Armistice Day Belfast  Picture: BBC News NI

Armistice Day Belfast Picture: BBC News NI

As the centenary of the start of the First World War approaches, a couple of important developments happened today on either side of the border on Armistice Day. Representatives of victims of the troubles were at Stormont to call on politicians to agree new mechanisms to investigate past human rights violations and abuses.

A Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Belfast, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir. became the first member of his party to take part in the official ceremony at City Hall. BBC Northern Ireland report here. As I commented elsewhere (on twitter), this was in my view the ‘right call to attend Armistice Day event: your presence at a Belfast ceremony was significant, not about wearing a poppy’. He was accompanied by some of the chaplains he had appointed at the start of his mayoral term, among them Fr Des Wilson from West Belfast, and a couple of party colleagues including Councillor Tom Hartley, a local historian.

Preparing the exhibition at Glasnevin  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Preparing the exhibition at Glasnevin Photo: © Michael Fisher

Meanwhile in Dublin, an exhibition developed under the auspices of the Unionist Centenary Committee and containing the largest collection of UVF memorabilia ever seen in the Republic was opened in the visitor centre at Glasnevin cemetery. This is the burial ground for some of the best-known figures in Ireland’s history, such as Daniel O’Connell and Michael Collins, and including many republicans. The Unionist Centenary Committee was formed in 2010 as a steering group made up from stakeholders from the Unionist community to oversee the decade of centenaries between 2012-2021.

Bag used by UVF Medical & Nursing Corps  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Bag used by UVF Medical & Nursing Corps Photo: © Michael Fisher

Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan   Photo: © Michael Fisher

Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan Photo: © Michael Fisher

The Ulster Volunteer Force was formed to resist plans to make Ireland self-governing, but many members went on to fight in the British Army in the First World War. The exhibition is called Home Rule Crisis… the unionist response. It covers the period from 1912-1914 and was officially opened by the Minister for Arts and Heritage Jimmy Deenihan, who had read a lesson at the Remembrance Sunday service at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin yesterday.

Some unionist politicians also attended the Glasnevin event. A priest read prayers before people in UVF costumes laid wreaths at the war graves commission memorial to those from the Republic who died fighting for the allies in the two world wars.

The collection of artefacts from the Home Rule period includes personal items  of James Craig, uniforms, and literature from that pivotal period. Tours of the exhibition will be provided free of charge. The exhibition focuses on the unionist reaction to events during 1912-1913,  particularly the Ulster Covenant and the formation of the UVF.

UVF armbands from Cavan and Monaghan  Photo: © Michael Fisher

UVF armbands from Cavan and Monaghan Photo: © Michael Fisher

The launch included a talk by Philip Orr and a drama depicting discussions  between Carson, Craig and Crawford at the time, and music. On Saturday 16th November, Quincey Dougan and Jason Burke will provide lectures on Unionism 100 years ago. The exhibition is free and will run for two weeks until the end of November. It will be followed by an exhibition on the Irish Volunteers, the formation of which was planned at a committee meeting 100 years ago today in Dublin.

Quincey Dougan, talking about the UVF in Monaghan in June  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Quincey Dougan, talking about the UVF in Monaghan in June Photo: © Michael Fisher

Unionist Centenary Committee Chair David Hagan said:

We are excited to be bringing such a major collection of Unionist artefacts to Glasnevin Cemetery. Traditionally a site steeped in Republican and Nationalist history, it shows the progress we are making in embracing and learning more about our shared history. Over the course of the week we are also holding lectures which provide a deeper insight into Unionist thinking at the time and we will have historians on hand around the exhibition to provide further information on the collection. We have already exhibited some of the collection around Northern Ireland and have received really positive feedback, so we are looking forward to offering the people of Dublin the opportunity to learn more about Unionism in Ireland 100 years ago.”

Figure of UVF member  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Figure of UVF member Photo: © Michael Fisher


Quincey Dougan on the UVF

Quincey Dougan on the UVF

A very interesting night on Wednesday at Monaghan County Museum, where the CaDoLeMo group that promotes orange bands and culture in the border counties of Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim and Monaghan held a talk on the two rival sets of Volunteers that emerged in the early 1900s before partition. It was an appropriate setting as the museum is currently displaying the Walking the Colours exhibition, which I wrote about in April.

Monaghan UVF Flag

Monaghan UVF Flag

Quincey Dougan spoke about Monaghan unionists, in particular their contribution to the formation of the Ulster Volunteer Force. For a more detailed look at the subject, you can find his article on the subject here. One of the flags included in the exhibition comes from the 2nd Battalion of the UVF in Monaghan, which Quincey explained had its headquarters in Clones under the command of Lt Colonel Madden of Hilton Park outside the town. After the outbreak of World War I, Madden was replaced by a prominent solicitor Michael Knight, also Grandmaster of the County Orange.

According to Dougan, in August 1913 it was listed as having just 408 men, but within 12 months it had became bigger than the first battalion with 1058 men enlisted. The main drill areas were Drum, which included Scotshouse, Corrygarry, Drum and Carn; Clones including Clones, Stonebridge and Drumully, and Ballybay which included Laragh and Aughnamullen. Newbliss had a section, as did Dartrey in the form of Doohat and Dartrey. The Castleblayney and Carrickmacross area was not listed on the original returns and appears to have been slow to organise, but by early 1914 it also had men drilling. The Mullyash area of East Monaghan had a large unionist presence, but its natural hinterland was the South Armagh town of Newtownhamilton and it appears that the area drilled with County Armagh.

Professor Terence Dooley

Professor Terence Dooley

The second part of the evening was devoted to the story of the Irish Volunteers in County Monaghan. The guest speaker was Professor Terence Dooley, NUI Maynooth, who comes from Killanny near Carrickmacross. It was fascinating to hear the story of three Monaghan nationalists who went on to become politicians, Thomas Toal of Smithborough, Edward “twister” Kelly and ? O’Rourke.

Story of Toal, O'Rourke & Kelly

Story of Toal, O’Rourke & Kelly