Delegates to Marchers: Gender, Empire, and Popular Politics in the Forging of Ulster Unionism, 1892-1912
Strickland, Peter B.
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On the morning of 9 April 1912 thousands of unionists from across the counties of Ulster marched to the Royal Agricultural Show Grounds near the city of Belfast. This march, dubbed the Easter Demonstration, was intended to demonstrate the resolve of the unionist population to resist the implementation of home rule, a form of partial independence for Ireland. Resistance to the idea of Irish home rule had existed since the proposal of the First Home Rule Bill in 1886, but the unionist movement was far from static. This thesis examines the transformation of unionist politics, in both form and rhetoric, between the Ulster Unionist Convention of 1892 and the Easter Demonstration in the spring of 1912. This thesis contends that the evolution of unionist politics depended on distinct rhetorical emphases on gender, the British Empire and popular politics. Over this twenty-year period Ulster unionism came to increasingly depend on strident form of masculinity, which increasingly associated male participation with the potential for violence. Women also became increasingly important to the unionist cause. Their participation was imagined as proof of the extent to which Ulster was willing to fight against home rule. The benefits of the British Empire had been a key component of the unionist case against home rule since the First Home Rule Bill. Over time unionists shifted from emphasizing the practical social and economic benefits of the empire towards claiming the empire as a birthright, fought and bled for. By 1912 unionists had successfully galvanized a wider social base and had rhetorically, and practically, embraced popular politics. Compared to the genteel convention in 1892 the Easter Demonstration displayed an array of actors from across the social spectrum. Along with the wider social backing of the unionist cause came an assertion of Ulster unionists as ‘a people apart’ with separate values, history and future. This imagined separate destiny paved the way for the partition of Ireland long before it became a practical solution to the ongoing ‘Irish Question.’