Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ulster 1912 - Part One

I've been thinking about the recently-announced Titanic visitor centre in Belfast, which is due to be completed and opened in 2012 to coincide with the centenary of the ship's fateful launch and voyage. It was a momentous year for our wee country. The young CS Lewis had left his leafy East Belfast home four years previously for boarding school in England, returning regularly to his home city as she blossomed into a world industrial centre, and then a hotbed of political unrest.

By the end of the year, 500,000 people had signed the Ulster Covenant and Edward Carson had finalised his plans to establish the Ulster Volunteer Force. My own great-grandfather and his brothers signed it in Troon in Ayrshire (they must have been over there for the annual "Scotch Harvest"). You can search the Ulster Covenant database for your own ancestors signatures here.

Four famous pieces of creative writing summarise the Ulster experience of 1912, two poems and two hymns. Here are the two poems:

1. Ulster 1912 by Rudyard Kipling

The dark eleventh hour
Draws on and sees us sold
To every evil power
We fought against of old.
Rebellion, rapine, hate,
Oppression, wrong and greed
Are loosed to rule our fate,
By England’s act and deed.

The Faith in which we stand,
The laws we made and guard,
Our honour, lives, and land
Are given for reward
To Murder done by night,
To Treason taught by day,
To folly, sloth, and spite,
And we are thrust away.

The blood our fathers spilt,
Our love, our toils, our pains,
Are counted us for guilt,
And only bind our chains.
Before an Empire’s eyes
The traitor claims his price.
What need of further lies?
We are the sacrifice.

We asked no more than leave
To reap where we had sown,
Through good and ill to cleave
To our own flag and throne.
Now England’s shot and steel
Beneath that flag must show
How loyal hearts should kneel
To England’s oldest foe.

We know the war prepared
On every peaceful home,
We know the hells declared
For such as serve not Rome—
The terror, threats, and dread
In market, hearth, and field—
We know, when all is said.
We perish if we yield.

Believe, we dare not boast,
Believe, we do not fear
We stand to pay the cost
In all that men hold dear.
What answer from the North?
One Law, one Land, one Throne
If England drive us forth
We shall not fall alone!

2. The Blue Banner by W F Marshall
(Like many of his generation, Marshall took the Covenant imagery of 1638 and applied it to the Ulster experience of 1912 - a the time he was assistant minister at First Ballymacarrett Presbyterian Church in Belfast. This poem was printed in the Northern Whig on Ulster Day 28th September 1912 and would have been read by many thousands throughout Ulster as they made their way to sign the Ulster Covenant. Marshall even uses the Scots word "leal" rather than the English "loyal")

Firm-leagued we face the future, tho’ the road be dark and steep,
The road that leads to honour is the lonely road we keep,
And, though all the world forsake us, this is the course we hold,
The course our fathers followed in the Cov’nant days of old.

We fain would look for comfort to the land from whence we came,
Where still abide our kith and kin and clansmen of our name,
Where lives were deemed of small account by valiant men and true,
For Christ, His Crown, His Cov’nant and the war-worn folds of blue.

Long years have been and faded since the old-time banner waved,
See! How it flashes once again ere dangers must be braved,
The Cov’nant oath we now will swear that Britain may be told,
We stand for faith and freedom and the memories of old.

For all they died for gladly in the homeland o’er the sea,
For blood-won rights that still are ours as Ulsterborn and free,
For the land we came to dwell in, and the martyr’s faith we hold -
God grant we be as leal to these as were the men of old!