module 03

Home rule - an Ulster-Scots Perspective

This Module will explore how the unionist campaign against Home Rule used themes that underlined the closeness of Ulster's connections to Scotland over the centuries. The intensity of these references shows how central "Ulster-Scottishness" was to an increasingly large cross-section of the population in Ulster at the time.

Unit Introduction

Module 3 Unit 01


Unit 1: The First Home Rule Bill

The idea of “Home Government” for Ireland first emerged in 1870, the year after the Liberal Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone, had disestablished the Church of Ireland (Irish Church Act, 1869).

The idea came from Isaac Butt who, earlier in his career, had been a Conservative MP and a strong defender of the Protestant ascendancy. He suggested that an Irish Parliament should be restored in Dublin, but with limited powers. This “Home Rule” Parliament would have “control over Irish resources and revenues” and would have the power to legislate for Ireland’s “internal affairs.” However, it would have no say over matters such as the armed forces, important taxation, foreign affairs, the colonies, etc. Those things would be left to the Imperial Parliament in London. 

Unlike Daniel O’Connell, who had dominated Irish politics in the pre-Famine period, Butt was not calling for a repeal of the Act of Union (1800). This act had abolished the Irish Parliament, transferred Irish representation to Westminster and created the United Kingdom. Butt insisted that his system, which he described as a “federal arrangement,” would not threaten the existence of the Union or the “unity of the Empire.” On the contrary, he argued, because “self-government” would operate “in accordance with the wants and wishes of the people,” it would remove the causes of “discontent” in Ireland. By improving what he saw as a partnership between Ireland and England, both the Union and the Empire would be strengthened.

Many, especially in Ulster, did not believe him. They thought that Butt’s scheme was just “Repeal” by another name, and that it would indeed lead to the break-up of both the United Kingdom and the Empire. 

In 1870, Butt created the Home Government Association (renamed the Home Rule League in 1873). This was not a political party as such, but more of a pressure group.

The idea of Home Rule quickly caught on and, as early as 1870, candidates at by-elections in Ireland began standing as Home Rulers. In the general election in 1874, Home Rule candidates won a large majority of the Irish seats in Westminster.

This represented a radical shift in the political landscape. Up until then, people had voted for Liberal, Conservative or independent candidates. Now a majority wanted Home Rule.

The newly-elected Home Rule MPs formed themselves into a separate group in Westminster. Charles Stewart Parnell took over from Butt as the effective leader of the movement in 1877. Parnell enforced greater discipline among the Home Rule MPs and adopted a more aggressive strategy on Irish issues in Westminster. The Home Rule MPs became known as the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP).

Over the next ten years, the question of Home Rule became tied in to the land question.

A Land League was formed (1879) to help tenants defend their interests against the landlords, and Parnell was elected as its President. Tensions over things like high rents, unstable tenancies, arrears and evictions developed into the so-called Land War (1879-1882) which saw high levels of violence in rural districts. The Liberal Prime Minister, Gladstone, tried to defuse the situation and passed an important Land Act for Ireland (1881) which gave increased protection to tenants in the form of the “three F’s” (Fair rents, Free sale and Fixed tenancies). Nevertheless, the violence in the countryside continued.

Following the general elections at the end of that year, the issue of Home Rule returned to the forefront of politics in 1885, not only in Ireland but right across the United Kingdom. Gladstone’s Liberal Party won the largest number of seats, but was far from commanding a majority in Parliament. Indeed, he needed the support of the 86 Home Rule MPs if he was to be in a position to form a new government. He therefore promised the Irish leader, Parnell, that if he would give him his support, the Liberal Party would introduce a Home Rule Bill for Ireland.

This was a veritable bombshell in British politics. The first victim was Gladstone’s own Liberal Party which tore itself apart on this issue.

On the one hand, there was a majority of Liberals who remained loyal to Gladstone. They were convinced that his unexpected “conversion” to Home Rule was not just about hanging on to power. They saw it rather as a courageous attempt to find a solution for what they saw as legitimate Irish grievances. They thought that if Ireland got a limited measure of self-government, the Irish would be satisfied and sign up to the status quo within the Union.

On the other hand, a strong minority within the party thought that Home Rule would necessarily weaken the Union and would be used by the more radical elements within Irish nationalism to push for total independence. This group considered that loyalty to the Union of Great Britain and Ireland should take precedence over loyalty to the Liberal Party. They were to call themselves Liberal Unionists. In order to try to prevent Home Rule, they formed a wary alliance with the Conservatives, the main rivals of the Liberal Party.

Overall, the Liberal Party lost the support of just under a third of its MPs in Parliament over this issue. But the situation of the party in Ireland was even worse. The Liberals were popular in Ulster, notably in Presbyterian areas. However, the issue of Home Rule raised fundamental questions of identity that had to be addressed. 

The results of the 1885 elections, the first under the new, much wider franchise, had shown that in Ulster issues of political preference were once again being tied in to religious affiliation and pushing people into more polarised positions as either pro- or anti-Home Rule. Although a tiny minority of Protestants was prepared to support Home Rule (an Irish Protestant Home Rule Association was created in May 1886), the overwhelming majority was fiercely opposed to it. Those hostile to Home Rule – the unionists - argued that, because of its inevitable Catholic majority, a Dublin parliament would come under the influence of the very conservative Catholic hierarchy which would try to influence legislation. When it became clear that the Liberals were going to introduce Home Rule, the Orange Order saw a considerable influx of new recruits from all classes of the (Protestant) population. The Order’s system of local Lodges, linked in to a Grand Lodge in each County, was to provide the anti-Home Rule movement with a highly efficient ready-made organisational structure. 

However, there was also an economic dimension to these identity issues. Those opposed to Home Rule were afraid that Ulster’s industries would be threatened because a future Irish Parliament would be dominated by the interests of an overwhelmingly agricultural electorate. They were particularly worried that Home Rule might turn out to be only the first stage towards total independence. This raised the issue of Ulster’s industries being cut off from both their sources of raw materials and their markets in the Empire.

As soon as Gladstone’s “treachery” had become clear, the various strands of unionism were quick to organise their opposition to the measure.

The structures reflected the varying strengths of unionism across the island of Ireland.

The Irish Loyal and Patriotic Union had been constituted in May 1885 in an effort to consolidate support for the Union, especially in the southern provinces of Munster, Leinster and Connacht. It reflected the sources of unionist support that existed in the landed aristocracy and the business and commercial interests in the large cities of Dublin and Cork. It benefitted from extensive networks in Parliament and in other key institutions such as the army.

An alternative structure, the Ulster Loyalist Anti-Repeal Committee, was set up in January 1886 (renamed Ulster Loyalist Anti-Repeal Union a few months laterto provide a structure focused on Ulster. Although it cooperated actively with the broader Irish organisation, it was clear from the outset that it was determined to push Ulster’s interests to the fore.

Similarly, an Ulster Liberal Unionist Committee was created in Belfast at the beginning of June 1886. This was a sign that former Liberals wanted to maintain a voice in Ulster that was distinct from the predominantly Conservative position of the Ulster Loyalist Anti-Repeal Union

These structures were very active in Ireland, organising such highly publicised events as the rally at the Ulster Hall on 22 February 1886. The fact that this rally was addressed by one of the most important British Conservative figures, Randolph Churchill, showed that the battle lines were being drawn on Home Rule, not only in Ireland, but across the United Kingdom.

Although it was vital to campaign in Ireland, especially in Ulster where Conservative and Liberal Unionist candidates had a better chance of winning marginal seats, it was also important to carry the campaign into Scotland and England. Liberal and Home Rule arguments had to be challenged throughout the United Kingdom if there was to be a chance of changing the majority in Parliament and thereby blocking Home Rule. 

This was all the more important since the Representation of the People Act, 1884, had transformed the franchise across the UK. In Ireland, for example, it multiplied the numbers of people who could vote by three overnight. Even though women still did not have the right to vote, the Act extended the franchise to new categories of voters such as farm labourers and factory workers. Parties had to develop arguments that would convince this new electorate.

For this reason, in the months leading up to the decisive vote in the House of Commons and the subsequent elections in July, speakers were sent to Britain to put forward the Irish – and Ulster – unionist case.

