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