Wednesday, 28 September 2011

What were your ancestors doing 99 years ago today?

Susrprising I know what 7 of my Great-Grandparents were doing at least at one point of this day 99 years ago. They were either signing the Ulster Covenant, if they were male, or the Declaration, if they were female. Only one of my Great-Grandparents signatures can I not find, that may have had something to do with the nature of his work. His wife also only signed with her initial to try and hide her identity a little, and that took some detective work.

However, as Michael has said we need to learn from our history. The covenant that they signed read:

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 recognize 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.

It was a time of unrest in Ireland and considering that most of my family at that time was living in largely Catholic areas, Donegal or Derry City they probably had a greater understanding of the tension that a lot of the signatories. Of course the party of Home Rule was the Liberal Party one of the precurser parties of the Liberal Democrats. Ninety Nine years on I find myself part of that party still fighting for devlovement of powers away from Westminster.

Also more importantly after those 99 years I find myself working for close working relationships across the whole of Ireland, even though the parts of Ulster in which my family signed are now in two separate states. Even though most of it can be driven between in less than half an hour. Equal citizenship within Europe rather than the UK is what I find myself holding dear now and that expands well beyond the British Isles or course as many of those who live amongst us now come from elsewhere.

We have moved on a great deal in those 99 years. Indeed we have moved on a great deal in the last 15 to twenty years here in Ireland. Not least in that many of those whose forebears also signed the Covenant and Declaration are also looking for a shared furture with those whose ancestors welcomed the idea of Home Rule in Ireland with open arms. There are even some who have relatives on both sides of that argument, how confused are we?

It appears to be the way today to share those signatures. Here is the one of my Great-Grandfather Robert Glenn.

And across the Foyle and some miles upstream that of the father of his son Alec's future wife John Lapsley. That is the Townland of Dundee not the one in Scotland.

Elsewhere my Great-Grandfather Campbell

And finally my Great-Great-Grandfather Henderson, although most of the other names on here are related to me somehow as well.

In total 237,368 men singned the Covenant, and the Declaration by 234,046 women. It is part of our history just as is the Easter Uprising in 1916, the Belfast Agreement and many other events. We should all learn together from them of how to build a better future.

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