Gladstone introduced his first Home Rule on April 8th 1886. Two months later, on 8th June, it was defeated in the House of Commons by 341 votes to 311. The 93 Liberal Unionists who voted against it ensured its defeat. As a result of the vote, the Gladstone ministry collapsed. At the elections in July the Conservatives were returned to power.

Home Rule was, however, far from dead.

Unit Timeline

Module 3 Unit 01


  • 1869

    July 26th

    Church of Ireland disestablished and disendowed under the terms of the Irish Church Act.

  • 1870


    Isaac Butt launches the Home Government movement in Dublin.

    September 1st

    First meeting of Butt’s Home Government Association (reformed as the Home Rule League in 1873).

  • 1874


    UK General Election; Conservative victory; Home Rule candidates win 60 of the 103 Irish seats.


    Home Rule MPs form a separate group in Westminster under Butt.

  • 1877


    Charles Stewart Parnell replaces Butt as president of the Home Rule Confederation of Great Britain.

  • 1879

    Growing land agitation in Ireland; the Land War begins (continues until 1882).


    Creation of the Irish National Land League; Parnell elected president.

  • 1881


    Land Law (Ireland) Act gave increased protection to tenants.

  • 1884


    Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) formed.


    Representation of the People Act extends franchise throughout the UK, Irish electorate tripled.

  • 1885


    Irish Loyal and Patriotic Union (ILPU) founded to defend unionist interests in the three southern provinces (becomes the Irish Unionist Alliance in 1891).

    Nov - Dec

    UK general election results: the 86 Irish Parliamentary Party (pro-Home Rule) MPs hold the balance of power between the Conservatives and the Liberals.

    December 17th

    Gladstone’s “conversion” to Home Rule announced in the British press.

  • 1886

    January 8th

    Ulster Loyalist Anti-Repeal Committee formed; renamed Ulster Loyalist Anti-Repeal Union in April.

    February 1st

    Gladstone becomes PM for the third time.

    February 20th

    James Henderson’s speech reported in News Letter in an article entitled “The Loyalist Campaign, Great Meeting in Newry.”

    February 22nd

    Unionist rally in Ulster Hall; addressed by Lord Randolph Churchill.


    Ulster Loyalist Anti-Repeal Committee launches a series of meetings across Ulster, many of which are held in Orange Halls.

    April 8th

    Gladstone’s, Government of Ireland Bill introduced in Commons.

    April 13th

    Liberal Unionists join Conservatives in anti-Home Rule meeting in Belfast in Ulster Hall.

    May 22nd

    Irish Protestant Home Rule Association founded in Belfast; represents minority of Protestants in favour of Home Rule.

    May 18th

    T. W. Russell delivers anti-Home Rule speech in Grangemouth, Stirlingshire. Later published by ILPU as “The Case for Irish Loyalists.”

    June 4th

    Ulster Liberal Unionist Committee formed.

    Severe rioting begins in Belfast; rioting flares up again in July and September.

    June 8th

    Home Rule Bill defeated in House of Commons; 93 Liberals vote against.

    June 19th

    Ulster Scot Jnr.’s “Letter to his friends at home and abroad” published in the Belfast Weekly News.


    UK General Election: Conservatives become largest party in the Commons.



The main focus of this Unit is to look in detail at examples of the material that was being used in this campaign to further the anti-Home Rule cause using Scots and Ulster-Scots references.

We will see that, right from the outset, there was a decision to “stir up the feeling of Scotland in favour of this movement.” This involved using the various frames that we looked at in Module 2 in order to explain why many in the Ulster-Scots, and, by extension, the broader unionist community, were opposed to the proposed legislation.

Arguments were therefore put forward underlining the close historical ties, the family and commercial links, or the Presbyterian connections that existed between Ulster and Scotland.

The following Unit provides concrete examples of how these links to Scotland were exploited in the unionist campaign not only at home in Ulster but also in Scotland.

This material cannot be seen as having been conjured up out of nowhere. On the contrary, it corresponded to a lived reality for large sections of the population in certain parts of Ulster. The political use to which Ulster-Scots references were being put merely reflected this underlying social reality.

Thus, despite the fact that Ulster-Scots was primarily an oral culture, the 1880s saw the publication of a number of writings which reflected various aspects of life in the Ulster-Scots community. We think, for example, of novels such as Maria Crommelin’s, Orange Lily, published in London in 1880, or W.G. Lyttle’s, Sons of the Sod, published in Belfast in 1886, the year the Home Rule Bill came before Parliament. 1883 saw the publication of an important posthumous collection of poetry by David Herbison, the “Bard of Dunclug” - The Select Works of David Herbison, published in Belfast, Ballymena and Londonderry. And then in 1886, we have the publication in Edinburgh of History of the Irish Presbyterian Church, by Rev. Thomas Hamilton, one of a number of Presbyterian church histories to appear during the Home Rule period. Besides this, there were the articles in Ulster-Scots that appeared regularly in several local newspapers serving areas with large Ulster-Scots communities. We think for example, of the Ballymena Observer, which had a regular column in Ulster-Scots by Bab M’Keen, the pen-name of the paper’s editor, John Wier.

All of this material was going to contribute – even if only indirectly - to the on-going “construction” of a vision of the “Ulster Scot” in the popular imagination.

Unit 01
First Home Rule Bill

Unit Introduction

Module 3 Unit 02


Most Ulster Scots would have agreed with Rev. Hamilton in his History of the Irish Presbyterian Church (1886), when he said: “The defeat of Mr. Gladstone's Bill [in] June, 1886, was hailed with deep satisfaction.”

However, that satisfaction was to be short-lived.

In August 1892, Gladstone returned to power, forming his fourth ministry at the age of 83. However, as in 1886, he did not have a majority and depended on the support of the Irish Nationalist MPs.

Many were convinced that Gladstone would make a second attempt to obtain Home Rule for Ireland. And indeed, a second Home Rule Bill was duly introduced in February 1893 and began its journey through the Commons. Despite organised resistance by unionist MPs every step of the way, the Bill went through the various stages thanks to the solidity of the Liberal/Nationalist alliance.

The bill had its third reading in the Commons on 2nd September and was accepted by a large majority (301 votes for/267 against). It then went on to the Lords where it was immediately rejected a few days later by a majority of more than ten to one (419 against/41 for). The unionists had an overwhelming majority in the House of Lords and did not hesitate to use it as their last line of defence. As we will see in some of the examples in this part of the Module, those producing the anti-Home Rule material were perfectly confident all along that the Lords would “kill the bill.”

The weight of unionist influence in the Lords was to become the target of increasing Liberal attention. This will explain the decision some twenty years on to force a confrontation on the issue. As we shall see, the resulting Parliament Act, 1911, removing the powers of the Lords to veto bills that had successfully gone through the Commons, was to force the unionists into a radical change of strategy.

The unionists did not wait for Gladstone to introduce the second Home Rule Bill to renew their resistance. This explains why we have chosen to include material for the period between 1887 and 1893. You will see that this campaign outside Parliament was fought on several fronts, not only in Ireland, but also in England and Scotland and - even if to a much lesser extent - in North America.

The Irish unionists were led by Colonel Edward James Saunderson, a prominent member of the Orange Order, who came from a landed background in Co. Cavan. 

In the southern provinces, the Irish Loyal and Patriotic Union adopted a new constitution (8 April 1891) and renamed itself the Irish Unionist Alliance. It sought to improve unionist cooperation throughout Ireland and coordinate the anti-Home Rule campaign in England and Scotland. It did so with great efficiency, organising rallies in Dublin and London, sending deputations and speakers to England and Scotland, distributing leaflets and organising petitions.

In Ulster, the anti-Home Rule campaign saw numerous meetings and demonstrations organised at a local level in towns and villages throughout the province. It was, however, structured around a number of spectacular events designed to attract maximum publicity. One of these was the Ulster Unionist Convention organised in the Botanic Gardens, Belfast, in June 1892, i.e. the month before the general election that was to see Gladstone’s Liberals return to power.

