The MP for North Armagh Edward Saunderson (1837-1906) had stated in the House of Commons:
“No man who comes to Belfast will laugh at the Ulster Loyalists. When all is said and done, whether or not the House of Lords rejects this Bill, I say in the name of my people I reject it. You may occupy the House of Commons for years to come with academic debates about the merits of this Home Rule Bill but I say in their name I reject it …. Home Rule may pass this House but it will never pass the bridge at Portadown”.
It was no surprise then that in 1912, Unionist leader Edward Carson chose Portadown for one of the final pre-covenant demonstrations on 25th September. Carson stood at the statue of Edward Sanderson (outside St Marks Church) and, in a tribute to the MP and his views on Home Rule, read a card attached to the statue stating “though dead, yet speaketh”.
Here, Carson greeted the procession-consisting of thousands of Unionist club and Orange Order members. The town centre echoed to the sound of drums and bands as the ranks passed, Carson receiving the salute from all.
He then proceeded to the town’s show grounds were a stage carriage carried the slogan, “We will not have Home Rule”. During a stirring oration, the crowd was told in no uncertain terms that in the battle for unionism, “Portadown will not be behind”.
Just a few days later, over 95% of the district’s eligible population penned their signatures on the Ulster Covenant and the Ulster Declaration.