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  1. #1
    Alliance Alliance is offline

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    The anti-Carson Protestant Meeting

    Since there's no history section, I might aswell post this one here. Thought it was an interesting article I found on the Ulster Scots Agency website.



    The anti-Carson Protestant Meeting, Ballymoney, 24 October 1913: A revolt in the Ulster Scots heartland against Unionism?

    On 24 October 1913, during the third Home Rule crisis, a meeting in support of Home Rule was held in Ballymoney Town Hall. The stated purpose of the meeting was to "protest against the lawless policy of Carson". The meeting was the brainchild of Captain Jack White DSO, the son of Field Marshal Sir George White VC of Whitehall, near Ballymena. Jack White had served in the Gordon Highlanders and he had been ADC to his father when he was Governor of Gibraltar but then proceeded to lead a very varied and unconventional life. He travelled widely, worked at a variety of unskilled jobs and was attracted to the ideas of Bergson and Marx. In 1912 he returned to Ireland in search of the spirit of '98. When in 1924 he published his autobiography, he entitled it Misfit.
    Sir Roger Casement had been thinking more or less simultaneously along similar lines to White. Casement, a retired consular official, had gained an international reputation for highlighting the cruel exploitation of native peoples in the Congo and the Putumayo River region in Peru. His report on the Congo, published in 1904, led to a major reorganization of Belgian rule there in 1908, and his Putumayo report, published in 1912, earned him his knighthood. Despite his experience in the Congo and Peru, he managed to convince himself that Ireland had "suffered at the hands of British administrators a more prolonged series of evils, deliberately inflicted, than any other community of civilised men". A strong cultural nationalist, he had been a member of the Gaelic League since 1904 but was conspicuously unsuccessful in learning the language. Nevertheless, he remained greatly attracted to the values of "Irish Ireland" and contributed to the nationalist press under a variety of pseudonyms. Although born in Dublin, Casement had strong ties with north Antrim: his father's family home was at Magherintemple, he had spent his holidays there and he had completed his education at the Church of Ireland Diocesan School, Ballymena (now Ballymena Academy).

    Both White and Casement wished to demonstrate that not all Protestants supported Carson and his campaign against Home Rule. They both sounded out Revd J.B. Armour, the minister of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Ballymoney and a Liberal Home Ruler rather than a nationalist. Armour exhibited little enthusiasm for the project because even he viewed White as "peculiar". Casement suggested that some Roman Catholics should be invited to take part but Armour vetoed the idea because their presence would obscure the central message that the meeting was intended to convey, namely that not all Protestants supported Carson and Unionism.

    Casement also wished to "light a fire" which would "set the Antrim hills ablaze" and "unite (for I think it is possible) Presbyterian and Catholic farmers and townspeople at Ballymoney in a clear message to Ireland". Armour, and even White who had returned to Ireland in search of the elusive spirit of '98, realised this was not practical politics.

    The reason for organising the meeting in Ballymoney was the town's reputation for radicalism, largely based on enthusiasm in The Route, the surrounding area, for Tenant Right, and the area's perceived hostility to Unionism, evidenced by the victory of R.G. Glendinning and the defeat of the sitting MP and one of the founders of the Ulster Unionist Council, William Moore KC, in North Antrim in the General Election of 1906. However, the organisers perhaps overlooked two considerations. The Wyndham Land Act of 1903 and the Land Act of 1909 had taken most of the heat out of the land question. At the General Election of January 1910 Unionists had regained the North Antrim seat and in the General Election of December 1910 Peter Kerr-Smiley, the new Unionist MP, increased his majority. The Ballymoney Free Press, once the voice of land reform and radicalism in The Route, was now firmly unionist in sentiment.
    Behind the scenes there were tensions between White and Casement. Armour played no public part in the meeting but John McElderry, an elder in ArmourŐs congregation and a veteran Tenant Right campaigner, chaired the meeting. Casement had declined to chair proceedings. So too had John Baxter, an Antrim county councillor and brother of the unsuccessful Liberal parliamentary candidate in January 1910, because he feared the damaging impact his association with the meeting might have on his business.

    The principal speakers at the meeting were White, Casement and, at Casement's suggestion, Alice Stopford Green, the widow of J.R. Green, the English historian. Mrs Green was the daughter of Archdeacon Stopford of Meath, one of the few Church of Ireland clergymen to have any contact with Gladstone at the time of Disestablishment. An ardent nationalist, she was the author of Ireland and its Undoing (1908) and Irish Nationality (1911).

