Canada’s 150th birthday is coming up in a few days! As part of my doctoral work at the University of Edinburgh, I looked at visits across the Atlantic by Ulster unionists who aimed to publicize their cause and to counter Irish nationalism during the Home Rule era. One of the more interesting stories involving Canadian history that I came across involved two of these Ulster unionists, who toured North America in 1886.
Reverend Dr. Richard Rutledge Kane and barrister George Hill Smith were commissioned by the Ulster Loyalist Anti-Repeal Union shortly after the defeat of the first Home Rule Bill to present the unionist cause to the North American public which they believed were blinded by a pro-nationalist press.
Kane was a fairly notorious figure within Belfast society as the rector of Christ Church, the Grand Master of Belfast’s Orange Order, and a prominent unionist speaker; he was accused of inciting the Belfast riots in 1886. Smith was a barrister from Armagh who spoke throughout England and Scotland on behalf of the Ulster Loyalist Anti-Repeal Union and other Irish unionist organizations.
Kane and Smith’s tour first took them to Canada and then to the United States. Speaking at gatherings of Irish immigrants and their descendants, and to Orangemen, they promoted the cause of Irish unionism and attempted to discredit Irish nationalists. But there was one particularly remarkable incident that stood out both to me and to Smith, who considered it one of the most extraordinary things to happen in his long speaking career. Continue reading
Irish World, 11 March 1893
In the midst of the second Home Rule crisis in 1893, the most prominent Irish-American newspaper, the Irish World, published this political cartoon: “The Anti-Home Rule Orange Circus Over the Water.”
Here we see Edward Saunderson, MP and leader of the Ulster unionists in Parliament, beating the Orange drum. Reverend Richard Rutledge Kane, of Belfast’s Christ Church, rips and stomps the Home Rule bill. And in the background, Prime Minister William E. Gladstone is burned in effigy.
The Irish World described the scene: “More than 5,000 persons were present at the great Orange meeting here [in Belfast] to-day. Dr. Kane, who presided, said that Ulster was prepared to defend herself to the last against the proposals of the Home Rule Bill. The men of Ulster need not feel, however, that they would be alone and unaided in the fight for their liberties. They had the sympathies of Englishmen of all classes throughout the world.
“He had received letters from military and police officers in England and Ireland and telegrams from Canada and Australia promising co-operation with the men of Ulster if the latter resorted to arms to defend their liberties against the tyranny of their historic foes. A hundred thousand Orangemen were ready to resist to the death the Home Rule Bill.”
The Irish World‘s serious tone in reporting the event contrasts with the snarling and chaotic feel to the political cartoon, with the beating of the Orange drum an annoying “circus” and distraction from what Irish nationalists considered as the larger issues at stake with Home Rule.