On September 23 1911 in Craigavon on the outskirts of Belfast, the first
great demonstration of Ulster ‘Loyalty’ was held at the residence
of the MP for East Down, Captain James Craig.
Some 50,000 people attended the rally where they were introduced to to Sir Edward Carson who was now the new leader of the Irish Unionist Party. On a platform overlooking Belfast Lough, Carson denounced Home Rules
“The most nefarious conspiracy that has ever been hatched against free people. We must be prepared....the morning Home Rule passes, ourselves to become responsible for the government of a Protestant Province of Ulster”.
The previous July Carson had written to Craig outlining his anxiety on the crisis
“What i am anxious about is that the people over there (Ulster) really mean to resist. I am not going for a mere game of bluff, and unless men are prepared to make great sacrifices which they clearly understand, the task of resistance is of no use. We....will be confronted by many weaklings in our own camp who talk very loud and mean nothing and will be the first to critise us when the moment of action comes”.
Soon after the Ulster day in September, volunteering became a dominant social activity amongst the men of Ulster and so in the autumn of 1912 a programme of meetings was planned to sweep across Protestant Ulster. Carson addressed crowds of men who marched with dummy rifles, drilled, attended church parades, had field manoeuvers and had test mobilisations. At one of these meetings in Enniskillen on September 18, two mounted squadrons of volunteers even provided Carson with an escort.
Sir Edward Carson putting his name first to the Solemn League & Convenant
So on 28 September - designated ‘Ulster Day’- a ‘Solemn League and Covenant’ was signed, pledging Ulster loyalists to defend their ‘cherished position of equal citizenship in the United Kingdom. Carson was the first to put his name to the covenant, followed by Craig. Many men signed in their own blood and loyalist women put their names on a separate declaration. The total number of signatures was 471,414.
Ulsters women signing the 'Ulster Women's Declaration' -
30,000 more women their declaration than men signed their Covenant
Edward Carsons signature on the Solemn League and Covenant