    Surprisingly, White, Casement and Mrs Green were unaccustomed to public speaking. Despite having assisted her late husband write his histories and having published works of her own, Mrs Green had difficulty in preparing her speech. It was CasementŐs first public speech too. Both Casement and Mrs Green declined Mrs ArmourŐs invitation to dine in the manse before the meeting because "both of us wish to be quite to ourselves before the meeting - with no one to talk to, or talk to us", suggesting a degree of nervousness.

    In their speeches, subsequently published as a pamphlet entitled A Protestant Protest, the three principal speakers appealed for love among Irishmen rather than hate and invoked the spirit of '98 and the need to revive it. It might be unfair to describe them as having only a tenuous connection with the real world of North Antrim but they clearly romanticised the past and had a completely inadequate grasp of the gulf which now separated unionists and nationalists.
    Estimates of the attendance varied between 400 and 500. By any standards, this represented a respectable turnout but many had travelled a considerable distance to attend. Ballymoney Unionists were able to organise, probably with a great deal less effort, a much larger gathering a month later on 21 November.
    The meeting passed two resolutions. The first rejected the claim of Carson's Provisional Government to speak for Ulster Protestants and pledged lawful resistance to its decrees. The second, the handiwork of Casement, rejected sectarianism as a divisive force in Irish society and invited the Government to help bring all Irishmen together "in one common field of national effort".

    White also launched "the new covenant", in conscious imitation of the Ulster Covenant, pledging signatories to support for Home Rule.

    While the meeting did not "set the Antrim hills ablaze", Casement was initially very pleased, writing to a friend that it was "a grand success". However, the event did not have the impact the organisers had hoped for. It gave them no incentive to arrange other meetings. Press coverage did not match their unrealistic expectations. Even the generous Irish News coverage disappointed Armour. On the whole, press coverage tended to be unfavourable. The Ballymoney Free Press noted that the organisers had failed to demonstrate that a majority of Protestants in the area were Home Rulers. Even if the organisers had proved that they were, The Witness, the Presbyterian weekly, contended that "the hum of a corner is not the buzz of a province". The Times dismissed the event as representing only "a small and isolated 'pocket' of dissident Protestants, the last survivors of the Ulster Liberals of the old types. Ulster Liberalism is very like the Cheshire cat in 'Alice in Wonderland'. It has vanished till only its grin lingers furtively in a corner of Co. Antrim."

    While these observations were probably a fair commentary on the audience in Ballymoney Town Hall, Captain Jack White, Sir Roger Casement and Alice Stopford Green cannot be regarded simply as old-fashioned Liberals or even Liberal Home Rulers. White's politics would defy easy categorisation but Casement and Mrs Green were "advanced nationalists".

    Within a month White would be involved in founding and training the Irish Citizen Army in Dublin. The Irish Volunteers were formed on 25 November 1913 and Casement would become similarly involved with them, embarking upon a career as gunrunner and upon a path that would lead ultimately to the scaffold. And Mrs Green would be happily assisting Casement by raising money to arm the Irish Volunteers.

    While an interesting episode in Ulster's history, the meeting in Ballymoney Town Hall had little short-term or long-term significance. It failed to "punch a hole in Carson's big drum". It certainly did not undermine Carson's authority as the authentic voice of Protestant Ulster.
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  2. #2
    Reggie Perrin Reggie Perrin is offline

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    Re: The anti-Carson Protestant Meeting

    Quote Originally Posted by Alliance
    Since there's no history section

    Yes indeed, there is no history section despite the wishes of a considerable number of members for one, including myself.

    I'm afraid it looks likely that there won't be one either.

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  3. #3
    pogo pogo is offline

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    There should be a history section for stuff like this.

    (Which is very interesting btw).
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  4. #4
    TheBear TheBear is offline
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    Please don't post long tracts from other websites. Apart from being off-putting, there's always the risk that there are copyright issues at play.
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  5. #5
    Alliance Alliance is offline

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    Quote Originally Posted by TheBear
    Please don't post long tracts from other websites. Apart from being off-putting, there's always the risk that there are copyright issues at play.
    Noted.
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