Thursday, 3 February 2011

The Ulster Covenant and the Ulster-Scots

We are fast approaching the centenary of the Ulster Covenant of 1912 and it is really the start of a decade of centenaries that will run through to 2021 and the centenary of Northern Ireland.

The Ulster Covenant was inspired by the Scottish covenants - the Scottish Covenant of 1581, the Scottish National Covenant of 1638 and the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643.

Most of the leading figures associated with the Ulster Covenant were Ulster-Scots - James Craig, Thomas Sinclair and Fred Crawford were thoroughly and proudly Ulster-Scots and although Edward Carson was born in Dublin his grandfather was Scottish.

Many of the sermons preached before Ulster Day and on Ulster Day, especially in Presbyterian churches, recalled the Scottish covenants.  There was a strong awareness of the historical roots of the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant.  The Ulster-Scots knew their history.

As folk went out on Ulster Day to sign the Covenant, many of them would have read the Northern Whig, the daily newspaper that was the voice of Liberal Unionism.  In it there was a poem by Rev W F Marshall., who was not only a young Presbyterian minister but also a poet and a loyal Ulster-Scot.  

The Blue Banner
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!
Marshall looked back to the Scottish covenants and the Scottish Covenanters with their blue banners and their commitment to Christ, His Crown and Covenant.  The Solemn League and Covenant of 1643, which provided the name for the Ulster Covenant, was signed in Ulster as well as Scotland and those who signed it were indeed their forefathers.  Marshall also looked to Scotland as the 'homeland o'er the sea' and the people there were 'kith and kin' to the 'Ulsterborn and free'.

The story of the Ulster Covenant is very much an Ulster-Scots story.

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