Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Ulster Day

Yesterday was 28 September and the 97th anniversary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant on Ulster Day, 28 September 1912. To mark the occasion the Ulster-Scots Community Network organised an event in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings.

There were three short talks and these explained the background to the Ulster Covenant, the reasons why unionists opposed home rule, and the events of Ulster Day in1912.

I welcomed the guests to the event and said that it was most appropriate for the USCN to hold such an event. The Ulster Covenant was inspired by the old Scottish Covenants and many of the key figures such as James Craig, Thomas Sinclair and Fred Crawford were proud of their Ulster-Scots ancestry and identity.

I also noted that my maternal grandfather had signed the Covenant in Coatbridge in Scotland, although he was from Poyntzpass, while my wife's greatgrandfather, who was from Belfast, signed it in Port Glasgow Orange Hall.

The talks were complemented by numerous illustrations on a large screen, by the reading of poems written by Rudyard Kipling and W F Marshall and by the singing of the psalm that was the basis for Ulster's battle hymn 'O God our help in ages past'.

As we approach the centenary of the Ulster Covenant there is good reason to see it as not merely an historical document but also an inspirational document, for it embodies such sound principles as ' equal citizenship' and 'civil and religious liberty'.

We are approaching a decade of centenaries, from the centenary of the Ulster Covenant in 2012 to the centenary of Northern Ireland in 2021. I intend therefore to convene a meeting of some of the arms-length bodies associated with my department to discuss their approach to these anniversaries.

As we seek to move to a 'shared and better future' it is important that we encourage greater understanding of these important events in our history.

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