The Ulster Convention and other well stage-managed events such as the huge demonstration in Belfast at the beginning of April 1893 attended by the leading Conservative politician, James Balfour, were important to galvanise opinion in Ulster. But they were also designed as messages to demonstrate to the rest of the UK the depth of anti-Home Rule feeling in Ulster.

Indeed, it was vital to bring unionist arguments to the electorate in Britain. It was there that things were going to be decided. In Ireland, although unionism could hope to win a constituency here or there - as we saw in Unit 1 in Russell’s victory in South Tyrone - it could never hope to make significant inroads into nationalist opinion.

Things were profoundly different elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Unionist organisations such as the southern-based Irish Unionist Alliance or the northern based Ulster Loyal Anti-Repeal Union, therefore sent speakers to address anti-Home Rule meetings in England and Scotland. They also targeted by-elections, sending canvassers to support unionist candidates in marginal seats in the hope of getting people to vote Conservative rather than Liberal. Interestingly, the Ulster organisation had responsibility for running this campaign in Scotland. In both cases, they needed to explain the reasons for their opposition to Home Rule and to tackle misrepresentations” by their nationalist and Liberal opponents.

While this highly visible, constitutional agitation was going on across unionist networks, a small minority of unionists like Fred Crawford, founder of an armed group called Young Ulster (1892), and the future organiser of the UVF gun-running (see the following Unit in this Module), was convinced that “our resistance, to be successful, must eventually come to armed resistance.” To this end, they began to acquire small amounts of arms and train for the possibility that the Home Rule debate might end in armed confrontation.

In order to ensure that “hotheads” like Crawford were kept under control, it was quickly decided to set up a network of Unionist Clubs that would allow the unionist leadership to channel energies at grassroots level in more acceptable directions. The resulting network, tightly structured, particularly in Ulster, and linked in to unionist organisations in Scotland and England, did much to ensure the ever-increasing efficiency of the unionist campaign against the Second Home Rule Bill.

Although the Bill went through the Commons, it was, as predicted, rejected by the Lords. Despite this defeat, the Liberals remained in office until July 1895 when they lost the general elections. The Conservatives returned to power and the threat of Home Rule receded once again.

Unit Timeline

Module 3 Unit 02


  • 1887

    June 1st

    Isabella M. S. Tod, “Myth and fact,” in The Liberal Unionist.

  • 1889


    The Scotch-Irish Society of America holds its first Congress in Columbia, Tennessee.

  • 1890

    May 29th - June 1st

    Rev. John S. MacIntosh, “The Making of the Ulsterman,” in The Scotch-Irish in America, Proceedings and Addresses of the Second Congress, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

    December 6th

    The Irish Parliamentary Party splits over the scandal involving its leader, Parnell, in a divorce case.

  • 1891


    Irish Loyal and Patriotic Union becomes the Irish Unionist Alliance.

    October 6th

    Death of Charles Stewart Parnell.

  • 1892

    June 17th

    Ulster Unionist Convention: a pavilion was specially constructed in the Botanic Gardens in Belfast for the 12,000 delegates, representing tenant farmers, and business, professional and industrial interests from all over Ulster.

    June 23rd

    Unionist Convention in Dublin brings together unionists from the provinces of Munster, Leinster and Connaught; it was attended by a delegation from the Ulster Unionist Convention.


    UK General Election.


    At 83, Gladstone becomes PM for the fourth time; he is again dependent on the support of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP).

    Near the end of the year, an armed secret society, Young Ulster, was set up by Fred Crawford, future organiser of the UVF gun-running (see 1914).

  • 1893


    Formation of earliest Unionist Clubs later placed under a central body, the Unionist Clubs Council.

    February 13th

    First reading of the Second Home Rule Bill.


    An Ulster Defence Union formed; the Liberal Unionist, Thomas Sinclair, appointed chairman of its executive council; designed to coordinate resistance between the various strands of unionism.

    April 4th

    Mass demonstration of unionists in Belfast an estimated 100,000 men march; attended by the future Conservative Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour.

    April 5th

    Northern Whig report, “Mr Balfour in Belfast. The Grand Unionist demonstration”.

    April 12th

    “A Belfast Scotchman's Opinion.” Belfast News-Letter.

    May 24th

    Former (and future) Conservative PM, Lord Salisbury addresses unionists at the Ulster Hall.

    June 10th

    The Belfast News Letter, “Delegation from the Free Church”.

    July 31st

    Conradh na Gaeilge/Gaelic League founded to promote the Irish language.

    September 2nd

    Gladstone’s second Home Rule Bill passes its Third Reading in the Commons (301 for; 267 against).

    September 9th

    HR bill rejected by the Lords; 419 against, 41 for.

  • 1894

    March 3rd

    Gladstone resigns and is replaced as Liberal PM by Lord Rosebery.

    “To the workingmen and other electors of England and Scotland.” Irish Unionist Alliance Pamphlets (exact publication date unknown).

  • 1895

    “The new predominant partner” & “Pat, ‘predominant partner’,” Irish Unionist Alliance Pamphlets (exact date unknown). 


    General election in UK; conservative ministry formed under Lord Salisbury.

  • 1896

    George Macloskie, “The changes of a century, or, Ulster as it was and as it is,” in The Scotch-Irish in America. Proceedings and Addresses of the Eighth Congress, at Harrisburg, PA., June 4-7, 1896.



As always, the Unit focuses on the way unionists consciously use Scots or Ulster-Scots references to “sell” their arguments to an audience across the United Kingdom or in North America.

Once again, as we shall see, material was custom-built for different categories of the target audience.

When someone like the Liberal Unionist intellectual, Isabella Tod, looks at issues such as nationality and allegiance, she will do so with specific reference to the history of the relationship between Ulster and Scotland. It is this connection which she uses in order to defend her fundamental conception of Britishness.

When a Scottish businessman, speaking on behalf of the “Belfast Scotch,” addresses his compatriots in Scotland, he reminds them of “their obligations to the Irish Presbyterians,” and calls on them to put solidarity with their “own flesh and blood” before their loyalty to the Liberal Party.

Similarly, as we shall see, other structures such as the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, or cultural organisations like the Scotch-Irish Society of America begin to take a deeper interest in the Home Rule issue, adding their particular perspectives to the widening debate around Ulster-Scots identity.

However, references in the Ulster unionist campaign to links with Scotland have to be seen within the broader context of the material that was being published at the time featuring Ulster-Scots or exploring Ulster-Scots history.

One of the most important of these documents was The Scot in Ulster (1888) by John Harrison. Harrison, himself a Scot, explicitly places the book within the frame of resistance to Home Rule. In it, the Ulster-Scots community is identified as the author's “kith and kin,” and Ulster as “a branch of the Scottish nation.”

At the same time as this explicitly polemical text, people like W.G. Lyttle were publishing novels such as Betsy Gray; or, Hearts of Down (1885-1886), set in the Ulster-Scots community during the United Irishmen’s Rising in 1798, or Daft Eddie (1889), a book about piracy and smuggling in the Ards Peninsula. Both of these novels were initially published in instalments in the North Down Herald before being released in book form. Much of the dialogue in these books, aimed at a wide, popular audience, is in Ulster-Scots.

The period also saw the creation of the Scotch-Irish Society of America which held its first congress in Columbia, Tennessee in May 1889. The ten annual congresses which met between 1889 and 1901, were to provide a framework for the exploration of the key role played by the Ulster Scots in the creation of America.

Unit 02
Second Home Rule Bill

Unit Introduction

Module 3 Unit 03


The campaigns against the first two Home Rule bills were quite short-lived. The campaign against the third Home Rule Bill was going to be much more prolonged and intense.

Although the bill was not introduced into the Commons until 11 April 1912, it was clear that such a measure had been on the cards for some time. A major constitutional crisis had erupted between the Lords and the Commons over the Lords’ rejection of the so-called “People’s Budget” in November 1909. This rejection broke a fundamental constitutional convention – that the Lords should not use their power of veto to block financial legislation adopted by the Commons. The budget had included measures to tax land in order to finance such social welfare measures as the Old Age Pensions Act adopted the year before. As expected, the Lords, many of whom were big landowners, vetoed the text. This sparked off a clash with the Liberals who had been determined to break the power of the Lords for some time.

