Museum of Unionist Military History Tour 

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Origins & History of the UVF

The Ulster Volunteers was a unionist militia founded in 1912 to block domestic self-government (or Home Rule) for Ireland, which was then part of the United Kingdom. The Ulster Volunteers were based in the northern province of Ulster. Many Ulster Protestants feared being governed by a Catholic-majority parliament in Dublin and losing their local supremacy and strong links with Britain. In 1913, the militias were organised into the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and vowed to resist any attempts by the British Government to 'impose' Home Rule on Ulster.

The two key figures in the creation of the Ulster Volunteers were Edward Carson (leader of the Irish Unionist Alliance) and James Craig, supported by figures such as Henry Wilson, Director of Military Operations at the British War Office. At the start of 1912, leading unionists and members of the Orange Order (a Protestant fraternity) began forming small local militias and drilling. On 9 April Carson and Bonar Law, leader of the Conservative & Unionist Party, reviewed 100,000 'Ulster Volunteers' marching in columns. On 28 September, 218,206 men signed the Ulster Covenant, vowing to use "all means which may be found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule Parliament in Ireland", with the support of 234,046 women.

On 13 January 1913, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) was formally established by the Ulster Unionist Council. Recruitment was to be limited to 100,000 men aged from 17 to 65 who had signed the Covenant, under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir George Richardson KCB. William Gibson was the first commander of the 3rd East Belfast Regiment of the Ulster Volunteers.

The UVF was once again reformed in 1966 under the leadership of Gusty Spence, a former British soldier. The organisation’s stated goal was to combat Irish republicanism – particularly the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) – and maintain Northern Ireland's status as part of the United Kingdom. During the 30 years of the Troubles the organisation assumed responsible for over 500 deaths. The UVF declared a ceasefire in 1994 and our journey ends with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

The Museum of Unionist Military History is housed in East Belfast’s Ballymac Friendship Centre, located on the interface between loyalist Pitt Park and nationalist Short Strand. The Museum has collections of artefacts that chart over 150 years of local involvement in the defence of the Crown and the protection of the Union with mainland Great Britain. Discover the history behind the formation of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), see the original weapons obtained to defend the Union from Home Rule, as well as those later used by the 36th Ulster Division at the Battle of the Somme, and learn about the role of the UVF in the recent conflict.  

Ballymac Friendship Centre - 1A Fraser Pass, Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom

Inside The Museum

1853 – 1856) Personal items and letters from local man Edward Baird who fought in the Crimean War (1853 – 1856) start the journey and we move through the history of the Royal Irish Rifles (who fought in Indian Uprising 1857; 2Nd Boer War 1899 – 1902 and WW1 1914-18).

1912

In 1912 the British Government introduced the Third Home Rule Bill, offering Ireland self-government. In response to, unionists formed a militia known as the Ulster Volunteers in 1912 (reorganising into the Ulster Volunteer Force in 1913) who would rise to arms if Ulster needed defended. The Ulster Covenant – a pledge to resist an Irish Government ruling Ulster – was drafted in 1912, and hundreds of thousands of people signed it.

1914

The Museum has many original signed Covenants on display, as well as original clothing, uniforms and equipment that were used at the time. The Museum also houses two of the 200.000 weapons that were smuggled into Ulster on the Clyde Valley boat in April 1914 to arm the volunteers.

1916

WW1 would follow shortly after that and the Ulster Volunteer Force would become the 36th Ulster Division and would head to France to fight the Germans at the Battle of the Somme 1916. This would become one of the most iconic and bloody battles of the war. The 36th Ulster Division attacked on the 1st July and over half the men were lost on that day – a sacrifice that is well noted in history. Many original shells, bullets and weaponry gathered from the fields of the Somme can be viewed in the museum.

1921

The war had stalled Home Rule but the issue was soon back and in 1921 the ‘Partition of Ireland’ was enacted and Northern Ireland was formed. Violence and rioting plagued the new country for the following 40 years with loyalists and nationalists in Ulster clashing over sovereignty.

We now journey through the second of the larger collections.

1966

1966 the Ulster Volunteer Force was re-established after an IRA bomb destroyed Nelson's Pillar in Dublin.  At the time, the IRA was weak and not engaged in armed action, but some unionists feared that it was about to be revived and launch another campaign in Northern Ireland.

The UVF was led by Gusty Spence, a former British soldier. The organisation’s stated goal was to combat Irish republicanism – particularly the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) – and maintain Northern Ireland's status as part of the United Kingdom. During the 30 years of the Troubles the organisation assumed responsible for over 500 deaths. A number of weapons similar to those used by the UVF can be seen on display including handguns and assault rifles such as AK47s.

Many members spent lengthy periods in jail, especially in Long Kesh (H blocks.) Here they developed crafting skills and made leather goods such as purses and belts and music, jewelry and trinket boxes out of wood. These would have either been presents for loved ones or items to be sold to help support their families. A vast array of these are on view.

The UVF declared a ceasefire in 1994 and our journey ends with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

 
Ballymac Friendship Centre
1A Fraser Pass, Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
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