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The Ulster Covenant

Introduction

The archive of the Ulster Unionist Council, held by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI), contains just under half a million original signatures and addresses of the 237,368 men who, on 28 September 1912, signed the Ulster Covenant, and of the 234,046 women who signed the parallel Declaration.
Carson signing the Ulster Covenant
Photograph of Carson signing the Covenant - (PRONI INF/7A/2/48)

What was the Ulster Covenant?

Original signatures and addresses of men who signed the Covenant and women who signed the Declaration against Home Rule on 28th September 1912



City Hall crowd on Ulster Day

Who signed it?

237,368 men signed the Covenant and 234,046 women signed the Declaration totalling nearly half a million signatures.
The signatures were made by Ulster Unionists across a strikingly large breadth of society including labourers, professionals, aristocracy and clergy. It was not only Ulster that signatures were collected but also in major cities in England and Wales and Dublin where 2000 signatures were given by those who could prove they were born in Ulster.
Crowd scene outside Belfast City Hall on 'Ulster Day' - (PRONI INF/7A/2/40)

Why was it formed?

The Covenant was a response to the latest ‘Home Rule Bill’ to be proposed in Westminster to settle the long running ‘Irish Question’ by giving Ireland a limited measure of local autonomy. The first two bills had been rejected by Parliament in 1886 and 1893 and now Prime Minister Asquith had proposed a third. In June 1892 a demonstration in Belfast, the Ulster Convention was chaired by the Duke of Abercorn and attracted 20,000 opponents to Home Rule.
In 1912 Sir Edward Carson (Leader of the Irish unionist Party) and James Craig (Unionist MP for Down) set about creating a solemn and binding oath to oppose Home Rule that could be signed and newspapers announced that Saturday 28th September would be ‘Ulster Day’ when unionists could dedicate themselves to the Covenant.

What Does PRONI have?

PRONI has digitalised images of all the signatures, which can be searched on the website making it an easy and efficient tool for genealogical research and cultural tourism.