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What Were the Characteristics of Ulster Unionism From the 1880's Until The Partition?

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What Were the Characteristics of Ulster Unionism From the 1880's Until The Partition? To pertinently answer this question, certain issues and characters must be understood before an attempt to respond to the essay title is possible. The time frame to which this essay pertains to is from 1880- 1921 (When the Partition occurred). To understand the question it, a definition of Characteristics must first be found. Characteristics can be defined as a feature that helps to identify, tell apart, or describe recognizably; a distinguishing mark or trait. In this case, an exploration of how the characteristics of Ulster unionism evolved and changed over this period must be undertaken. What then is Ulster unionism? Within Ireland, the strongest opposition to home rule came from the Protestants of Ulster Since the Union, Ulster had become much more prosperous than the other provinces. Tenant farmers had greater security than elsewhere, had a valuable cash crop in flax, and escaped the worst of the potato famine. Industry flourished, and Belfast was a thriving port. Ulster unionism was the opposition to home rule, emanating from Ulster. Within this period there were several key figures, with reference to the issue of unionism, the first was Gladstone. William Ewart Gladstone became British prime minister in 1868. "My mission is to pacify Ireland", he immediately affirmed. Among his first measures was the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, recognition that it was inappropriate to have a formal link between the state and a denomination supported only by a small minority of the Irish people. ...read more.


hint at a willingness to pursue other avenues, but as Robert Kee insinuates "the men of Ulster were not primarily concerned with democratic reasoning, nor in the long run with the interests of other Irish protestants. They were thinking as history had trained them to think, in terms of their own interests." In 1889, a Captain O'Shea revealed a scandal involving Parnell, who he stated was having a affair with his wife. Eventually leading to the downfall of Parnell, the fall of Parnell was a heavy blow to Gladstone- the heaviest he said, he had ever received. For five years he had been battling for Irish Home Rule 'laboriously rolling uphill the stone of Sisyphus' as he put it. Gladstone, 'the Grand Old Man' at 81 was too old to roll it back up again. However he did introduce a second Home Rule Bill in February 1893. Although he was able to force it through the House of Commons he knew "as did everyone else, that the Lords would reject it: as indeed they did, by an overwhelming 419 votes to 41." Although the Bill failed, unionist responses to the Bill, allow us to identify their characteristics. They once again employed the religious argument, however "The Unionists said that the safeguard for the protestant minority allegedly contained in the Legislative Council [was set up to protect minority protestant rights] was quite inadequate." (Robert Kee) one unionist even claimed that it would be a 'priest's house'. ...read more.


During this period, the Ulstermen with a realisation that Home Rule was becoming more and more probable, increased their violent reactions, from the threat of an 'orange' army in 1886 by Saunderson, to an actual gathering of arms in 1914, shows this. The Unionists, were however not only an underground group, they were politically active as well with, not only Ulster unionist leaders as Sir David Craig but also Conservative unionists such as Sir Rudolph Churchill aiding their cause. It must also be noted that during this period, the Ulster unionist movement became progressively organised from 1886 to the partition i.e. the Ulstermen moved from small time rioting, to the 'Ulster Covenant'. Although successful for almost thirty years, the Ulster unionists came away with a success, however they claimed to speak as people of Ireland, but as IVF and the eventual partition shows this was not the case. Throughout this time frame, most Ulster Unionists were protestant, who had a vested interest with the Union; therefore having the most to loose in the event of Home Rule in Ireland. "Craig himself defined the Ulster position clearly. 'We all know.' He said. '...the vast majority of our fellow countrymen who are nationalists in the South and West of Ireland will have Home Rule if this Bill becomes law, and we shall not have the power to stop it. All we propose to do is to prevent Home Rule becoming law in our own part of the country'" (Robert Kee) ...read more.

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