Monday 23 November 2009


The speech by Nelson McCausland at the recent DUP conference referred to a number of upcoming anniversaries that are of importance to unionism:
"Republicans have been looking forward to a centenary in 2016 but Ulstermen should also be looking forward to a centenary and in fact they should be looking forward to a decade of centenaries.

I think of 2012 and the 100th anniversary of the Ulster Covenant, the document that has become known as the ‘birth certificate of Northern Ireland’. It is a document that was inspired by the old Scottish covenants and it is a document that was written almost 100 years ago but the great principles that are embedded in it are still as relevant today as they were then and they will still be relevant tomorrow.

The centenary of the Ulster Covenant is just three years away and we are duty bound to prepare for it.

[…] 2012 is only the start of that decade of anniversaries. We will also come to 2016, the centenary of that year when on 1 July so many of the Sons of Ulster fell at the Battle of the Somme. Over 9,000 men from the Ulster Division took part in that attack on 1 July and only 2,500 were able to answer the roll call on 3 July. In the House of Commons on 10 July Asquith said that Ulster, through its troops on the Somme, ‘had covered itself with undying fame’.

Yes we have a decade of centenaries, from 2012 through to 2021, the centenary of Northern Ireland."

McCausland should be a little bit more circumspect – the next decade or so does contain a lot of anniversaries – an awful lot. And anniversaries have a habit of stirring things up, and restarting old grievances.

Between now and a half-generation into the future – about the time the nationalist vote will start consistently exceeding the unionist vote in Northern Ireland – a lot of centenaries will take place, each one rekindling either a sense of pride or a sense of grievance. As the arguments about each event restart, many people will rediscover their interest in the constitutional history of their little patch of Ireland. Just as the 50 year anniversary of 1916 in 1966 is credited with reawakening an interest in the national question in a new generation, so will many of the anniversaries listed below. But for McCausland and his political movement, an increasing interest in the national question amongst the increasing number of young Catholics in Northern Ireland can only be a bad thing.

Some dates for our diaries:

  • 11 April: The Third Home Rule Bill is introduced in the British Parliament. It is passed by the House of Commons but rejected by the House of Lords. Because of the Parliament Act 1911 the House of Lords has lost its power to veto legislation and can only delay a bill for two years.
  • 9 April: Major review of the original Ulster Volunteer militias (approximately 100,000 men)
  • 28 September: ‘Ulster Day’ – over five hundred thousand Unionists sign the Ulster Covenant pledging to defy Home Rule by all means possible.
  • May: In Clonmel the Irish Labour Party, which is intended to represent the workers in the imminent Home Rule Bill parliament; is formed.
  • 13 January: The Ulster Volunteer Force is formally established by the Ulster Unionist Council.
  • 25 November: Nationalists establish the Irish Volunteers, whose aim is to ensure the imposition of home rule, with their first public meeting and enrolment in Dublin.
  • August: Not immediately relevant to the national question (but to become so), the Dublin Lock-out lasts from 26 August 1913 to 18 January 1914, and leads to the creation of the Irish Citizen Army (ICA), a small group of trained trade union volunteers established in Dublin for the defence of worker’s demonstrations from the police.
  • 20 March: Curragh Mutiny.
  • 24 April: Larne gun-running.
  • 25 May: Home Rule Bill is passed by the House of Commons.
  • 26 July: Howth gun-running.
  • 28 July: Start of WW1 as Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia.
  • 4 August: The United Kingdom enters World War I. This involves Ireland in the conflict.
  • 18 September: Home Rule Act receives Royal Assent but is suspended by the British government for the duration of the war.
  • 29 June: Death of veteran Fenian Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa. His funeral at Glasnevin Cemetery on 1 August 1915 is a huge affair, garnering substantial publicity for the Irish Volunteers and the IRB at the time when a rebellion (later to emerge as the Easter Rising) was being planned. The graveside oration, given by Pádraig Pearse, remains one of the most famous speeches of the Irish independence movement. It ends with the lines: "They think that they have pacified Ireland. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but, the fools, the fools, the fools! — They have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace."


