To prove that there was a definite diverges of the North east from the rest of Ireland, there is a need to look at the events and changes that took place up until the actual partician in 1920. To examine how it affected both north and south and to investigate the methods used by Unionists to achieve their goals.
The Home Rule period saw an increasingly strong line being drawn between the Northeast and the rest of the country. This was caused firstly by the Electoral Franchise opened up by the British in 1884 and 1885 to include much of the working class. (1) The result was more Catholics could vote than ever before and that the power of the elections was changing. The southern Protestants from Leinster, Munster and Connaught were wealthy landlords, business men and large tenant farmers, and although they were economically powerful they were in minority compared with the north. Therefore unionists who were opposed to Home Rule would be in majority were there were other Protestants.
Whereas in Ulster Protestants were big in number but divided in social class. Without question the Northeast was the only area that had such an electoral makeup. And in spite of there being many Unionists in the South there was not enough to control the votes. On the other hand they had influence amongst the British Conservatives and good at persuading their vote against Home Rule. Unionism therefore became a political force confined to Ulster and as industry flourish Belfast became a thriving port. (2) However after Catholic Emancipation, it was apparent that Protestants would be in minority in any all Ireland Parliament.
Unquestionably the rise of the Ulster Unionism was a direct response to the Home Rule movement. Since Home Rule meant ‘Rome Rule’, with the view of Catholic Bishops telling Catholic MP’s how to vote. This petrified Protestants as they felt they would be under represented in Parliament. In addition Irish Protestants feared they would loose their civil and religious liberty if Home Rule was granted. Many Irish conservatives and Protestants such as Orangemen, Protestant landowners and Ulster industrialists were all in opposition to Home Rule. (3) And it would be true to say that each group of Unionists had different perceptions on the results of Home Rule. For example British unionists were imperialists and thought that Home Rule would weaken Britain. On the other hand Southern Unionists feared loosing their land and position. And Ulster Unionists were afraid of Catholic reign and felt that Catholics were too backward to rule. (4) Furthermore these fears made them determined, and the disagreements they had in the past were brushed aside to form a more united bond to oppose Home rule.
Meanwhile up until 1880 Ulster Elections were fought mainly between Liberals and Conservatives, and when Gladstone declared for Home rule in 1886, alarm bells rang. Unionists also saw the influence the Catholic Church had and the key role they played in party branches, there were fears about the power that they would have. Up until now Unionists had felt safe but now threatened, so a number of conservative landowners formed the Ulster Loyalist Anti Repeal Union (ULARU). (4) And southern Unionist’s founded the Irish Loyal Patriotic Union, although this group failed to make any impact on the 1885 elections. Were on the other hand ULARU group grew rapidly and wanted to include force if necessary.
The Unionists became a political party in 1886, and turned to English conservatives like Randolph Churchill to help them stop Home Rule. It can be true to say that the Orange Order influenced the Unionist’s at this time. Since, ‘Orange’, was in the memory of William of Orange who preserved British supremacy in Ireland against the Catholic James the second, and significantly this was the backbone to their strength. Evidence to show this was at the mass meeting’s in Belfast when Churchill played the ‘Orange Card’. His famous Slogan was; ‘Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right’. (5) Churchill’s plan was to use the Orange Order to help unite the Protestants in Ulster against Home Rule. At this point Ulster politics became reshaped along sectarian lines. Rallies and demonstrations were organised by the Orange Order, claiming or using God as the defender of the Union.
Consequently in the 1886 elections 17 Unionists were elected in Ulster and in the rest of Ireland nationalists swept the board. The two main factors that lay behind this development were religion and economy. First the religion aspect that Protestants were in majority in the North east only and in minority in the south. And secondly the economic development of the north east of Ireland, especially the growth of Belfast, placed industrial wealth of Ulster behind Unionism. Ulster business leaders were mainly protestant and believed that the union was vital to Belfast’s prosperity.
E. J. Saundersons means of defence against the schemes of Gladstone and the pope would be the Orange Order. He provided the nucleus of the initial Ulster Unionist resistance. Saunderson knew what he wanted and threatened violence to get it. The Pall Mall Gazette in late May 1886, published a lead piece ‘Is Civil War in Sight?’ and spoke of an ‘Orange army’, quoting a membership of 73,561 plus an operations map. (6) Saunderson was a boisterous and hard-hitting man from the south he exploited a highly visual humour, only equalled in vividness by that of Tim Healy.
He became the agreed leader of the Unionist party although began as an upholder of the family’s conservative Whig tradition. As MP for Co. Cavan, 1865-1874, he criticised the Orange Order and cultivated Catholic support (though his outspoken Evangelicalism contributed to his defeat by a Home Ruler in 1874). He achieved parliamentary and platform importance as an opponent of Home Rule between Gladstone’s two Bills. And was able to join the north and the south in the fight against Home Rule but thereafter, dwindled into a stubborn and ineffective defender of landlord interests, almost entirely powerless by ill-health and amateurism before his death in 1906. (7) He was a living refutation of Gladstone – an Irishman who unreservedly embraced the British connection.
Further evidence of diverge can be seen between the different methods used in the late 19th Century from violence and disorganisation to a more constructive and passive resistance, when the British Unionists tried to, ‘kill Home Rule with kindness’. Monster meetings like Botanic gardens in Belfast proved that they the Ulster people had become more focused on Ulster itself. The Duke of Abercorn’s speech indicates; ‘men of the North, once more I say we will not have Home Rule’. (8)
At this stage it became apparent they needed to concentrate on Ulster’s quantity of support and let go of the South quality to save Ulster. The Irish Unionist Alliance in 1891 represented the southern Unionists and the Ulster Unionist Council (1905) represented the North this division proved the divide between north and south Unions. Furthermore when the third Home Rule Bill was discussed the Conservatives fiercely complained to have the Unionists of the northeast treated separately from the rest of Ireland. Carson’s argument was that Protestants of Ulster constituted a separate Irish Nation this was in the hope to stop Home Rule. (9)
In conclusion, for most of our history we have been what we are today – the inhabitants of two small islands off the coast of Europe. But to the Irish unionist being British is equivalent to being free. It could be said that the Ulster Unionist could be defined by the wish to defend Protestant Liberal ideas. During the 19th Century Ulster alone underwent an industrial revolution, and thus continued to strongly socially and economically diverge from the rest of Ireland. Partly due to this separate development and their loyalist traditions during late 19th century and early 20th century, Protestants in Ulster were deadly opposed to Home Rule. Fearing persecution as a minority within a Roman Catholic republic.
Ulster Protestants also tried to obstruct the amount of economic subsidy, which Ulster would have to let go of to the rest of the country if Home Rule won. The leaders of the Irish Home Rule proposals seemed likely to adopt trade protectionism, which would have bankrupted much of Ulster’s industrial base. The strength of opposition is evidenced in the fact that 471,000 Ulster Protestants signed, in a single day in 1912, a covenant which Sir James Craig introduced declaring their wish to be excluded from Home Rule. This became known as Ulster day. However given the fact that Ulster would certainly fight relentlessly to resist Home Rule, that day was very peaceful considering the tensions.
Finally the death of Home Rule would free the Irish Protestants from the restraints of political cohesion so in the 1920’s partition of Ireland seemed the best answer, at the time? And as the struggle between Nationalists and Unionists continue as Unionists try to keep their British identity and Nationalists struggle to keep themselves Irish. No one knows where it all will end and will it ever be resolved? All we know is that Northern Ireland is what it is today because of Home rule and as the two organisations check mate we stay as we are.