The 16th April 1914, a fine sunny spring day, would be a date many Unionist in Limavady would remember for years to come. According to local reports thousands of people lined the streets of Limavady. Many of the people in their Sunday best and waving the Union flag which was on display on nearly every house and available spot within Limavady. They were awaiting the visit of their hero, someone who was a modern day version of King William III to them. Sir Edward Carson was a Dublin lawyer and MP, who with little knowledge or experience of Ulster, accepted the leadership of Ulster Unionism in 1911. This visit had been the end result of a campaign which started with the signing of the Ulster Covenant in September 1912.
Commentary about the day from the contemporary press state:
‘The streets of Limavady were ablaze with colour and those in charge of the decorations are to be complemented upon the thoroughness with which they carried out their work. Every street had one or more arches containing either a greeting to the great Ulster Leader or an expression of their feelings on the subject which transcends all others in the political arena at the present moment. In some of the streets it seemed as if there was not a house, be it big or small, from which a loyal emblem was not displayed.’
Arches displayed messages such as “We Choose Death Before Dishonour”, “We Prepare For Defence But Not Defiance”, “Welcome Sir Edward Carson Our Leader; True Friend Of Liberty; Faithful Servant of the Empire And King”.
In 1912, Limavady, like any many other towns across Ulster, celebrated ‘Ulster Day’ with great energy and enthusiasm. Throughout the local area, 4385 men and women signed the Covenant and Declaration with signings in Dungiven, Ballykelly, Bellarena and Boveva in various locations including Orange Halls, Church and Civic Buildings. With around 3000 attending a united humiliation and prayer service in the Market Yard in the centre of town led by Rev. Canon R.G.S. King, Rev. William Browne and Rev. Samuel Houston. Local Businesses closed for the day from 1pm to 4pm to accommodate the signing of the Covenant and the Services. The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe George Chadwick subsequently wrote in the Londonderry Sentinel the following about ‘Ulster Day’:
“I never in my life saw anything like Ulster Day. The churches were filled; and when emptied the multitude did not even cheer: there was only one grim and fixed determination on a thousand faces, to live as freemen or to die. They simply signed.”
Many Church of Ireland Ministers were key supporters for the Ulster Resistance providing local leadership and also facilities for the volunteers to drill and train in. Limavady was no different with Rev. Canon R.G.S. King, who was Rector of Christ Church Limavady, getting involved in the U.V.F. and was one of the thousands who signed the Covenant on ‘Ulster Day’. He wrote a propaganda booklet entitled ‘Ulster’s Protest’, in which he outlined Ulster Loyalists’s objections to Home Rule. In his concluding remarks, he implored his readers ‘to be true to us’:
‘We have mingled our blood with yours in the battlefields of our glorious Empire… What verdict will history pass upon you if you try to consign the Loyalists of Ireland to the power of the bitterest foes of the Empire, to a prospect which they hate worse than death?… We expect of you… that you should unite your forces with those who are determined to prevent the establishment at the very heart of the Empire, of a great hostile power, fostering unreasoning hate, malicious prejudice, discord and division, criminal and cruel agitators?.’
Work for the visit of Carson commenced in earnest in the months leading up to April. A committee was formed of the leading Unionists in the town who were key in the ‘Ulster Day’ organisation and the forming of the local U.V.F. (Ulster Volunteer Force). Many of the names are well known and some not so well known. They included the Deputy Lieutenant of Country Londonderry Rt. Hon. Maurice Marcus McCausland, Edward M.F.-G. Boyle, F.S.N. Macrory, James W. Drennan, Dr James Claude B. Proctor, William Alexander Ingram and Fredrick CB Trench to name a few. Some of whom would be dead by 1917 in the wake of the First World War.
Sir Edward travelled from Garvagh where he had reviewed the South Derry U.V.F. Regiment in a morning inspection to Limavady. He was escorted by thirty two dispatch riders drawn from Coleraine, Limavady, Londonderry and Ballymoney. Along the route groups of people gathered to cheer him and special trains were laid on to bring thousands of volunteers and spectators to the town. The press stated, “the visit of a prince could not have been characterised with greater wave of enthusiasm.”
The purpose of the visit was to review the North Derry U.V.F. Regiment which took place at Drenagh the family home of the McCausland family just on the outskirts of Limavady. In addition to this, a new U.V.F. Drill Hall, which was situated on the present day site of Limavady Baptist Church, was to be opened. The men of Limavady and surrounding Roe Valley area were eager to show their loyalty and by 1914 the Second Battalion of the North Derry Regiment, from the Roe Valley, had 900 volunteers under the command of thirty officers.
In total, the county strength was 5360 men, headed up by M.M. McCausland and included a number of notable people again Dr J.C.B. Proctor (County Organiser), F.C.B Trench, F.S.N Macrory, E.M.F.-G. Boyle, J.W. Drennan and W.A. Ingram to name a few. The Northern Constitution reported that in June 1913 guns were smuggled into the town by a lawyer, this was most likely Proctor or Ingram. It is estimated that the guns brought in County Londonderry totalled 3183.
The local paper the Northern Constitution reported that “The forthcoming visit of Sir Edward Carson to Limavady has aroused the greatest enthusiasm, not only throughout the ranks of the North Londonderry Regiment of the U.V.F., but amongst Unionist generally in the Roe Valley”
Dr H.S. Morrison, a prominent South Derry Unionist, in his book Modern Ulster gives us a first hand account of the 16th April 1914 as he accompanied Carson to Limavady;
“At the field for the review in Limavady, we, that is the party of Sir Edward Carson, were received by Sir James Craig MP, H.T. Barrie MP, and John Gordon MP, and the inspection was carried out in customary fashion. Quite 4000 Volunteers from Derry City and North Derry were on parade, and Major Cunningham, at this time commander of the South Derry Regiment, said to me:
“I would not ask to lead a finer body of men on any battlefield.”
