Jude Collins

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The day Winston Churchill said the wrong thing

The relationship of Ulster unionists to Britain and its leaders is a fascinating one – enough there, as the psychiatrist in Fawlty Towers remarked, for a whole conference. 

Take Winston Churchill. Great British leader, told off de Valera good and proper for sitting out the Second World War,  had a father Randolph who told the unionists  in 1886 he was 100% their friend. Right? Well maybe not quite right. Because as the man formerly known as Paul Bew details in an article in today’s Irish Times, on this day exactly one hundred years ago - 8 February 1912 -  Winston Churchill did an unspeakably foul thing: he addressed an audience of nationalists in Celtic Park, Belfast, and told them of his support for Home Rule: “History and poetry, justice and good sense, alike demand that this race [the Irish], gifted, virtuous and brave, which has lived so long and endured so much should not, in view of her passionate desire, be shut out of the family of nations and should not be lost forever among indiscriminate multitudes of men”.  Or,  put more briefly, “I support Home Rule for Ireland”.

Oh dear. Cue an angry loyalist crowd waiting for him outside his hotel. “The roar that greeted the attempt to start the motor car was as angry as had been heard in Belfast for many a day” was how it was reported at the time. For five minutes his car was trapped in Berry Street and  shipyard workers and others loyal to the Crown jostled it and shouted words that can't be repeated in a family blog. So loyal were these unionists, in fact, that some seven months later tens of thousands of them would sign the Ulster Covenant swearing to resist with force any attempt to give Ireland Home Rule. Who were they going to resist? Why, the forces of the Crown, of course. To which  they were unswervingly loyal.

Make that two conferences.   

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