Carson roused over 1000 local men for war with Dungannon speech

Carson on his tour of Ulster on the eve of WWI
Carson on his tour of Ulster on the eve of WWI

A hundred years ago, Ulster Unionist leader Sir Edward Carson toured Dungannon and delivered a rousing speech which rallied more than 1,200 local young men for war.

The battle-call helps explain why a generation of young Dungannon men, hundreds of whom paid the ultimate sacrifice, took the brave decision to join in the war effort.

To mark the centenary of the outbreak of the war, The Tyrone Times has compiled a list of the 524 men and women from the Dungannon District who died during the four-year conflict, which can be viewed on our website.

Each one represents a compelling story of heroism and sacrifice, and heartbreak for loved ones left behind.

Listing them together, however, reveals the true horror and destruction the war wreaked on such a relatively small rural district that was never directly threatened by the conflict.

Although conscription was never imposed on this part of the United Kingdom, villages such as Castlecaulfield, Caledon, Moy, Fivemiletown and Ballygawley lost an entire generation of men with dozens of casualties occuring during one day, July 1, 1916, at the Somme.

In fact, three Dungannon soldiers with the same name Robert Anderson, died on that fateful day.

Many of those killed had enlisted believing they were fighting for the political future of Ireland.

The political motivation is borne out by Carson’s speech to Dungannon’s bayoneted Ulster Volunteers. The barrister and judge said that he was no longer interested in addressing political audiences: ‘I want to address myself in the future to those who are prepared to fight.’

According to eye-witness reports, revolvers were occasionally fired off in salutation of his presence, while a series of drill and target-firing competitions were gone through.

In another speech in Cookstown, he commended the men as being the ‘bravest of the brave’ and said that they would not be sold into ‘the bondage of a parliament of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Dublin.’

In his Dungannon speech, Sir Edward said that they had warned the government time and again that the only way to avoid huge civil commotion was to exclude Ulster. He told the Volunteers: ‘I know that a time is coming when the men on whom we are to rely are not the men who cheer, but the men who drill.’

He concluded: ‘Be ready for the final day. Be ready whenever it may come, and under heaven if we are prepared we will never be defeated.’

The volunteers were then addressed by General Sir George Richardson, who said that they were well-commanded and well-officered, and they must keep themselves fully fit.

If called upon, the General said, the Volunteers would be able to rely on ‘100,000 armed, well-drilled, well-disciplined men of Ulster ready to defend their allegiance to King George V and the flag they had the honour to serve under.’

The parade finished with the singing of ‘Rule Britannia’.