Were your ancestors among the nearly 500,000 who signed the Ulster Covenant or the Ulster Declaration against Home Rule in Ireland in 1912?
Hundreds of thousands of people gathered on 28 September 1912 to show their opposition to Home Rule in Ireland. Men signed the “Solemn Covenant”, and women signed a “Declaration” in their support. The majority of signatories were resident in what is now Northern Ireland, but some came from elsewhere in Ulster or Ireland, as well as abroad in Britain and throughout the Empire.
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When the third Irish Home Rule Bill was brought to Parliament in Westminster it generated widespread opposition and protest among those in Ireland committed to the Union. Irish Unionists mostly resided in the province of Ulster (the north most of the four Irish provinces). Under the leadership of Sir Edward Carson and Sir James Craig, the Ulster Unionists arranged queues of men and women to sign the document on 28 September 1912. Signatures were gathered from all over Ireland, Britain and further afield, but mostly in the province of Ulster. 237,368 men signed the covenant and 234,046 women signed the declaration, making it one of the most significant political events in Ireland at the time. While it was dismissed as “meaningless nonsense” by Irish nationalists, Ulster Unionists retained significant support at Westminster, especially among the Conservative Party, who arranged their own petition against the Irish Home Rule Bill the following year which attracted over 2 million signatures throughout Britain.
Nonetheless the Home Rule bill made its way through Parliament, and the Ulster Unionists clubs began raising an armed militia of 100,000 men to defend the Union in January 1913 known as the Ulster Volunteer Force. They were the first group to arm themselves in large numbers in Ireland in the 20th century and were joined months later by the Irish Volunteers who pledged to defend Home Rule. While the Home Rule Bill was delayed first in the House of Lords, and then by the outbreak of World War One, it was passed into law as the Home Rule Act 2014. By the time the War was over the political temperature in Ireland had changed utterly, both as a consequence of that conflict where more than 49,000 Irishmen lost their lives, and the 1916 Rising in Dublin which changed political opinion in Nationalist Ireland in favour of outright independence.