The Ulster Covenant, was signed by just under half a million Irishmen and women, mainly from Ulster, on and before 28 September 1912, in protest against the Third Home Rule Bill introduced by the British Government in the same year. Sir Edward Carson was the first person to sign the Covenant at Belfast City Hall with a silver pen, followed by Lord Londonderry (the former viceroy of Ireland), representatives of the Protestant churches, and then by Sir James Craig. The signatories, 471,414 in all, were all against the establishment of a Home Rule parliament in Dublin. The Ulster Covenant is immortalised in Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Ulster 1912”. On 23 September 1912 the Ulster Unionist Council voted in favour of resolution pledging itself to the Covenant.
The Covenant had two basic parts: the Covenant itself, which was signed by men, and the Declaration, which was signed by women. In total, the Covenant was signed by 237,368 men; the Declaration, by 234,046 women. Both the Covenant and Declaration are held by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). An online searchable database is available on the PRONI website.
In January 1913, the Ulster Volunteers aimed to recruit 100,000 men aged from 17 to 65 who had signed the Covenant as a unionist militia.
A British Covenant, similar to the Ulster Covenant in opposition to the Home Rule Bill, received two million signatures in 1914.
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 recognise 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.
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.
The majority of the signatories of the Covenant were from Ulster, although the signing was also attended by several thousand southern unionists, many of whom had travelled to Belfast by rail from Amiens Street station in Dublin.
Acknowledging this, Carson paid tribute to “my own fellow citizens from Dublin, from Wicklow, from Clare [and], yes, from Cork, rebel Cork, who are now holding the hand of Ulster”, to cheers from the crowd.
Robert James Stewart, a Presbyterian from Drum, Co Monaghan, and the grandfather of Heather Humphreys, the Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in the Republic of Ireland, was one of 12,000 signatories from Monaghan. One quarter of the population of the county was Protestant before Irish independence.