The Decorations in Limavady were on a generous scale and here as in Garvagh and all along the route Union Jacks were everywhere in evidence.
The Drill Hall of Limavady, with which Mr McCausland is so honourably associated, has done much to secure and retain the pre-eminence of the loyal and historic little town on the Roe in this matter of the Ulster Volunteers.”
The volunteers Carson reviewed included, a motorcycle detachment, the Limavady Lady Nurses and Ballyquin Cavalry, who were a small group of mounted volunteers trained by the brother of Rev. Canon Benson. The brother had came home from Canada for a holiday and decided to use his military experience to help his fellow Ulstermen.
The party which accompanied Carson was a ‘who’s who’ of unionism during that period. Sir James Craig, like Carson, was making his first visit to Limavady. Also in attendance were Lieutenant General Sir George Richardson, Colonel G. Hackett-Pain and Sir Hervey and Lady Bruce at the review at Drenagh. After the review, Carson and his companions retired to Greystone Hall the home of Major. F.C.B. Trench one of the Company Commanders for tea. There was a 170 guests invited to attend the tea with Carson and his party.
After the review at Drenagh there was a general rush towards the new Drill Hall, the interior of which was adorned with flags and streamers with the words ‘Limavady: Heartiest Greetings To Sir Edward Carson’ on display above the platform. On his arrival, Sir Edward was introduced at the hall to the trustees by the MP of North Londonderry Hugh T. Barrie. Before the hall was opened the Chairman Rt. Hon. M. M. McCausland presented him with a key amidst prolonged applause. H.T. Barrie MP chaired the meeting once inside and presided as Sir Edward was presented with two illuminated addresses of welcome – one from the townspeople and the other from the local Orangemen.
The address from the people of Limavady, signed by Dr J.C.B. Proctor LL.D, B.L., and the Rev. John Heney, Rev. Canon R.G.S. King and G.W. Lawson was read by Robert Douglas, was the following:
Sir – the people of Limavady, in the name of loyalty, in the name of liberty and in the name of patriotism, welcome you to their town, and thank you most heartily from coming among them. In days of old our forefathers, many of them from this town, daring all things by divine help and with heroic endurance, victoriously defended the cause of civil and religious liberty then, no less than now, assailed by constituted authority. To their noble spirit and faithfulness unto death we owe in no small measure the Constitution under which we live, and under which it is our firm resolve to remain.
Today, in times scarcely less threatening, we thank God in you. He has given us a leader whom we can follow with confidence and with enthusiasm. Your great self sacrifice, your splendid courage, your unfaltering determination, your inspiring faith, and your unsparing devotion to your country have endeared you to us all, and we assure you of our fervent loyalty to your leadership and of our warm affection for your person and pray that the blessing of God may rest upon you and on all your labourers.
When Carson was called to speak he was in a sombre mood:
I recognise my responsibility; Heaven knows I am always thinking about it. From morn till night, I think of the grave tragedies that may lie before us. It doesn’t make me shrink one iota as regards myself; no man in my position can help but think of others who have to fight out this battle. I contemplate what may happen, it is natural to feel – even the bravest heart – I shall not say with fear, but with a sense of responsibility that is almost appalling.
But I know this, I am dealing in all parts with brave men who have made up their minds and if we have to go into a fight – which God forbid – we will do so knowing that for the last thirty years, for no fault on our part which can alleged against us, we have been a threatened and an outraged people and we will also be conscious in our minds that every warning which it was possible to give the government from the very first day on which this wicked conspiracy was put forward against us – every opportunity was taken warning them that under no circumstances would we submit to be thrust out of the government under which we were born by the most unscrupulous government that I have ever known or read of (a voice “a band of assassins”). It is idle to imagine that we can so regulate matters that we can allay the fears and apprehensions of our fellow citizens.
Carson concluded his speech by declaring how proud he was of all the volunteers: “I would rather be the humblest volunteer in the ranks than the present Prime Minister of England”. His concluding remarks were;
…and now go on and work and drill and make yourself effective. I and my colleagues will do our best in the political arena. If it comes to the worst we will come to you, and will not hesitate to ask you to act. If we have to act it will not be our fault; but it we do may God bless us in our cause.
After Carson spoke there was brief addresses from Sir James Craig MP, Lt. Gen. Sir Richardson and John Gordon MP for South Derry. The party then returned to Drenagh with the protection of a motorcycle escort and the house guarded by a local unit of forty hand picked men patrolling the grounds. One of the rooms in Drenagh, even to this day, is called the Carson room in honour of one of its greatest visitors.
The following morning Carson was then escorted to the train station were, even though the train was leaving at 8.10 am, there was a large number of unionists to give him a rousing send off. The party was provided with a special saloon with a breakfast car attached. Before the train left the station dozens of women present sought to shake hands with their hero with one crying out, “God Bless you Sir Edward: Long may you reign over us”.
It is clear from the contemporary photographs and newspaper reports that this spring Thursday was one of the most important days in the history of the town with thousands of people welcoming their hero. It is also quite clear that for the volunteers, this was a serious day and not simply a dress rehearsal for “the 12th”.Share on Facebook