After two general elections in 1910 on the issue, the Liberals under their leader, H. H. Asquith, emerged as the largest party on both occasions but were unable to form a government without the help of the Irish Nationalists. The price of Irish Nationalist support would be a new Home Rule Bill.

The Parliament Act which became law in August 1911, after a bitter struggle, removed the Lords’ veto and replaced it with a “delaying power.” From then on, bills that had gone through the Commons in three consecutive parliamentary sessions were to become law, even without the consent of the Lords. Concretely, that meant the Lords could now only delay a Bill for a period of around two years. It was not hard to see that this would affect the course of any proposed Home Rule legislation. A Home Rule Bill had the time to go through Parliament and become law without the Liberal Government needing to go the country on the issue in a general election.

The unionists knew that, once a new Home Rule Bill was introduced, they would only have a two-year slot in which to organise their resistance to Home Rule and possibly force an alternative arrangement for Ulster.

This explains why, when the Government finally introduced the third Home Rule bill in April 1912, the unionists had already been campaigning against it for some time. Take a look at the time-line and you will see several aspects of their campaign.

The unionists already had a much improved organisational structure centred on Ulster, the Ulster Unionist Council (UUC), formally launched in March 1905, the same year as Sinn Féin was created. This body, the core of the future Ulster Unionist Party, was made up of representatives from local unionist associations, Ulster MPs and the Orange Order. It was designed to coordinate activity between the various strands of unionism inside and outside Parliament.

Two years later, a Joint Committee of the Unionist Associations of Ireland was set up. This structure was designed to allow the UUC (the northern organisation) and the Irish  Unionist Alliance (southern organisation) to cooperate in their anti-Home Rule campaign in England and Scotland. They were to obtain some very positive results, especially in the period between 1912 and 1914. An obvious example is the Leith Burghs by-election in Edinburgh in February 1914. After a concerted campaign (more than 70 meetings organised), the unionist candidate took the seat which had been held by a pro-Home Rule Liberal since 1886.

As with earlier attempts at Home Rule, apart from the dogged resistance to the progress of the bill through Parliament, the unionists organised a series of spectacular events designed to capture the imagination and influence public opinion across the United Kingdom.

Thus, in September 1911, a major rally was organised at Craigavon House, the home of William Craig, the key organiser of the unionist campaign in Ulster. He was accompanied by Edward Carson K.C. who had been elected leader of the Irish unionists in February 1910, replacing Walter Long who had led the Irish Unionists in Westminster since 1906. At that Craigavon demonstration, Carson declared that, because the Prime Minister refused to call an election on the issue of Home Rule, “we must be prepared… the morning Home Rule passes, ourselves to become responsible for the government of the Protestant Province of Ulster.” This was the first official declaration of an intention to set up a Provisional Government in Ulster with authority over “those districts of which [unionists] had control.”

Although some 50,000 people attended that rally, it was a small affair in comparison with the estimated 200,000 who attended the meeting organised on Easter Tuesday 1912 in the Show Ground at Balmoral. This meeting was addressed by Andrew Bonar Law, who had become the leader of the British Conservative Party the previous year. 

Andrew Bonar Law was a British conservative politician who was of Ulster-Scots origin. His father, Reverend James Law, originally from Maddybenny, near Coleraine, was a Presbyterian minister in New Brunswick (Canada) where his son, Andrew, was born. A few years after his mother’s death, Andrew accompanied his aunt to her home in Glasgow where he was educated before beginning work as a bank clerk at the age of 16. His father returned to Ireland in 1877, and Andrew made frequent trips to Maddybenny from Glasgow to visit him up until his death in 1882. Initially elected as Conservative MP for a constituency in Glasgow in 1900, Andrew Bonar Law later went on to become leader of the party in 1911. 

These biographical details are important because they explain why, unlike most British politicians, Bonar Law had an intimate, first-hand knowledge of the situation on the ground in unionist Ulster. It was perhaps these strong personal and family connections that explained the nature of the positions Bonar Law was to take during the Home Rule crisis. 

Indeed, his personal actions and statements at several key points in the anti-Home Rule campaign reflect his commitment to making sure that Ulster would remain within the Union. Thus, his presence as Conservative leader at Balmoral on Easter Tuesday 1912, accompanied by 70 English and Scottish MPs, represented an important statement of solidarity with the Ulster unionist campaign. A few months later, at the important unionist meeting held at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, on 29 July 1912, he went as far as to state: ‘‘I can imagine no length of resistance to which Ulster can go in which I would not be prepared to support them, and in which, in my belief, they would not be supported by the overwhelming majority of the British people.’’

Although very impressive, the Craigavon and Balmoral demonstrations were to be overshadowed by what was to be by far the most spectacular of this series of highly publicised and brilliantly organised events: the signing of the Ulster Covenant on Ulster Day, 28th September 1912. The document was signed by approximately half of the Protestant population of the Province of Ulster. It committed those (men) who signed it – women signed a separate declaration - to using “all means which may be found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule parliament in Ireland.

Opposition to Home Rule was also channelled through the Ulster Women’s Unionist Council (set up in January 1911) and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, which organised an Anti-Home Rule Convention in February 1912. The Convention, organised by the Liberal Unionist, Thomas Sinclair, was a huge event that took place in several venues across Belfast and, according to some accounts, brought together an estimated 40,000 participants. It was important to demonstrate to public opinion - especially non-conformist opinion - in Scotland and England that Ulster’s hostility to Home Rule was not confined to the members of the Church of Ireland and Orangemen as nationalist supporters alleged. Indeed, the very numbers attending the Convention proved that the traditionally Liberal Presbyterians were clearly hostile to Home Rule. Many of their arguments centred on what they saw as the threat to their “civil and religious liberties” under any Catholic-dominated Parliament in Dublin.

In spite of all this resistance, Asquith’s Bill went through the Commons before being immediately rejected by the Lords on 30th January 1913.

January 1913 also saw the formation of a paramilitary force, the Ulster Volunteer Force, to be made up of 100,000 men who had signed the Ulster Covenant. These volunteers were to receive military training to resist the “imposition” of Home Rule. This strategy of open defiance was reinforced by the announcement in September of the creation of a Provisional Government for Ulster. This body, under Carson’s leadership, would take over the running of the province the day Home Rule went through.

This period of ever-increasing tension demonstrated the remarkable level of unity that existed within the Protestant and unionist camp. A meeting of pro-Home Rule Protestants that was organised in Ballymoney Town Hall on 24th October 1913 by the outspoken Presbyterian minister, Reverend J.B. Armour, is therefore all the more interesting because it is one of the rare examples of opposition to what had become a standard position among northern Protestants. The meeting, attended by some 400 people, was addressed by such well-known figures as Roger Casement and Jack White, son of Sir George White of Broughshane, the “hero of Ladysmith,” whom we came across in Module 2. Speakers expressed their hostility to Carson’s strategy and tried to convince their audience that Home Rule did not represent any threat to Protestants.

However, everyone knew that such views only commanded marginal support within a Protestant community which remained overwhelmingly opposed to Home Rule. 

Everything seemed to be on course for a head-on clash between the Ulster unionists and the British government.

It was clear however that the Government still did not take the unionist threat of armed resistance to the British state seriously. They were determined to force the unionists to submit, if necessary by using the armed forces to cow them.

The situation changed dramatically in March 1914 when a large contingent of officers stationed at the British army base of the Curragh (Kildare) stated they would prefer to resign their commissions rather than obey Government orders to “coerce” Ulster. Fault lines were opening up within the British establishment that went beyond normal party divisions. It was becoming increasingly clear that, now that things were coming to a head, Ulster’s “loyalist rebels” could count on the support of influential networks within the Conservative Party, the peerage, the armed forces and across the Empire.

Tensions increased when the UVF managed to pull off a spectacular gun-running operation in April 1914, when around 25,000 rifles and several million rounds of ammunition were smuggled into Larne, Donaghadee and Bangor and distributed to the volunteers throughout the province overnight.

