The death of Lord Londonderry was felt by many thousands in Ulster as a personal bereavement. If he did not arouse the unbounded, and almost delirious, devotion which none but Sir Edward Carson ever evoked in the North of Ireland, the deep respect and warm affection felt towards him by all who knew him, and by great numbers who did not, was a tribute which his modesty and integrity of character and genial friendliness of disposition richly deserved. He was faithfully described by Carson himself to the Ulster Unionist Council several months after his death as “a great leader, a great and devoted public servant, a great patriot, a great gentleman, and above all the greatest of great friends.”
Ulster, meantime, had already had a foretaste of the sacrifices the war was to demand when the Division should go to the front. In November 1914 Captain the Hon. Arthur O’Neill, M.P. for Mid Antrim, who had gone to the front with the first expeditionary force, was killed in action in France. There was a certain sense of sad pride in the reflection that the first member of the House of Commons to give his life for King and country was a representative of Ulster; and the constituency which suffered the loss of a promising young member by the death of this gallant Life Guardsman consoled itself by electing in his place his younger brother, Major Hugh O’Neill, then serving in the Ulster Division, who afterwards proved himself a most valuable member of the Ulster Parliamentary Party, and eventually became the first Speaker of the Ulster Parliament created by the Act of 1920.
Notwithstanding the bitter outbreak of party passion caused by the Government’s action in putting the Home Rule Bill on the Statute-book in September, the party truce was well maintained throughout the autumn and winter. And the most striking proof of the transformation wrought by the war was seen when Mr. Asquith, when constrained to form a truly national Administration in May 1915, included Sir Edward Carson in his Cabinet with the office of Attorney-General. Mr. Redmond was at the same time invited to join the Government, and his refusal to do so when the British Unionists, the Labour leaders, and the Ulster leaders all responded to the Prime Minister’s appeal to their patriotism, did not appear in the eyes of Ulstermen to confirm the Nationalist leader’s profession of loyalty to the Empire; though they did him the justice of believing that he would have accepted office if he had felt free to follow his own inclination. His inability to do so, and the complaints of his followers, including Mr. Dillon, at the admission of Carson to the Cabinet, revealed the incapacity of the Nationalists to rise to a level above party.