Conservative Party politician Lord Randolph Churchill, father of Winston Churchill, gives what many consider one of the single most destructive speeches in Irish history, inciting militant loyalists at Ulster Hall in Belfast on February 22, 1886.
Protestants in Ulster are very concerned about the prospect of Irish Home Rule. They fear that an Irish parliament will put rural agricultural interests before the needs of the industrial North-East. They believe a Dublin parliament will introduce tariffs which will damage industries in the north. They also fear that they will be discriminated against because of their religion, outnumbered in a Dublin parliament by Catholic representatives.
Churchill has shown disdain for Ulster Unionists up until this time, in private at least, telling Lord Salisbury, “these foul Ulster Tories have always ruined our party,” but as 1886 begins he sees an opportunity to exploit their fears for political gain. He decides that should Prime Minister William Gladstone “went for Home Rule (for Ireland), the Orange Card would be the one to play. Please God may it turn out the ace of trumps and not the two.” This quote leads one to believe he has few real convictions regarding the issue.
“Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right,” Lord Churchill proclaims to a crowd before he even arrives at Ulster Hall.
Lord Churchill, gives a rousing speech at the rally. During his speech, he plays on Protestant fears of Dublin “Catholic” rule and encourages Ulster Protestants to organize against Home Rule so it does not come upon them “as a thief in the night.” As a result, the Ulster Protestants begin to form paramilitary drilling units.
Churchill achieves a short term political gain by his playing of the Orange Card, but his most lasting legacy is the unfounded fear of Irish Catholics that he helps to implant in the minds of Ulster Protestants, a tragedy for both traditions on the island. Those fears remain evident over a century later.