In the months leading up to the end of the parliamentary process, the Government began making signs that it was prepared to compromise by allowing parts of Ulster to remain outside the terms of the Bill, at least for a temporary period. Nevertheless, some vitally important questions remained. How much territory? For how long? Would the nationalists agree? Equally importantly – would the unionists agree?

However, it was above all the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 that was to change everything.

When the war broke out at the beginning of August 1914, Carson, despite worries that the Government might take advantage of the situation to impose Home Rule as it stood, said that Ulster unionism’s first duty was the defence of the kingdom in time of need and offered the services of the UVF to the British army. A proportion of the UVF was duly absorbed into the army as the 36th (Ulster) Division which was to see action at the Battle of the Somme (July 1916).

John Redmond, leader of the Home Rule Party, speaking in Woodenbridge in September 1914, advised the Irish Volunteers, a nationalist paramilitary force set up in imitation of the UVF, to follow a similar path and to volunteer for the British army. This caused a split in the nationalist movement. Whereas many Irish Volunteers did in fact join one of the two Irish Divisions in the British Army - the 10th and the 16th – the more radical members were not prepared to fight for Britain. 

The third Home Rule Bill was adopted (18 September 1914) just after the start of the war, but its operation was suspended until the end of the war. As it turned out, the text was never put into effect.

1916 saw two major events that were to define Irish history to the present day – the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme. Whereas the nationalist and republican traditions see the Rising as the defining event of modern Irish history, unionists and loyalists focus on the “sacrifice” of the Somme as the defining statement of their commitment to a British identity. The heavy losses suffered by the Ulster Division on that occasion were to be an important factor in the subsequent decision to “repay” the unionist community in Ulster by partitioning Ireland and creating Northern Ireland.

In the elections that followed the end of the war, opinion in Ireland was more deeply divided than ever. The intense emotion generated by the Rising had led to a profound shift in opinion within the nationalist camp. The moderate Irish Parliamentary Party which had fought for Home Rule within the British system for fifty years was decimated at the polls. The winners were Sinn Féin, a republican party that sought to break the British connection altogether.

Unit Timeline

Module 3 Unit 03


  • 1900

    February 6th

    John Redmond elected leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP).

  • 1903

    August 14th

    Irish Land Act helps Irish tenants acquire land on generous terms.

  • 1904


    The Abbey Theatre opens in Dublin.

  • 1905

    March 3rd

    The Ulster Unionist Council (UUC) holds its first official meeting in the Ulster Hall; the UUC will become the nucleus of the Ulster Unionist Party.

    November 28th

    “Sinn Féin” policy launched.

  • 1906


    Liberals win general elections; they do not need IPP support to form a government.

  • 1907

    December 19th

    Joint Committee of the Unionist Associations of Ireland set up to facilitate cooperation between members of the Irish Unionist Alliance (southern organisation) and the UUC (the northern organisation) in their campaign, especially in Scotland and England.

  • 1908

    August 1st

    Old Age Pensions Act provides basic pension for over 70s.

  • 1909

    November 30th

    The House of Lords rejects the “People’s Budget”; this sparks the crisis that was to lead to the Parliament Act.

  • 1910


    General election in UK; Asquith’s Liberals are the largest party; but the Irish nationalists hold balance of power.

    February 21st

    Sir Edward Carson chosen as leader of the Irish unionists at Westminster.


    General election in UK; once again, Asquith’s Liberals are the largest party; once again, the Irish nationalists hold the balance of power.

  • 1911

    January 23rd

    Ulster Women’s Unionist Council set up; 40,000 members enrolled in the first year.


    Unionist Clubs movement revived; rapid expansion over the coming months.

    August 18th

    Parliament Act abolishes Lords’ veto on bills passed in the Commons.

    September 23rd

    50,000 unionists march to a rally at Craigavon House, Graig’s private residence; contingents from the Orange Order and Unionists Clubs.

    November 13th

    Andrew Bonar Law, of Ulster descent, succeeds Balfour as leader of the Conservative Party.

    December 16th

    National Insurance Act gives workers protection in case of accident or illness and provides for unemployment and sickness benefit.

  • 1912

    Anti-Home Rule volunteers begin military training; small amounts of arms and ammunition continue to be smuggled into Ulster.

    Thomas Sinclair, “The Position of Ulster,” in S. Rosenberg (ed.), Against Home Rule, London & New York, published in 1912.

    February 1st

    Presbyterian Anti-Home Rule Convention.

    February 8th

    Winston Churchill addresses Home Rule meeting in Celtic Park, Belfast. Unionists protest at his visit.

    April 9th

    Huge meeting at the Agricultural Society’s show grounds in Balmoral; 200,000 unionists present; 70 English and Scottish MPs attend; the new Conservative leader, Andrew Bonar Law, addresses the meeting.

    April 11th

    The Liberal PM, Asquith, introduces Third Home Rule Bill in the Commons.


    Liberal Unionists merge officially with the Conservatives.

    June 11th

    Agar-Robartes, MP, moves an amendment to Third Home Rule Bill suggesting the “exclusion” of the four counties with Protestant and unionist majorities: Antrim, Armagh, Down and Londonderry.

    June 13th

    Carson delivers speech on Agar-Robartes amendment in the House of Commons. (Amendment defeated, June 18th 320 against / 251 for.)

    Jun - Sept.

    Sectarian clashes in Belfast.

    September 10th

    Launch of the Young Citizen Volunteers in the Ulster Hall, Belfast.

    September 18th

    Enniskillen: first of several meetings across Ulster to prepare for Ulster Day slogan: “We will not have Home Rule!”.

    September 28th

    Ulster Day; Solemn League and Covenant signed across the province of Ulster; altogether, 471,414 people signed the Covenant.

    “The Blue Banner,” written by William Forbes Marshall appears in The Northern Whig.

  • 1913

    January 16th

    Third Reading of Third Home Rule Bill in Commons (367 for/257 against).

    January 30th

    Home Rule Bill defeated in Lords (326 against/69 for).

    January 31st

    Ulster Unionist Council decides the formation of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF); the aim was to recruit, train and arm 100,000 men who had signed the Covenant.

    March 27th

    British League for the Support of Ulster and the Union formed in England; membership included MPs and peers.


    Seizures of arms destined for UVF in Belfast and London.

    September 24th

    Ulster Unionist Council approves the setting up of a Provisional Government in Ulster if Home Rule became law; Carson was to be Chairman.

    October 24th

    Meeting of pro-Home Rule Protestants in Ballymoney.

    November 19th

    Irish Citizen Army (ICA) formed out of the trade union movement in Dublin.

    November 25th

    Irish Volunteers (a nationalist organisation) launched at a meeting in Dublin; it soon had 180,000 men enrolled.

    December 4th

    Ban on the importation of weapons into Ireland introduced.

  • 1914


    Victory of unionist candidate at Leith Burghs (Edinburgh) by-election.

    March 4th

    British Covenant launched in the press; it stated that the signatories were “justified in taking or supporting any action […] to prevent [Home Rule] being put into operation”; two million people had signed it by the end of July.

    March 20th

    “Curragh incident”; 57 army officers, led by Brigadier General Gough, stationed at the Curragh threaten to resign if ordered north to force unionists to accept Home Rule.

    March 27th

    Bab M’Keen, “Amang oorsel’s”, Ballymena Observer.

    April 24th

    Colonel Frederick Crawford organises the UVF gun-running; 25,000 rifles and several million rounds of ammunition landed in Larne, Donaghadee and Bangor.

    May 2nd

    “Amazing night in Larne. Wholesale gun-running. Thousands of rifles landed,” Ballymena Weekly Telegraph.

    May 25th

    Home Rule Bill passes Commons for the third time.

    June 23rd

    Government of Ireland (Amendment) Bill presented to Lords provides for “temporary exclusion” (six years) of those Ulster counties that want to opt out of Home Rule.

    July 8th

    Government of Ireland (Amendment) Bill amended in Lords to provide for “permanent exclusion” of all of Ulster: unacceptable to the Commons.

    July 10th

    First official meeting of the Ulster Provisional Government.

    July 21st-24th

    The Buckingham Palace Conference fails to produce a compromise between nationalists and unionists on Ulster.

    July 26th

    Howth gun-running: Irish Volunteers land 1500 guns and ammunition.

