Shots fired during Twelfth of July celebrations
A view of York Street in Belfast where rival groups of unionists and nationalists confronted each other during the Twelfth of July celebrations Photo: National Library of Ireland, LROY 00330

Shots fired during Twelfth of July celebrations

Carson refers to plans for self-governing Ulster

Published: 13 July 1913

‘We intend, if the Home Rule Bill is put on the Statue Book, to take over the government of Ulster for ourselves,’ Sir Edward Carson told a Twelfth of July demonstration in Belfast yesterday.

His words were greeted by great cheers and the firing of a fusillade of shots by men who had stepped out from the crowd of more than 40,000 people. In the course of his speech, Carson declared that the people of Ulster had the army with them in their protests. Home Rule will never be law in Ulster, he declared. ‘Down in a little place called Westminster they are playing a dirty game – a game called ‘How to sell a million and a half Protestants for 80 votes’. This was a farce, he said, and it revealed the men who ran the government as not statesmen but madmen.

Carson’s speech came after a huge procession led by numerous bands had passed through Belfast streets that had been bedecked with Union Jacks. The afternoon passed off peacefully but there had been serious rioting the previous night.

Hundreds of people had gathered on York Street and surrounding areas. Opposing factions sang unionist and nationalist songs and began jeering each other. This descended into stone throwing and, after police moved to intervene they were subjected to a barrage of missiles.

A previous incidence of sectarian violence at a match between the Belfast Celtic Football Club and Linfield in Belfast on 14 September last year; over 100 people were injured when rival crowds faced off against one another with sticks, stones and knives.
(Image: London Illustrated News, 21 Sept 1912)

Across Ulster, there were large assemblies of Orangemen and everywhere the opposition to Home Rule was apparent. Reports from Rossnowlagh in south Donegal suggest that ‘in no part of the province was there a more determined spirit of hostility shown to the hateful Home Rule Bill.’ One of the speakers who addressed the crowd was the Dublin unionist, R.N. Thompson. He told the assembly that they were willing to lay down their lives, if necessary. Mr. Thompson said that they were every bit as determined in the south as their northern counterparts in their enthusiasm ‘to defeat by every means in their power any measure of Home Rule for Ireland.'

Mr. Thompson continued that it would be absolutely impossible for unionists to work in harmony with blackguards who had cheered British reverses in South Africa and who had rejoiced in the day of their sorrow. He concluded by saying that if unionists were betrayed by England and handed over to John Redmond and his followers, they would leave Ireland and take all their possessions with them.

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