Alternative Covenants? Alternative Perspectives?: More Reflections on the Ulster Covenant

orangeparadeThe centenary celebrations for the signing of the Ulster Covenant passed relatively peacefully on Saturday, though perspectives on the day varied greatly depending on one’s political inclinations.

This is neatly illustrated on the front pages of the main nationalist (Irish News) and unionist (News Letter) newspapers this morning.

The Irish News features the image of a loyalist bandsman urinating at the gates of St Matthew’s Catholic Church in the Short Strand, with the headline:

Outrageous! Robinson ‘Must Speak Out.’

The News Letter, on the other hand, sports an image of Orangemen and bands parading up the hill at Stormont towards Carson’s statue, with the headline:

Spirit of Carson Lives On.

One of the subheadings on the front page is:

Baggott – ‘A Dignified Parade.’

These perspectives are echoed on the Slugger O’Toole blog, with John Ó Néill asking, ‘Respect?’; and Drumlins Rock’s laudatory ‘Parade of the Century.’

Such contrasting views on the same event can leave one searching in vain for a middle ground, for alternatives.

Earlier in the month at the joint Institute for British Irish Studies (of UCD)/Irish Association Conference on the Ulster Covenant, former Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader David Trimble was asked a question from the floor about how Protestants who had opposed the Ulster Covenant in 1912 might be remembered in the centenary commemorations.

Trimble gruffly and dismissively said that of Protestants who dissented from the prevailing view about the Ulster Covenant, there had been:

‘more propaganda than persons.’

This of course neatly illustrated his questioner’s point: that those who search for alternatives to prevailing views are often conveniently written out of history.

That said, I think that there have been genuine and effective efforts (by some) around the Covenant commemorations to recognise diverse perspectives, both on the Ulster Covenant in its 1912 context, and how we think about it today.

Though I understand that some readers may be suffering from Covenant Fatigue, in the week ahead I will highlight a few of those alternative perspectives, including insights by scholars who work with me at the Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College Dublin at Belfast.

This will include work by Dr David Tombs (as featured yesterday on BBC Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence) and a review of the book by Rev Dr Johnston McMaster and Dr Cathy Higgins, Signing the Covenant – But Which One?

(Image from the Slugger O’Toole blog)

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