Monday, October 1, 2007

Slugging it out over six counties

Malcolm spent too much of the weekend fulminating over a thread on Slugger O'Toole. Michael Shilliday had remarked that last Friday was the anniversary of the Ulster Covenant, signed by 237,368 men, and the parallel Declaration signed by 234,046 women. All of those names, together with some useful background, are on line, and for free, on the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland website.

Malcolm became embroiled in the general hoo-ha because he pointed out that The Guardian had, in a way, referred to the event on the previous Wednesday, when it reprinted a report of HW Nevinson. This seems not to be on line, so, then and here, Malcolm transcribed it in full:

The saluting of King Carson

Portadown, Wednesday evening.
Never had General, or rather King, Carson such a day as this. As the train with Edward Carson’s party approached just before noon the usual detonators on the rail fired a battleship salute.

The saloon carriage was shunted round to a special platform on which half a company of the riflemen of the Portadown Unionist battalion was drawn up.

They were all armed with dummy rifles with solid wooden barrels and real triggers. A standard was lowered in salute, as is only usual before royalty, and the National Anthem was played.

Standing on the step of the carriage Sir Edward Carson graciously acknowledged his reception and addressed encouraging words to his faithful army of the clubs and lodges on whom, he said, the real work of the battle would fall. The carriage bearing King Carson, Mr F.E.Smith [and] Lord Londonderry advanced into the town. [A] parade occupied about an hour, after which the royal party withdrew for lunch. At two, His Majesty took up his position at a saluting base at the top of the main street. He witnessed a march past of Unionist clubs and Orange lodges.

Perhaps the troops from Edenderry, the lower part of Portadown, carried off the prize for military grandeur.

Their contingent had two field guns made of painted wood. This also had a full piper band in a sham military uniform. In a long experience I have never seen so shameless a travesty of royalty or of national grandeur, but neither of the King’s counsellors appeared to perceive either the absurdity or insolence of the proceedings.

Sir Edward Carson then addressed the meeting. “Are you prepared to give me a mandate and follow me to the end?” — (Great cheers.) “Next Saturday you will bind yourselves to me, and come what may you will never desert the flag. Let the flag fly in every loyal house in Ireland, England and Scotland next Saturday.” Sir Edward Carson was then presented with a blackthorn stick from North Armagh, and he promised that if he had to use it, he would use it to the best of his ability.

Mr F.E. Smith was the last speaker. He predicted that the Government had not the nerve to give the order to the British army to coerce Ulster. The populace would lynch them on their lamp-posts.

The meeting soon ended. King Carson and Mr Smith resumed their places in the Royal cortege, the sham lancers trotting before and behind, and the general troops following, with bands, the cannon, the ambulance, nurses and stalwart infantry bearing dummy rifles, all in due order.

Entering the fray was a mistake. Particularly when he tried to drag in (as he has done in his maunderings previously) the name of Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, “the greatest intriguer who ever wore the King’s uniform”.

Wilson was Irish-born, in the County Longford. He was at school in England (Marlborough College) but entered the Army through the Longford Militia, after repeated failures to enter Woolwich or Sandhurst. The Militia got him into the Rifle Brigade, and service in Burma and South Africa. Then he was back to the War Office (when he wrote the manual on cavalry training) and, by now a Brigadier-General, to Camberley as Commandant of the Staff College. He reconnoitred the north-eastern corner of France, and became pals with Foch (then French’s equivalent at the French Staff College). By 1910 Wilson was an even bigger cheese: Director of Military Operations, and planning for the coming war with Germany (yes, indeed: he was laying out his wares to the Committee of Imperial Defence as early as August 1911).

When the story continues to the Curragh Mutiny, Wilson was complicit from the earliest stage. His diary reports a conversation with French in November, 1913: “I told him I could not fire on the North at the dictation of Redmond.”

Meanwhile, Wilson was conniving with Bonar Law (as is reported in Lord Blake’s biography of Bonar Law), with the aim of making Redmond push too hard and so wreck the Liberal Government’s Home Rule Bill. The flavour of Wilson’s character comes across from his diary entry of this meeting: “This, and much more of a confidential nature, made my morning very interesting.”

Wilson had also been advising Edward Sclater, one of Carson’s commission of “Five” (as Wilson himself called them). This does need a bit of explanation. On 25 September 1911, the massed ranks of the Ulster Unionist Council, the Grand Oranges Lodges and the Unionist Clubs met in Belfast. Two resolutions were passed:

  • to take “any steps” to resist Irish Home Rule; and
  • to make arrangements for a provisional government in Ulster.

A committee of five was appointed: James Craig (later Prime Minister of Northern Ireland), Colonel Sharman Crawford MP, the Rt Hon Thomas Sinclair, Col. R.H. Wallace, and Edward Sclater, Secretary of the Unionist Clubs. This committee had two ends: to liaise with Sir Edward Carson, and to frame a constitution for the proposed provisional government. The sad, sick story is traced in any number of histories, many of which can be traced back to Ronald McNeill’s original 1922 apologia, Ulster’s Stand for Union.

Malcolm sees in this the shade of Sir John Harrington:

Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason?
Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.

