On the 12th July 2010, I stood in the demonstration field at Londonderry Park, Newtownards, listening to the speeches from the platform party, I don't always have time to listen to the speeches or take part in the religious service, but this time I made a special effort to be there and listen.
The keynote speaker was Mr. Nelson McCausland MLA, the then Minister for DECAL (Dept. Culture Arts & Leisure) at Stormont. During what turned out to be the another rousing speech from Nelson, he mentioned something that stuck with me to this day, and something I decided to act upon. Nelson described the upcoming Centenary of the Ulster Covenant Celebrations in 2012 as 'very important to the us as Ulster-men and women' and further went on to use the term 'Birth Certificate of Northern Ireland' and everyone from the Unionist Family, should come together and celebrate this momentous occasion.
Well that's what I did, now not only me, but I had a great deal of help from my good friends Jack Greenald, Mark Thompson and Hamilton Gregory. Our planning began early and as the months rolled on the bits n pieces that we had discussed began to come to fruition - what did we do? - well quite a lot as it turned out
1/ The Ulster Covenant was signed in many places around the Borough of Ards including the Town Hall. We lobbied the Council to erect a brass plaque in the Town Hall foyer to mark the signing of the Ulster Covenant 100 years ago. This duly took place on Monday 17th September 2012 - incidentally unveiled by the Mayor of Ards Alderman Hamilton Gregory!
2/ Ulster Covenant Exhibition - this was the brainchild of Mark Thompson, but assisted along the way when needed were - Jack Greenald, myself and a few other intelligent folk. The exhibition has been a great success and very professionally put together. Having spent 2 weeks in the Town Hall, Newtownards, it is now on a tour of the Ards Peninsula.
3/ Ulster Covenant Centenary Dinner - we (Loughries) planned a dinner and musical evening to celebrate and commemorate the Ulster Covenant in the Town Hall. Newtownards. This duly took place on Ulster Day, 28th September 2012, 100 years to the day when the Ulster Covenant was signed in the very building. The dinner was a sell out - with 2 speakers Drew Nelson Grand Secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland and MP for Strangford Mr. Jim Shannon. Other VIP's were in attendance including MLA's, local Councillors and dignitaries. We also raised £330.00 for the Mayor's Charities !!
4/ Ulster Covenant Centenary Parade in Belfast - we did not plan this event, however along with over 100,000 other Ulster folk, we made our way to Belfast and participated in the Orange Parade from Sandy Row Belfast, past City Hall, to Stormont grounds. I have been a member of the Orange Institution for 30 years this year, and it was the greatest parade and event that I had the pleasure to attend - it was magnificent ! One of the speakers on the stage was Rev. Alastair Smyth Grand Chaplain of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland..... Rev. Smyth married my wife and I 14 years ago !!
5/ Ulster Covenant Centenary Church Service - this was held at Grace Free Presbyterian Church Newtownards. Service conducted by Rev. Ron Johnstone Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church with the help of Jack Greenald - and a wonderful supper was provided in the new Church extension
Well as you can read, I was very busy on the run up to the Ulster Covenant and indeed just as busy during and after the event. That said, it was a remarkable week and a huge success. My sincerest thanks are extended to Jack Greenald, Mark Thompson and Hamilton Gregory, also to all the other folk who helped quietly and supported our events.
So from a few words on an Orange Platform by Mr. Nelson MCCausland tin 2010, and with 2 years planning later, we were able to put together a number of Ulster Covenant Events, that proved to be wonderfully successful and will live long on the memory.
It pays to listen to speeches........ well sometimes !!!