Friday, 4 February 2011

The Ulster Covenant and the Ulster-Scots (2)

Some years ago historian Gordon Lucy wrote a book entitled The Ulster Covenant: A Pictorial History of the 1912 Home Rule Crisis.  In it he said:
The Presbyterians, with their tradition of sturdy independence, the very backbone of Ulster Unionism, were well acquainted with the concept of the solemn covenant in the religious history of Scotland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  The concept came from that tradition but the content of the Ulster Covenant owed much to more recent events. 

The Covenant text was the inspired creation of one man.  Thomas Sinclair, a wealthy Belfast merchant,  a convinced Presbyterian, a son of the twin traditions of the British Whigs and the American Revolution with their emphasis on human rights and ultimate freedom of action.  Sinclair, a modest figure, has long been forgotten, but it was his finely constructed phrases which, in 1912, articulated eternal essential freedoms and thus gave him some claim to be modern Ulster's Thomas Jefferson. 

No one can read Sinclair's text, the text of Ulster's Solemn League and Covenant, without being struck by its masterly construction: concise in its wording; comprehensive in its scope; reasonable in its tone, yet conveying a sense of cool determination.  It was a document which, given its content and tone, could be signed by a wide range of people with a clear conscience.
The Ulster Solemn League and Covenant stands in the tradition of the Scottish covenants and its author, Thomas Sinclair, was proud of his Ulster-Scots heritage.  He was the leading Presbyterian layman of his day and a prominent Liberal who became a Liberal Unionist.


  1. There were of course many signings of the Ulster Covenant in Scotland. My great grandfather signed it in Troon when over with a lot of other Ards men as seasonal labourers working the "Scotch Harvest". The PRONI website has a list of all those who signed in Scotland, and other places in GB.

  2. Thanks, Mark. In fact I found out about my grandfather when I checked the PRONI website.

  3. Nelson - also bear in mind that the first known written usage of the term "Ulster Scots" was in the context of Covenant, albeit the 1638 Scottish National Covenant. In October 1640, Sir George Radcliffe wrote “…none is so dim-sighted but sees the general inclination of the Ulster Scots to the Covenant…”