    August 4th

    Britain declares war on Germany; First World War begins.


    Recruitment to the 10th and 16th (Irish) Divisions.

    Recruitment to the 36th (Ulster) Division.

    September 18th

    Government of Ireland Act, 1914 passes; its operation is immediately suspended. 

    September 20th

    Redmond delivers speech at Woodenbridge (Wicklow) inviting the Irish Volunteers to join the British war effort.

  • 1915

    May 25th

    Carson becomes Attorney General for England in Asquith’s coalition war cabinet.

  • 1916

    April 24th

    The “Easter Rising” in Dublin involving a section of the Irish Volunteers and the ICA; Proclamation of the Republic. 

    June 12th

    UUC accepts government proposal for Home Rule with exclusion of the 6 north-eastern counties; the plan, however, was not implemented.

    July 1st

    Battle of the Somme.

    First day of the Somme Offensive; heavy losses to the 36th (Ulster) Division during their attack on German trenches at Thiepval, northern France.

    September 21st

    Article on Private Quigg V.C.: “Rescued seven wounded comrades. Thrilling Story of Bushmills Soldier's Heroism, Rescued seven wounded comrades. Thrilling Story of Bushmills Soldier's Heroism,” in Ballymoney Free Press and Northern Counties Advertiser.

    December 7th

    Lloyd George replaces Asquith as PM.

  • 1917

    January 25th

    Article on Private Quigg V.C. in Ballymoney Free Press.

    April 6th

    USA enters the war alongside UK and France against Germany.

    July 25th

    Irish Convention meets in Dublin; sits until April 1918; no compromise reached.

  • 1918

    February 6th

    Representation of the People Act gives the vote to all men over 21 and most women over 30.

    March 6th

    Redmond dies and is succeeded as leader of the nationalists by John Dillon.

    November 11th

    First World War ends.


    Decision to construct a monument in northern France to commemorate “the gallant deeds of the Ulster Division”.


    General election in UK; coalition government formed; in Ireland, Sinn Féin becomes dominant party, effectively eliminating the nationalists.

  • 1919

    January 18th

    Paris Peace Conference inaugural meeting.

    January 21st

    Two policemen are shot in Co. Tipperary; this is seen as the start of the War of Independence between the IRA and the British forces.


    Letters from both Edward Carson and Rev. Park published in The report of the 30th Annual Meeting and Banquet of the Pennsylvania Scotch-Irish Society.



As before, the third Unit focuses on material that illustrates the way in which Scots and Ulster-Scots connections were incorporated into the arguments in support of the anti-Home Rule campaign.

Some of the documents try to project a particular image of “the Ulster Scot” to an audience in Scotland and England. This is the case, for example, in a key speech by the unionist leader, Edward Carson, to the House of Commons in 1912, or again, in the essay by Thomas Sinclair, a leading unionist intellectual, in a collection entitled Against Home Rule, published in London and New York in 1912.

Several of the documents are written by people who explicitly state that they see themselves as belonging to the Ulster-Scots tradition. This is the case, for example, for Fred Crawford, who was the mastermind behind the major UVF smuggling operation in 1914.

Some of the documents are written in Ulster-Scots, for example, the texts by Bab M’Keen that appeared in the “Amang oorsel’s” column in the Ballymena Observer.

Others, such as the poem, “The blue banner,” written especially for Ulster Day, recall the cultural and historical connections with the Scottish Covenanters of the 17th century.

Other documents illustrate how the Ulster-Scots connection was presented in North America by people belonging to the Pennsylvania Scotch-Irish Society. These perspectives are important as they illustrate the extent of the networks that existed between unionist Ulster and North America.

Once again, this has to be seen in relation to material on the Ulster Scot that was being produced at the time and that did not have any explicit political purpose. The period between the second and third Home Rule Bills is indeed particularly rich in terms of writing in Ulster-Scots and about the Ulster-Scots community. 

We think, for example, of the publication of John Stevenson’s, Pat M’Carty, Farmer of Antrim, in 1905. This collection contains a series of poems, many of which use Ulster-Scots, supposedly written by M’Carty – which is actually Stevenson’s pen-name - with connecting prose passages in English. One of the things to emerge strongly in the book is Pat’s relationship with Scotland, which he can see from the window of his cottage. This notion of proximity, and the resulting intensity of exchanges between Scotland and this part of Ulster, is a recurring theme in Ulster-Scots writing. 

Apart from poetry, the period sees the publication of a considerable body of fictional material in Ulster-Scots. We think, for example of the work of people like Archibald McIloy, who died returning from Canada in the infamous German submarine attack on the Lusitania in May 1915. McIlroy wrote a number of collections of short stories in Ulster-Scots, exploring the life of the Ulster-Scots community, especially in the villages and small towns of the province. These stories were very popular, not only at home, but also with the large expatriate community in North America. Thus, a text like The Auld Meetin’-hoose Green was published not only in Belfast (1898), but also in Toronto (1899).

And then, there was, of course, an entire body of non-fictional material that was designed to piece together the history of the Ulster Scot, from the time of the initial plantation through the migration to America and on to the experience of the frontier and involvement in the construction of the United States. These histories were being produced simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic, by individual historians such as Rev. James B. Woodburn who wrote the classic, The Ulster Scot: His History and Religion, published in 1914, or James Henry Ford, The Scotch-Irish in America, published the following year by Princeton University Press.

Besides this, at the level of the local community, there were the articles in Ulster-Scots that continued to appear in the newspapers in areas with a strong Ulster-Scots presence. This was the case for example in Mid Antrim with the Ballymena Observer, or in North Antrim with a paper like the Northern Constitution, published in Coleraine.

All of this activity ensured that the figure of the Ulster Scot was taking on a series of features that were increasingly clear in people’s minds. This included people outside the Ulster-Scots community who now had a much sharper idea of who this Ulster Scot was and what he stood for (see: "Key Questions" explored at the beginning of Module 2). This material provided the necessary framework that ensured that Ulster-Scots references could be used in an increasingly broad context when it came to putting forward political arguments in defence of the Union.

Unit 03
Third Home Rule Bill

Unit Introduction

Module 3 Unit 04


Even though the third Home Rule Bill had been signed into law in September 1914, it did not come into force as intended at the end of the war. This was because the war and its aftermath had totally redefined the situation on the ground and the issues at stake regarding Home Rule.

In the nationalist camp, opinion had become more radical. The Sinn Féin victory at the 1918 elections showed clearly that nationalist opinion had moved beyond a request for limited autonomy. A majority of people in Ireland now demanded total independence

This demand was expressed politically by the creation of Dáil Éireann, a republican Parliament operating outside British control. It was also expressed militarily in the War of Independence. This war was fought between the British army and the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) on the one hand and the Irish Republican Army (the term “IRA” emerges for the first time at this period) on the other. The war dragged on between January 1919 and July 1921 when a truce was signed. 

All through this period – and beyond - the cities of Belfast and Derry/Londonderry saw prolonged periods of sectarian rioting that left dozens of people dead and hundreds injured, fuelling further cycles of retaliation. 

In the middle of the War of Independence (Feb. 1920), the British government put forward a fourth Government of Ireland Bill which became law in December 1920. This text finally gave Home Rule to Ireland. What was different this time round was that the text now included partition

The idea of partitioning Ireland had been in the air for a long time. As we saw in the previous Unit, the Liberal MP, Agar-Robartes, had proposed the “exclusion” of the four northern counties with Protestant (and by extension unionist) majorities, i.e. Antrim, Down, Londonderry and Armagh. Although the proposed amendment was rejected, the idea of “exclusion” did not go away. 

The central issues involved were – what territory should be excluded from the provisions of the bill and for how long? 

The three configurations envisaged were known as the “four-county,” the “six-county” and the “nine-county” options. 

The first “four-county option” (Antrim, Down, Londonderry and Armagh) was justified by the fact that there was a clear anti-Home Rule majority in each of the four counties involved. However, unionists felt that the area would be too small to have any chance of survival in the long term. 

