Ulster Women’s Unionist Council
The council was established on 23rd January 1911. It very quickly developed into a strong, active and democratic body that held the women of Ulster together with one common objective-the resistance to Home Rule for Ireland. Within just one year of its establishment, the UWUC was notably the largest female political group in Ireland. At its height membership was in the region of 115,000-200,000.
Civil War In Ireland
Many women were anxious to play their part in the event of Civil War in Ireland, particularly the Ulster Women’s Unionist Council who proposed, as early as the beginning of 1912, that an Ambulance Society be set up and associated with their organisation. However, they also became the driving force behind the formation of the Ulster Volunteer Medical and Nursing Corps which was formally in place by the end of 1913. They believed that each Company of the UVF should have a voluntary female nursing section that could be called upon in the event of Civil War breaking out. Up until that time various affiliated associations of the UWUC were already offering First Aid and nursing classes in their areas.
Establishing a Nursing Service
The Executive Committee of the Ulster Women’s council then took the initiative in early October 1913, to write to the Medical Board of the Ulster Volunteer Force to ask them to give serious consideration to the idea of a nursing service. They made plain the urgency of the situation and included how the scheme should be based on the outline of the Voluntary Aid Detachment scheme which operated in Britain under the Red Cross. They pointed out that volunteers should be trained in First Aid and Home Nursing using material from either the Red Cross or St John’s Ambulance Association. The medical Board accepted the idea of a nursing service and by mid December 1913 the training scheme was well underway in many areas of the province.
Portadown Women’s Unionist Association
The members of Portadown Women’s Unionist Association had many links with the local Women’s Loyal Orange Institution. The association in Portadown was a strong and well organised one. They met in Carleton Street Orange hall. In August 1913 they held a large meeting in a field in Edgarstown, which was owned by Miss Kate Carleton, to rally against Home Rule. They held a number of these meetings during the years of the Home Rule Crisis.
The Blacker’s and The Unionist Associations
The President of the Portadown Women’s Unionist Association in 1914 was Mrs Blacker of Carrickblacker. The wife of Major Stewart Ward William Blacker. During the years of the Home Rule Crisis, Major Blacker took a keen interest in the formation of the Unionist Clubs and in January 1912 he was appointed vice-president of the local men’s Unionist Association in Portadown. Major Blacker was then appointed commanding officer of the 4th Portadown Battalion Ulster Volunteer Force.
Mrs Blacker was described by Mrs Dougan (the Vice President and wife of Bro. Dr George Dougan) as:
“A worthy representative of the Blacker family, the Blacker’s in days gone by have rendered invaluable service to the Unionist Cause”
The Secretary was Mrs C Johnston, her husband was the Chairman of the men’s Unionist Association in Portadown. The treasurer was Louisa Shillington, the wife of David Graham Shillington and a respected Orangewoman. David Graham Shillington was an officer of the 4th Portadown Battalion Ulster Volunteer Force and also a respected Orangeman.
UVF Hospital at Carleton Street Orange Hall
At the annual meeting of the Portadown Women’s Unionist Association in Carleton Street Orange Hall, in April 1914, the plans were finalised for a volunteer hospital in the Orange Hall. In the event of an outbreak of civil war in Ireland.
The Orangemen of Portadown had kindly placed the whole building at the disposal of the women should a civil war break out. It would have been a base hospital. The Parochial Hall had also been offered as an auxiliary if it was required. The staff at the hospital would have been as follows:
- Joint Commandants- Mrs Robb and Mrs Hobson
- Superintendant Nurse- Miss Marion Stanley
- Mr WM Fulton- Treasurer
- Mr Megarry- Quarter Master
- Mr Robert Anderson – Transport Officer
- Four trained nurses
- Forty women trained in first aid nursing
The people of the town and district were generous in their promises to give or lend articles for the hospital and the tradespeople of the town also came forward to offer their services.
The cleaning and cooking was also not over looked. In the President’s report of the meeting it states that:
“I am glad to be able to tell you that we are extremely well off in both these respects”.
Mrs Davidson was tasked to oversee the cleaning of the hospital along with a large group of willing helpers. Mrs Dawson, Mrs Wedgewood, Mrs R Lutton and Mrs W Fulton would be responsible for the cooking.
The women had carefully refrained from asking for any money for the hospital. Although the executive committee of the association had ear-marked £10 of the general fund to be devoted to the use of the hospital if it was required. It was noted within the Presidents report that:
“I know that should the need really arise, you would all help as much as lay in your power”.
Mrs Blacker stated in her President report that:
“We all pray earnestly that the need for this hospital may never arise, still we must have our preparations made, and our organisation more or less complete, so that in the event of an outbreak we would not be caught napping”.
The Secretary, Mrs C Johnston, read a report on the work done by the Association during the year, which contained the following:
“When we met at our annual general meeting last year, we all fondly hoped that Home Rule would have been dead by this time. I believe it is dying, but it is not prepared to die, and we need to do everything in our power now to make it impossible for it ever to raise its head again in Ulster”
Canvassing and Newspaper Distribution
Women of the Portadown association often traveled to Britain to canvas support and teach the true facts of the situation in Ireland. One noted visit in the report of the meeting mentions a, Mrs Weir, who had given a satisfactory account of her canvassing experience in Scotland.
The Association in Portadown, on average posted over one hundred papers each week to Britain. The importance of this task was emphasised as it resulted in large subscriptions from some of the people to whom the papers were sent. This task counteracted government propaganda in Britain.
Mrs Johnston worked tirelessly to promote the Unionist cause both as Secretary and as head of the Volunteers Post Office. Mrs Louisa Shillington, as treasurer, and all the other officers of the Association gave so much of their time and effort in the interests of the Unionist cause.
Mrs Dougan paid tribute to the Ulster Volunteer force during the Association’s meeting stating:
“On the night of the 19th and 20th March when we all believed that wholesale massacre was at hand, and also on Friday night last, every man turned out. Not one sent an apology or made an appeal to get off. We hope and trust that they might never have to be mobilised again in similar circumstances, but if they do, they would prove themselves worthy sons of worthy forefathers, and that every man among them would do his duty’.
Outbreak of War
At the outbreak of war on 4 August 1914, the Home Rule crisis in Ireland and the threat of Civil War was now overtaken by a much greater force. The Ulster Volunteer Force and the Irish Volunteers set aside their differences and joined the ranks of Kitchener’s new army.
The outbreak of war propelled the Ulster Women’s Unionist Council into a new cause and for the remainder of the war their active opposition to Home Rule was put aside; the focus was now on how they could actively help on the ‘home front’.
In the early period of the war, the UWUC were actively pursuing various avenues whereby the skills of their newly trained Ulster Volunteer nurses could be utilised immediately and like many other aid organisations, offered their services to the British War Office which were declined. Not to be deterred an offer was made directly to the French Authorities which was gladly accepted and by 22nd September 1914, arrangments were already in place for the first group of the Ulster Volunteer nurses to proceed to France.
Carleton Street Orange Hall
The Orange Hall became a recruitment office. On 15th September 1914, 300 men were selected from the 4th Portadown Battalion Ulster Volunteer Force. The men underwent medical examination and were enlisted into the 9th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers.
This is a very small part of a much bigger story to be told through our “Loyalty is Not for Barter’ Exhibition launching September 2019.