In 1910 when the Irish Parliamentary Party led by John Redmond, won a clear democratic majority of support from eligible Irish voters and also held the balance of power in the British Parliament, Redmond immediately pressured the Liberal government to implement Home Rule. The Ulster Unionist Council had been illegally conspiring to oppose National Ireland by armed force. On 28 September 1912, 471,414 people signed the Ulster Covenant in protest at the Third Home Rule Bill in open defiance of democracy.
Sir Edward Carson signs the Ulster Covenant with a silver pen.
A copy of the Ulster Covenant.
237,368 men signed the Ulster Covenant:
234,046 women who were not eligible to vote signed the Ulster Declaration:BEING CONVINCED in our consciences that Home Rule would be disastrous to the material well-being of Ulster as well as of the whole of Ireland, subversive of our civil and religious freedom, destructive of our citizenship, and perilous to the unity of the Empire, we, whose names are underwritten, men of Ulster, loyal subjects of His Gracious Majesty King George V., humbly relying on the God whom our fathers in days of stress and trial confidently trusted, do hereby pledge ourselves in solemn Covenant, throughout this our time of threatened calamity, to stand by one another in defending, for ourselves and our children, our cherished position of equal citizenship in the United Kingdom, and in using all means which may be found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule Parliament in Ireland. And in the event of such a Parliament being forced upon us, we further solemnly and mutually pledge ourselves to refuse to recognize its authority. In sure confidence that God will defend the right, we hereto subscribe our names.
And further, we individually declare that we have not already signed this Covenant.
In 1913 led by Edward Carson and James Craig, 100,000 men between the ages of 17 and 65 joined the Ulster Volunteers and on 4 April 1914, a massive rally was held at Hyde Park attended by hundreds of thousands announcing the British Covenant in opposition to Home Rule. By the end of the summer thanks to the Union Defence League, 2 million signatures had been collected showing their contempt for legitimate Irish nationalist aspirations. At the same twenty-five thousand rifles and three million rounds of ammunition had been landed to arm the Ulster Volunteers at Larne, Donaghadee, and Bangor on 24-24 April 1914 with out interference by the British military or the RIC. These weapons were modern German Mauser 98k bolt action rifles the same used by the German Army.We, whose names are underwritten, women of Ulster, and loyal subjects of our gracious King, being firmly persuaded that Home Rule would be disastrous to our Country, desire to associate ourselves with the men of Ulster in their uncompromising opposition to the Home Rule Bill now before Parliament, whereby it is proposed to drive Ulster out of her cherished place in the Constitution of the United Kingdom, and to place her under the domination and control of a Parliament in Ireland.
Praying that from this calamity God will save Ireland, we here to subscribe our names.
In March 1914 at the Curragh, British Army officers of all ranks, predominantly Unionists, threatened to resign their commissions rather than take part in operations that would involve suppressing the Ulster Volunteers in the event that Home Rule was implemented. The Ulster Volunteers had even been preparing contingency plans which included the capture of key positions in Belfast in an armed uprising not unlike the rebellion later launched at Easter 1916 in Dublin by the Irish Volunteers.
Irish constitutional Nationalists and Republicans alarmed by the strength of militant Unionism formed the Irish Volunteers in November 1913 and at their height had a membership of 200,000. However they had few weapons and in fact it was only the most radical who were ever really serious about fighting. Only for the landing of a relatively small consignment of 1,500 rifles - mostly obsolete Mauser 1871 rifles that used black powder cartridges - in July 1914, the Irish Volunteers would have been practically unarmed except for shotguns, some weapons bought or stolen from the British Army and RIC, a few hunting rifles and a collection of revolvers and pistols. While the Ulster Volunteers were left unmolested by the British Army and RIC in Ulster who were often openly members themselves, the Irish Volunteers were constantly harassed by the RIC, despite the majority of its members in southern Ireland being made up of Catholics who were actually sympathetic to Irish nationalism. Ironically the Ulster Volunteers were in open rebellion against the Crown while the Irish Volunteers were prepared to enforce British law.
A civil war seemed imminent - with the far better armed, train and motivated Ulster Volunteers confident of victory and British government support - until the outbreak of World War I which led to the suspension of Home Rule ostensibly for the duration of the war but as Unionists and Conservatives felt sure - for good. The Irish Volunteers split with 175,000 joining the National Volunteers while a core of 13,500 hardline nationalists and republicans remained still calling themselves the Irish Volunteers. The leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party John Redmond having stacked the original Irish Volunteers leadership with his own followers encouraged thousands of National Volunteers to join the ranks of the British Army like their opposite numbers in the Ulster Volunteers and indeed at the Battle of the Somme, men from the 16th Irish Division fought side by side with the 36th (Ulster) Division. However while the Ulster Volunteers who joined the British Army were allowed to maintain their originally units and officers, the National Volunteers were broken up and commanded by British officers instead.
The heavy casualties suffered by Ulster Volunteers and the Irish Volunteers in the ranks of the British Army in World War I tore the heart of out of both movements and numbers volunteering in Ireland from both the Unionist and Nationalist backgrounds was far below the average in Britain toward the end of the war prompting the conscription crisis on 1918 when the British government contemplated forcing men into the ranks of the army as the Germans final offensive on the Western front threatened Paris and seemed to spell doom for the Allies.
The remaining 13,500 Irish Volunteers was divided by petty leadership squabbles and ideological confusion. A clique led by Patrick Pearse, Tom Clarke and others plotted armed rebellion. Pearse himself had once supported Home Rule and had shared a public platform on O'Connell street with older conservative Irish nationalists years before. It was clear to him and his fellow republicans and indeed to many others in the wider nationalist spectrum that Home Rule was dead, Redmond and his IPP had been fooled into throwing their strength away and Irish blood was being uselessly shed in the trenches. The 1916 Easter Rising leaders sacrificed themselves detonating the fire of Irish republicanism and succeeded as the Irish masses especially a younger newly franchised generation of men and women alienated by a superannuated Irish Parliamentary Party leadership turned toward open revolution.