The nine-county option corresponded to the Province of Ulster, an historical entity which also corresponded to the area covered by those who had been eligible to sign the Solemn League and Covenant in 1912. However, many unionists felt that the Protestant majority in the nine-county unit (some 53% according to the Census of 1911) was too fragile to last. 

Their preferred option was the six-county unit (i.e. the four-county option plus Fermanagh and Tyrone = present-day Northern Ireland). There, although there were Catholic (and by extension nationalist) majorities in two of them (Fermanagh & Tyrone), overall there was a 66% Protestant majority, again according to the 1911 Census. However, this option raised the question of the unionist minorities in the counties of Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal, many of whom had signed the Covenant in 1912.

Despite this, it was to be this last option, which gave the unionists a two-to-one majority over nationalists, that was to be adopted by those drawing up the Government of Ireland Act. 

The text thus set up two parliaments, one in Dublin for Southern Ireland (26 counties) and one in Belfast for Northern Ireland (6 counties). The two parliaments were to have responsibility for local affairs. International affairs were to be dealt with in the imperial Parliament in London which retained sovereignty over Ireland as a whole. 

A third body, the Council of Ireland, bringing together representatives of the two Irish parliaments, would allow the administrations north and south of the border to deal with matters of mutual concern. Indeed, the Act foresaw that when sufficient common ground was established, this body could turn itself into a single Parliament for the whole of Ireland. 

In other words, the text saw Partition as a temporary, transitional phase.

As we have seen, the overwhelming majority of nationalists now demanded the creation of a Republic, which involved a break with the Crown. The idea of partition was incompatible with the republican vision which insisted on the unity of the Irish people. The territorial unity of the island of Ireland was seen as the physical expression of this unity. 

The unionists were no happier in that they had never asked for Home Rule. Indeed, they had spent the previous forty-odd years fighting against it! However, they were now ready to accept it because, from the unionist point of view, “Home Rule with partition” was infinitely better than any form of government exercised from Dublin. 

After elections in May 1921, the Northern Ireland Parliament was opened by King George V the following month. The King’s presence was seen as clear evidence of the extraordinary constitutional significance of the event. The ceremony, which was an outstanding success, was a cause of great celebration in the unionist community. 

However, in a sign of problems to come, it was boycotted not only by Sinn Féin (republicans), but even by the (more moderate) nationalists. 

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin had won an overwhelming majority in the elections to the Southern Ireland Parliament (124 out of 128 seats), with all its candidates being returned unopposed. However, in accordance with their policy of “abstention,” they refused to take their seats in it and met as the Second Dáil

It should be remembered therefore that the Northern Ireland Parliament was the only one of the three institutions foreseen under the terms of the Government of Ireland Act that ever actually came into existence. Because the Southern Ireland Parliament was never operational, it could not send representatives to a Council of Ireland. 

The period between July and December 1921 saw a series of negotiations between the British Government and the Sinn Féin leadership which were to end with the signature of an Anglo-Irish Treaty on 6 December 1921. 

The unionists refused to take part in these discussions because Craig thought he might be forced into making concessions, especially on the border. The Treaty foresaw the creation of an Irish Free State which was to be given “dominion status.” This meant that Ireland was being offered a greater level of independence than under Home Rule. Concretely, it would have the same constitutional relationship to the United Kingdom as Canada. However, the Treaty also gave Northern Ireland one month to “opt out” of this Irish Free State. This would allow it to remain within the United Kingdom, but with a (Home Rule) Parliament in Belfast. The Treaty said that, if this happened - as everyone knew it would, - a Boundary Commission would be set up to make recommendations on possible changes to the border. 

The Treaty caused a split within Sinn Féin, with many republicans seeing it as falling well short of the republic they wanted. The split in the party was mirrored by a split in the IRA. These divisions led to a Civil War (1922-1923) which was fought between the forces of the new Irish Free State and the “irregulars,” i.e. those members of the IRA opposed to the Treaty. The pro-Treaty faction, with material support from the British, succeeded in defeating the IRA and in consolidating the Irish Free State.

All this time, Northern Ireland had been functioning as a separate political unit. 

Northern Ireland, which continued to send 13 MPs to Westminster, had its own Parliament made up of the King (represented by the Governor of Northern Ireland), a Senate and a House of Commons of 52 members, elected by Proportional Representation. This Parliament had the power to make law for the “peace, order and good government of Northern Ireland.” The first Prime Minister was Sir James Craig, who had taken over from Edward Carson as the leader of the Ulster unionists in February 1921. Craig was assisted by a cabinet, with ministries in such areas as finance, agriculture, commerce, education and home affairs. However, Northern Ireland remained an integral part of the United Kingdom and laws passed by Westminster continued to apply there. 

Although the Belfast Parliament immediately set to work, producing important legislation such as the Education Act (Northern Ireland), 1923, which tried –unsuccessfully - to set up a non-denominational school system under the control of local authorities, the country was far from stable. 

Northern Ireland continued to be affected by forms of political violence linked to the underlying sectarian tensions that had led to so many clashes during the Home Rule period. This was the case, especially in the urban centres like Belfast and Londonderry, where politics and religion were often closely tied in to issues of employment. 

Furthermore, Northern Ireland was the target of a concentrated campaign of violence from the IRA. This campaign consisted in attacks on private property and public installations, as well as murders of police and “Specials” (see below) and kidnappings of prominent unionists living in border areas. 

Needless to say, the unionist authorities were quick to respond. A number of strong security measures were taken in quick succession. 

As early as November 1920, i.e. before the creation of Northern Ireland, an Ulster Special Constabulary (USC) was created to assist the police in its fight against the IRA. Initially, it attracted many recruits from the former UVF. One section of this force, the part-time ‘B Specials,’ was to continue in existence until 1970 when it was finally disbanded. 

Once the Northern Ireland Parliament came into existence, the Government continued to be preoccupied with security. Thus, the Northern Ireland Parliament voted the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act in April 1922. This gave the Government wide-ranging powers to ban what were considered to be seditious publications and organisations and to search and detain persons without trial. Similarly, in May 1922, when the Irish police (RIC) was dismantled as a result of the Treaty, the authorities in Belfast created their own police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC)

Although unionists approved these measures which most saw as necessary to counter worrying levels of violence, many in the nationalist community saw them as oppressive and as having been conceived primarily against them. 

Indeed, from the outset, Northern Ireland’s existence was challenged by the large Catholic and nationalist minority, many of whom felt they had been “trapped” inside a territory whose legitimacy they did not recognise. Their opposition was made clear by the decision to boycott the institutions of the new state. This campaign of passive resistance saw the nationalist parties refuse to sit in the Northern Ireland Parliament, while, at a local level, several local authorities, such as the County Council of Fermanagh, went as far as pledging allegiance to Dublin. 

Many nationalists hoped that the Boundary Commission, once it finally started work, would propose such major transfers of territory that Northern Ireland would not be able to survive as a separate unit. 

In this initial period, many on both sides of the border were convinced that Northern Ireland’s days were numbered.

In other words, Craig’s government could not feel in any way secure until the issue of the border was decided once and for all. 

For various reasons, notably the on-going violence of the Civil War, and the northern Government's refusal to cooperate, the Boundary Commission did not begin its work until 1924. After much deliberation, it was decided that it should only have the power to recommend relatively small changes to the border as it had been drawn under the Government of Ireland Act, 1920. This was to come as a major relief to the unionists, who were determined that they would not give up “an inch” of Northern Ireland territory. It was also a major disappointment to nationalists who began to realise that changes to the territory of Northern Ireland would be less than they had hoped. 

In the end, after the Commission’s proposals were leaked prematurely to the press, causing the resignation of the Free State representative, tripartite negotiations held between London, Dublin and Belfast (December 1925) decided to leave the border exactly as it was. 

Northern Ireland, set up in 1921 in the middle of a war, was finally placed on a solid foundation. 

Unit Timeline

Module 3 Unit 04


  • 1919

    January 18th

    Formal opening of the Paris Peace Conference.

    January 21st

    First meeting of Dáil Éireann in Dublin.

    IRA ambush in Soloheadbeg: beginning of the War of Independence.

  • 1920

    H.S. Morrison, Modern Ulster: Its Character, Customs, Politics and Industries; completed in January.


