While the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic will continue to dominate Belfast for much of this year, the centenary of the start of a turbulent period of Irish politics is also on the horizon. (Has there ever been a period that wasn’t turbulent?)
The story of 1912 and the Ulster Covenant isn’t a unionist story. The events and repercussions are part of a narrative that covered communities across the island and beyond. Home Rule, the formation of the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Irish National Volunteers, gun running at Larne, the Suffragist movement in Ireland, the Battles of Gallipoli and the Somme, and the Easter Rising all form a continuum of history.
1912, A Hundred Years On is a play written by Philip Orr and Alan McGuckian. In it they explore the events of that year, focussing on the political rather than maritime events. The 3rd Home Rule Bill promised Ireland a parliament of its own in Dublin, while still part of the British Empire. Unionists deeply opposed the bill and hundreds of thousands of men signed Ulster’s Solemn League and Covenant (as well as a shorter declaration for women).
The playwrights describe 1912 as “a tense and troubled year with violence on the streets”. Yet also “a year when many people stood up for their convictions, on all sides”.
The play will run in venues across Northern Ireland for two weeks in March. Performances are followed by a discussion.
The challenge for the audience may be to try to understand more fully the motivations of their ‘forefathers’ and ‘foremothers’ but also the motivations of those with whom their ancestors quite possibly disagreed, in matters of faith and politics.
I was impressed with the play’s preview last year and look forward to seeing the final version.
The Centre for Contemporary Christianity (which grew out of ECONI) has long been involved in the promotion of reconciliation and mutual understanding. This play written by a Carrickfergus writer/historian and a Jesuit priest with a strong interest in Irish history is part of their contribution to the decade of political centenaries.
- Friday 9 March at 7.45pm // Carrickfergus Town Hall
- Monday 12 March at 7.30pm // Antrim Old Court House
- Tuesday 13 March at 7.30pm // Fitzroy Presbyterian Church
- Wednesday 14 March at 7.30pm // Aquinas Grammar School
- Thursday 15 March at 8pm // Ballymoney Town Hall
- Friday 16 March at 7.30pm // Neilsbrook Community Centre, Randalstown
- Monday 19 March at 7.30pm // Knock Presbyterian Church
- Tuesday 20 March at 7.45pm // Marine Court Hotel, Bangor
- Wednesday 21 March at 7.30pm // Sean Holywood Arts Centre, Newry
- Thursday 22 March at 7.30pm // Westbourne Presbyterian Church, Belfast
- Friday 23 March at 7.30pm // Down County Museum, Downpatrick
Some events are free, others have a small entrance fee. Full details of booking details and contacts can be found on the Contemporary Christianity website.
Contemporary Christianity have kept this theme for their annual Catherwood Lecture. On Thursday 8 March at 8pm in Edgehill Theological College (BT9 5BY), Johnston McMaster will speak about
Signing up to the Covenant: An Alternative Vision for the Future
The organisers believe that it is “an opportunity to reflect on significant political and religious events which have affected our history and to consider an alternative vision for the church in Ireland for 2012 and the years ahead”.
Johnston McMaster is a lecturer and coordinator of the Education for Reconciliation programme at the Irish School of Ecumenics in Belfast. His research has included a historical, theological and political examination of the period from the first Home Rule Bill of 1886 to the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985.
And while we’re on the subject of the Ulster Covenant, four talks are planned in Westbourne Presbyterian Community Church under the banner of Titanic People.
- Thursday 22 March at 7.30pm // 1912, A Hundred Years On play, followed by a talk by Gordon Lucy
- Monday 30 April at 7.30pm // Presbyterianism and the Ulster Covenant, John Erskine and Nelson McCausland
- Wednesday 23 May at 7.30pm // Nationalism and the Ulster Covenant, Eamon Phoenix
- Thursday 21 June at 7.30pm // Women and the Ulster Covenant, Diane Urquhart and Philip Orr