Wednesday, January 04, 2012

1798 and The Ulster Covenant

2012 will be a year of important events - in Northern Ireland the centenary of the launch of the Titanic looks like the biggest event here, but later in the year there will also be the centenary of The Ulster Covenant. Below is an old photo I came across recently, which shows Lord Templetown signing the Covenant (presumably in Belfast) on a military drum from 1798, thereby invoking the ghosts of a century before. The family's Wikipedia entry says that the next Lord Templetown also had a role in Scotland - he was a member of the county council of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright.

Today, 1798 is a story that still needs to be told, to preserve it from propagandists and also from over-simplification. Over the past few weeks I've been reading "Ireland and Scotland in the Age of Revolution" by Elaine McFarland - an excellent "east-west" telling of the links between Ulster and Scotland in the run-up to 1798, and its aftermath. I'm not sure if it is still in print, but if you are interested in the story I can highly recommend it as a refreshing break from the usual Hibernocentric viewpoint that is so dominant. This book - Rebellions: Memoir, Memory and 1798 by Tom Dunne - is another perspective, telling of how the bicentenary of 1798 was deliberately skewed and mishandled. I haven't read it, but might be worth picking up. [The three point summary at the bottom of the article is particularly apt].


UPDATE: Thanks to Robert, who has done some more digging and has pointed out that on the PRONI website you can see that Templetown signed at the family seat of Castle Upton near Templepatrick, not in Belfast as incorrectly stated in the publication I scanned the photo from. The 36th Ulster Division trained on the estate there, and it is also of course where a man of an earlier generation of people bound together by a Covenant, Rev Josias Welsh (John Knox's grandson) was buried. On the same sheet you'll see the signature of an Alexander Peden! 1301 people signed at Castle Upton, which was one of 20 signing locations in East Antrim alone.

NB: I wonder if a fuller, uncropped, version of the photograph might reveal that the long wooden shaft lying across the table in front of the drum was a 1798 Battle of Antrim pike - thereby uniting the people of both drum and pike, implacable opponents in 1798, in common cause in 1912? Now that would be an interesting bit of symbolism.