As Malcolm sees it, that is what the whole business was hatched by the great and the good of the Unionist Party, fomented by the ayatollahs of the High Tories, implemented by one of the King’s military élite, supported by foreign arms, against the will or knowledge of the elected Parliament. That, to Malcolm, smacks of treason.

Those who take an acerbic view of life may feel that Malcolm was, well, "trolling" here, just a teensy-weeny bit. And, sure enough, it was forcibly pointed out to him that the Unionists were defending the integrity of their country against the disloyalty of the Nationalists and Home Rulers.

His retort was that for long after the Ulster Unionists made clear that were were prepared to use force, and the UVF were acquiring arms from Germany, the only nationalist game in town was the Redmondites. And Redmond believed in the Imperial Connection (which is why he was to be outflanked by the republican physical-force men).

The turning-point in nationalism came from an article by Eoin MacNeill, 'The North Began’, which was published in An Claidheamh Soluis as late as 1 November 1913. This challenged nationalists to organise in imitation of the UVF. So a popular movement began. Even then the IRB were the followers, not the inspirers, and had to play catch-up by infiltration.

Malcolm sees a strange irony that the nationalist Volunteers were defending the parliamentary and legal processes, while the Ulster Volunteers were seeking to disrupt and breach that constitutional approach.

That, others in the debate felt, did not justify using the term 'treason' for the actions of the Unionist junta.

Malcolm came back with a series of illustrations:
  • Carson made a speech in County Antrim on 19 September 1912: ‘Here is what the covenant says – In the event of such a Bill being forced upon us we further solemnly and mutually pledge ourselves not to recognise its authority. I do not care twopence whether it is treason or not; it is what we are going to do.’
  • FE Smith, on 20 September 1913, declared: ‘Home rule will be dead for ever on the day when 100,000 men armed with rifles assemble at Balmoral.’
  • At Armagh, on 4 October 1913, Smith again: ‘On the day on which there will be in Ulster 100,000 disciplined men armed with rifles, wherever else Home Rule may be talked about, it will never be talked of in Ulster.’

Carson and Smith were both eminent lawyers and fully conscious their actions and speeches trespassed into the illegal. One of the Six Acts of 1819 (the Liverpool Government’s reaction to Peterloo), the Unlawful Drilling Act, would make them liable to seven years in jug. On 16 May 1913, Carson impliicitly referred to this Act and admitted he knew what the drilling was illegal:

“I was reading an Act of Parliament forbidding it. The Volunteers are illegal, and the Government know they are illegal, and the Government dare not interfere with them. Don’t be afraid of illegalities; illegalities are not crimes when they are taken to assert what is the elementary right of every citizen.”

That, as surely as night follows day (and there is precious little daylight shed when a Slugger argument like this gets heated) moved on to why it was six counties that were partioned, rather than the four of the earlier proposal or the whole nine counties of the Province of Ulster.

The exclusion of the six counties from the Home Rule Bill was raised by TGR Agar-Robartes on 12 December 1912, as an suggested amendment to the original four-county provision. Carson persuaded his acolytes, at a Londonderry House meeting, to go for the six-county option, and on the grounds that “only the six counties with a Protestant population could make an effective resistance” (that's from ATQ Stewart, The Ulster Crisis: out of print, and not available through either Amazon site). Malcolm reads that to mean it was a purely military consideration, and again suspects the fine Italian hand of Wilson who was the Unionists' military sage and counsel.

Malcolm accepts there is room for debate as to where the six-county notion originated. Tim Pat Coogan (De Valera) has a source to suggest that Lloyd George broached it to TP O’Connor in August 1912. It certainly was not in the public consciousness for some time after, if only because it cut the ground from under Redmond and his constitutionalist approach.

Quite properly, the question remains; what was the justification for including Tyrone and Fermanagh and Derry city in a “Unionist” state?

It seems it was Craig who sold this to the Committee on the Situation in Ireland, because it represented a more manageable Catholic minority than the full Province of Ulster. The Catholic minority across Ulster was 43.7% but in the six counties was only 34% [Michael Farrell: Northern Ireland, the Orange State]. Another irony there: that 43.7% which Craig thought represented the “unmanageable” closely approximates the RC percentage of NI by the 1991 census. Malcolm believes the ‘unmanageable’ qualification tells us what the Craig cabal thought their statelet would be all about.

Once Agar-Robartes had laid it his six-county proposal, presumably at the behest of Lloyd George, it became set in stone. And it was (outside the Unionist inner circles) universally detested. It was cynical in the extreme, if only because an Ulster sectarian cabal (in cahoots with the usual English Tory suspects) were prepared to sell southern Unionists down the Bann.

Even Carson came to denounce the partition, in his maiden speech in the Lords:

“What a fool I was! I was only a puppet and so was Ulster and so was Ireland in the political game to get the Conservative Party into office.”

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Anonymous said...

don't fret Mal, you won the argument. páid

Nevin said...

The Irish nationalist/socialist intestine is exceedingly long and the diet is unbalanced. Cheer up, Malcolm - and next time, leave the diatribe on the plate. Cute hoors all round!!

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