  • 24-30 April: Easter Rising.
    Between 3–12 May, fifteen of the leaders of the Easter Rising are executed by firing squad;
  • 3 May: Padraig Pearse
  • 3 May: Tom Clark
  • 3 May: Thomas MacDonagh
  • 4 May: Willie Pearse
  • 4 May: Joseph Mary Plunkett
  • 4 May: Edward "Ned" Daly
  • 4 May: Michael O'Hanrahan
  • 5 May: John MacBride
  • 8 May: Éamonn Ceannt
  • 8 May: Michael Mallin
  • 8 May: Conn Colbert
  • 8 May: Seán Heuston
  • 12 May: James Connolly
  • 12 May: Seán Mac Diarmada
  • 1 July: Start of the battle of the Somme.
  • 3 August: Execution of Roger Casement


  • July 1917 until March 1918: Irish Convention


  • 5 March 1918: Second attempt to introduce Home Rule failed at the end of the Irish Convention, when agreement on the exclusion or inclusion of Ulster cannot be reached. However, the British cabinet decides to implement Home Rule combined with the introduction of conscription.
  • 16 April: Military Service (Ireland) Bill passes into law.
  • 18 April: Irish Anti-Conscription Committee began planning opposition.
  • 23 April: General strike in protest against conscription
  • 11 November: Armistice
  • 14 December: General election – Sinn Féin wins a landslide victory, gaining 73 out of 105 Irish seats in the British Parliament.


  • 21 January: Establishment of Dáil Éireann and declaration of independence from the United Kingdom.
  • 21 January: Start of War of Independence.
  • 1 April: Éamon de Valera is elected President of Dáil Éireann, appoints a cabinet, anddeclares that "There is in Ireland at this moment only one lawful authority, and that authority is the elected Government of the Irish Republic".
  • 17 May: Members of Dáil Éireann send a letter to the head of the Paris Peace Conference, repudiating Britain's claim to speak for Ireland.
  • 12 September: The British government outlaws Dáil Éireann.


  • 20 May: Start of strikes and refusal by Dublin dock workers to handle British war material, joined by members of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union.
  • 21/24 July: In Belfast, loyalists force an estimated 10,000 Catholics and socialists from their jobs. Severe riots follow, in which at least twenty-one were killed and hundreds are forced from their homes.
  • 21 November: Bloody Sunday – in Dublin, a total of 31 people are killed – in the morning, the IRA assassinate 14 British agents. In the afternoon, British troops storm a Gaelic football match and shoot dead 14 Irish civilians. In the evening, three IRA prisoners are shot dead by their British captors.
  • 11 December: The Black and Tans set fire to the centre of Cork, destroying over five acres and causing £20 million worth of damage.
  • 23 December: The British parliament approves the Government of Ireland Act 1920.


  • 3 May: Government of Ireland Act comes into effect, establishing Northern Ireland and thus partitioning the island.
  • 25 May: IRA occupy and burn the Custom House in Dublin.
  • 28 November: Tyrone County Council pledged allegiance to Dáil Éireann. Eight smaller public bodies followed. That same day a bill is introduced in Stormont which allowed it to dissolve any local authority. Offices of Tyrone Council are raided by the RIC.
  • 6 December: Representatives of Dáil Éireann and the British Parliament sign the Anglo-Irish Treaty in London.
  • 15 December: Fermanagh County Council pledged allegiance to Dáil Éireann. After the meeting the RIC take over the council chamber.


  • 7 January: Dáil Éireann narrowly approves the Anglo-Irish Treaty by a vote of 64 to 57.
  • 14 January: Provisional Government is established to oversee the treaty's implementation.
  • 28 March: Executive of the IRA issues a statement repudiating the treaty and the Provisional Government.
  • 14 April: Anti-Treaty forces take control of the Four Courts building in Dublin.
  • 28 June: Provisional Government bombards the Anti-Treaty forces occupying the Four Courts, marking the beginning of the Civil War.
  • 6 December: Irish Free State was officially established. Northern Ireland withdrew the following day.


  • 30 April: Frank Aiken (Anti-Treaty commander) called a ceasefire.
  • 24 May: Frank Aiken ordered the Anti-Treaty forces to "dump their arms" and end their campaign. There is no formal surrender or settlement.

In between all of these events there are literally hundreds of others - First World War exploits to be trumpetted by one side, Black and Tan atrocities to be denounced by the other. The only thing that is certain is that a lot more history will be written about, and read, in the next half-generation, and that the effect will be unpredictable.

