.


* Henry Chaplin's daughter Edith married Charles Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 7th Marquess of Londonderry (of Mount Stewart). Stewart became Leader of the Senate and Minister for Education in the first Northern Ireland government in 1921.


Two interesting Ulster Covenant references, from Canadian newspapers of 1912 (one pro and one anti): -

"...The Ulster Scot may be led; he will not be driven. Home Rule will come by consent, not as a yoke of humiliation for any section of the Irish nation..." - The Lethbridge Daily Herald, Friday 11 October 1912

"...anyone must have been as green as Ireland's justly celebrated grass to take all this foolishness seriously. Only an Ulster Scot who can build a holiday around the doctrine of predestination could swallow it. The stage management of this solemn comedy was too raw..." - the Winnipeg Free Press, 17 October 1912