    Recruiting begins of ex-servicemen (later known as Black and Tans) to support police against the IRA.


    Judge W.C. Benet, “Scots and Ulster-Scots in the Southern States, Part II,” The Caledonian, Vol. XIX, N° X.

    February 25th

    Government of Ireland Bill introduced in the House of Commons.


    Riots in Derry/Londonderry.


    Riots in Belfast; violence flares up again in August. 

    Tensions remain high in the city during the period 1920-1924.

    November 1st

    Enrolment of the Ulster Special Constabulary begins.

    November 21st

    Bloody Sunday: IRA assassinates 14 British secret service agents in Dublin; Black and Tans open fire on a GAA match in Croke Park, Dublin, killing 12.

    December 23rd

    Government of Ireland Act partitions Ireland, creating Northern Ireland (six counties, with a Parliament in Belfast), Southern Ireland (26 counties, with a Parliament in Dublin) and a Council of Ireland.

  • 1921

    February 4th

    Carson resigns as leader of the Ulster unionists; he is replaced by Sir James Craig.

    May 13th

    All candidates for the Southern Ireland Parliament returned unopposed; Sinn Féin takes 124 of the 128 seats; Sinn Féin members boycott the Southern Ireland Parliament and meet as the Second Dáil (August 1921).

    May 24th

    In elections to Northern Ireland Parliament: unionists win 40 seats, Sinn Féin 6 and nationalists 6.

    June 7th

    Sir James Craig appointed Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

    June 8th

    Leonard Raven-Hill cartoon, “Starting the settlement,” in Punch. 

    June 22nd

    Opening of Northern Ireland Parliament by King George V.

    July 11th

    Truce begins in the War of Independence.

    October 11th

    Anglo-Irish Conference in London between the British Government and Dáil delegates; Craig does not attend.

    November 19th

    Opening of the Ulster Tower at Thiepval.

    “The Ulster War Memorial,” in The Northern Whig.

    December 6th

    Anglo-Irish Treaty signed in London; Irish Free State is given “dominion status”; Northern Ireland is free to opt out; a Boundary Commission to review the border between the two parts of Ireland.

  • 1922


    On-going IRA campaign.

    February - March

    Sectarian violence in Belfast and elsewhere.

    Ronald McNeill’s, Ulster’s Stand for Union, completed in February.

    April 7th

    Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act gives the Belfast Government wide-ranging powers, e.g. detention without trial.

    May 31st

    Legislation creating the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) passed.

    June 28th

    Civil War begins between pro- and anti-Treaty republicans.

    September 11th

    Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) abolishes proportional representation in local government elections.

    October 23rd

    Andrew Bonar Law (Conservative) becomes Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

    December 7th

    Northern Ireland Parliament opts out of Irish Free State.

    December 9th

    The office of the Governor of Northern Ireland, established.

  • 1923

    May 24th

    Civil War ends.

    June 22nd

    Education Act (Northern Ireland) establishes system of non-denominational schools.

  • 1924

    November 4th

    Stanley Baldwin (Conservative) becomes Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

    November 5th

    Boundary Commission begins work under the chairmanship of Mr Justice Richard Feetham.

  • 1925

    April 3rd

    General election in Northern Ireland; nationalists decide to end policy of abstention.

    November 7th

    Proposals of the Boundary Commission leaked in the Morning Post.

    November 20th

    Bab M’Keen, “The Boundary,” in The Ballymena Observer.

    December 3rd

    Agreement between London, Belfast and Dublin; the existing border between the Free State and Northern Ireland confirmed; the idea of a Council of Ireland abandoned; additional financial terms agreed.

    December 18th

    Bab M’Keen, “The Boundary Buried,” in The Ballymena Observer.

  • 1932

    November 16th

    Parliament Buildings, at Stormont, officially opened by the Prince of Wales.

  • 1948

    Hugh Shearman, Anglo-Irish Relations.



As with previous Units, the main focus here is on material that illustrates how Ulster’s Scottish connections are used both to frame arguments against Home Rule and to give a solid grounding to the new Northern Ireland that is emerging out of the turmoil of the preceding fifty years. 

In this section we will be looking at texts by key figures in the unionist establishment of this new Northern Ireland, people like H.S. Morrison, future Ulster Unionist MP for Queen’s University, and Ronald McNeill, Conservative MP and author of a classic history of “the Ulster movement.” Both insist on the centrality of the Ulster-Scots tradition not only to the everyday life of the area but also in terms of the fundamental cultural reflexes of northern society. 

As in earlier units, we include passages in Ulster-Scots. It is important to feature this type of material as it shows that people like Bab M’Keen were continuing to respond to a demand for writing in Ulster-Scots in areas where it was an integral part of the community’s life.

The section also illustrates the on-going connections with America and how American involvement in the war effort alongside Britain was used by Ulster unionists to challenge the perception of “the Irish question” among those Americans with Scotch-Irish roots. 

But the Unit also looks at forms of expression other than written political material…

We will see, for example, how a cartoonist like Leonard Raven-Hill, addressing a national audience in the pages of Punch, uses frames which are clearly tied in to the image of the Ulster Scot that was developing in the popular imagination.

Similarly, we will show how Craig’s choice of Helen’s Tower as his model for the Ulster Tower in the Somme can be seen as illustrating fundamental cultural connections between Ulster and Scotland. The fact that this monument, the first war memorial to be completed on the western front, should be in such a strongly Scottish style, said a lot about the image the unionist authorities wished to project to the outside world.

Once again, it is important to remember that while this material was being written, often urgently, in response to an evolving political situation, Ulster-Scots authors were continuing to produce work that explored different aspects of their community looked at from the inside. Thus, John Stevenson, the author of Pat M’Carty: His Rhymes, published an important social history in 1920 entitled, Two Centuries of Life in Down (1600-1800). The focus of the book is immediately clear in the titles he chooses for the chapters: “The Coming of the Scots,” “The Scots at Work,” “The Kirk in Down,” etc. Other books like Lynn Doyle’s, An Ulster Childhood, published in 1921, the year the Northern Ireland Parliament was opened, give us fascinating insights into the everyday life of Ulster-Scots families around the end of the 19th century. Material such as this contributes actively to what we called the “construction” of the Ulster Scot. By focusing so directly on the Ulster-Scots community, texts such as these will ensure that the “idea” of the Ulster Scot would continue to be embedded in the popular imagination.

Unit 04
Government of Ireland Act 1920

Module 03


The main focus of this Unit is on the material that was being used in this campaign to further the anti-Home Rule cause using Scots and Ulster-Scots references.

We will see that, right from the outset, there was a decision to “stir up the feeling of Scotland in favour of this movement." This involved using the various Frames that we looked at in Module 2 in order to explain why many in the Ulster-Scots, and, by extension, the broader unionist community, were opposed to the proposed legislation.

Arguments were therefore put forward underlining the close historical ties, the family and commercial links, or the Presbyterian connections that existed between Ulster and Scotland. 

The following Unit provides concrete examples of how these links to Scotland were exploited in the unionist campaign not only at home in Ulster but also in Scotland.

This material cannot be seen as having been conjured up out of nowhere. On the contrary, it corresponded to a lived reality for large sections of the population in certain parts of Ulster. The political use to which Ulster-Scots references were being put merely reflected this underlying social reality.

Thus, despite the fact that Ulster-Scots was primarily an oral culture, the 1880s saw the publication of a number of writings which reflected various aspects of life in the Ulster-Scots community. We think, for example, of novels such as Maria Crommelin’s, Orange Lily, published in London in 1880, or W.G. Lyttle’s, Sons of the Sod, published in Belfast in 1886, the year the Home Rule Bill came before Parliament. 1883 saw the publication of an important posthumous collection of poetry by David Herbison, the “Bard of Dunclug” - The Select Works of David Herbison, published in Belfast, Ballymena and Londonderry. And then in 1886, we have the publication in Edinburgh of History of the Irish Presbyterian Church, by Rev. Thomas Hamilton, one of a number of Presbyterian church histories to appear during the Home Rule period. All of this material was going to contribute – even if only indirectly - to the on-going “construction” of the “Ulster Scot” in the popular imagination by feeding in to the developing political campaign.