McCausland may live to regret his glee at the centenaries to come.


bangordub said...

15 December: Fermanagh County Council pledged allegiance to Dáil Éireann. After the meeting the RIC take over the council chamber.

Horseman, can you reference this?
I'm particularly interested in this bit of history but never heard of this snippet.

Nordie Northsider said...

Depressing to see McCausland contrast 'Republicans' and 'Ulstermen'. One cannot, it seems, be a Republican Ulsterman (nor do Ulsterwomen feature in Nelson's sectarian landscape).

Horseman said...


Phoenix (1994), pg 163; Curran J M (1980), pg 151

I have neither book, I'm sorry to say, so can't confirm the references. But I guess they're easy enough to find.

Horseman said...

Nordie Northsider,

Yes, I noticed that too. It kindof emphasises the whole thing about unionist 'ulster exclusivism'. They use 'ulsterman' to mean unionist (man), and 'ulster' to mean their little fantasy statelet.

I'm happy to say that 'we' are bigger than him, and we gladly include him in our definition of 'Irishman'


bangordub said...

Thanks Horseman!
History is my thing

Horseman said...


You'll find a lot of references for many other events on Séamus Fox's 'Chronology of Irish History 1919 - 1923' at:

Anonymous said...

Kind of pathetic to celebrate the Somme river offensive. WW1 was the stupidest and most avoidable war ever fought by Europeans. And the Somme offensive witnessed the most imbecelic military tactics ever. To celebrate a bunch of foolish men who volunteered to get shot down in mud and barbed wire against Germany that didn't want war with Britain or Ireland strikes me as absurd. But I guess the Unionists don't have much else.

Anonymous said...

Do not forget that more men from the south died in British uniforms in both the first and second world wars than from the north.

Anonymous said...

It's not forgotten.

Anonymous said...

The document that has become known as the ‘birth certificate of Northern Ireland’.

Google it and there are links only to his speech.

New times, New approach said...


Thanks for a diligently researched and important list, albeit somewhat sexist. I did not note a single woman although there were many who supported with total commitment the process of liberation.

The list you give of those executed after the sham trials following 1916 is not all of those sentenced to death. For that you would need to include 'Madame' as she was affectionately known in Dublin aka the Countess Markievicz. There are many important dates and achievements you could include for her, here are just a few.

1909 founded Na Fianna Éireann

December 1918 became the first woman elected to Westminster (to anyone about to protest, no it wasn't Nancy Astor - she was just the first to take her seat)

April 1919 became Europe's first female cabinet minister (Minister of Labour in the Dail).

Horseman said...

New times, New approach,

If the list contained an overwhelming male majority, this was because most of the leaders (and executees) were male. There was certainly no intention of excluding women. Markiewicz would certainly add a few additional dates to the list - thanks for pointing them out. She is one of the more colourful characters of the era (though the likes of Kevin Myers hold a particular dislike for her, so her centenaries are bound to be contentious!). I visited her family home recently - what a dreadful commercial mess they've made of it - and I guess they'll really cash in when 1916 comes around.

Part of the problem we will face will be the sheer number of potential centenaries - there are thousands of possible dates - WW1 battles, civil war incidents, peoples deaths, etc, etc, etc. By the end of it all we'll all be experts on Irish history, and, unfortunately for the poor unionists, even more convinced that their cause was unjust.

New times, New approach said...


If Kevin Myers dislikes Constance then I could only see that as an extraordinary compliment. The last thing of his I had the misfortune to read was when he was berating Ronan O'Gara for not curtseying to the Queen. If we were relying on the opinion of writers then I would much rather listen to the great Sean O'Casey who said of her, 'one thing she had in abundance was physical courage, with that she was clothed as with a garment'.
When you were at her house I bet you couldn't resist looking out onto the lawn and silently mouthing, 'The light of evening, Lissadell, Great windows open to the south,Two girls in silk kimonos, both beautiful, one a gazelle'.

hoboroad said...

Is Robinson the first Unionist politican to recognize 40+ percent of the population here is Nationalist?

Watcher said...

Voting population, I assume he means.

bangordub said...

Eyes up to heaven !!!!

Anonymous said...

brillant article!