The Laggan and the Ulster Volunteers

For many families in Donegal, particularly in the east and south of the county, 1916 was the year of the Somme. That terrible battle, which began on July 1st, and continued for many days, took a heavy toll on the Ulster Division. The division incorporated the Ulster Volunteers, who had enrolled as a body in Kitchener's army on the outbreak of war in 1914. The volunteers of west Ulster formed battalions of the Royal Inniskilling fusiliers. Donegal was the 11th battalion, Tyrone the 9th, Derry the 10th. Throughout July and August 1916 the local papers carried lengthening lists of casualties among the Inniskillings, and after a number of names came the words "Donegal volunteers."

The origins of the Ulster volunteers are to be found in the great controversy over the Home Rule bills of 1912-1914. Most of Donegal county were Home Rulers, but there was a strong "Planter" element, particularly in the Laggan and along Donegal Bay, which regarded the maintenance of the Union as essential to its civil and religious liberty and to its economic prosperity. Their traditions were laid down in the C178; memories of the siege of Derry coloured their political thinking, and they were just as strongly opposed to Home Rule, as were their brethren in eastern Ulster. September 28th, 1912, was celebrated as Ulster Day, when special services were held in protestant churches and mass signings of the covenant took place. Thousands pledged themselves to resist Home Rule with all the fervour of their covenanting ancestors of the C17. The local press recorded a number of such meetings in Co Donegal at Letterkenny, Raphoe, Convoy, St Johnston, Donegal Town and many other places.

On October 2. 1913, Sir Edward Carson held a great rally at Raphoe. 1500 Donegal volunteers paraded under the command of the fifth Earl of Leitrim. The "Derry Standard" published the headlines" Sir Edward Carson at Raphoe imposing view of Ulster Volunteers Donegal's "NO SURRENDER." The Stoney family estate of Oakfield was selected as the actual site. Here a platform draped with brightly coloured bunting was erected. The village was draped in Union Jacks and as early as 8.00 am, people began converging on the area. Carson arrived with the Duke of Abercorn, the conservative politician F E Smith and Sir George Richardson. Their open, horse-drawn carriage passed through the guard of honour of 1,500 armed volunteers from all over the county. Speaker after speaker assured the crowd that the success of their cause was guaranteed. The Earl of Leitrim alone insisted that their quarrel was "not with our Roman Catholic neighbours, but with the government. But these promises were never put to the test for war swept Europe and the Home Rule issue was shelved.

When WW1 broke out in 1914, Carson pledged his volunteers to the war effort. They became the 11th battalion of the Inniskillings, with Lord Leitrim as their major. In 1916 they were sent to Aldershot, en route for France. In 1916 they were heavily engaged in the fighting, and many Donegal families mourned the dead or anxiously awaited news of the wounded.

During this time the British government tried to impose a settlement which included a partition of Ireland which left Donegal under the control of Dublin. To the horror of Donegal's Unionists, Carson and the other northerners accepted it. However, the settlement collapsed and it was not until 1920 that it became completely clear to the county's loyalists that the promises had been empty and that the unionists of the rest of Ulster were content to win a parliament for themselves and leave Donegal to fend for itself.

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