Among the many distinguished people who assembled in the Ulster Capital for the occasion, there was one notable absentee. Lord Carson of Duncairn—for this was the title that Sir Edward Carson had assumed on being appointed a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary a few weeks previously—was detained in London by judicial duty in the House of Lords; and possibly reasons of delicacy not difficult to understand restrained him from making arrangements for absence. But the marked ovation given to Lady Carson wherever she was recognised in the streets of Belfast showed that the great leader was not absent from the popular mind at this moment of vindication of his statesmanship.
Such an event as that which brought His Majesty to Belfast was naturally an occasion for bestowing marks of distinction for public service. Sir James Craig wisely made it also an occasion for letting bygones be bygones by recommending Lord Pirrie for a step in the Peerage. Among those who received honours were several whose names have appeared in the preceding chapters of this book. Mr. William Robert Young, for thirty years one of the most indefatigable workers for the Unionist cause in Ulster, and Colonel Wallace, one of the most influential of Carson’s local lieutenants, were made Privy Councillors, as was also Colonel Percival-Maxwell, who raised and commanded a battalion of the Ulster Division in the war. Colonel F.H. Crawford and Colonel Spender were awarded the C.B.E. for services to the nation during the war; but Ulstermen did not forget services of another sort to the Ulster cause before the Germans came on the scene. A knighthood was given to Mr. Dawson Bates, who had exchanged the Secretaryship of the Ulster Unionist Council for the portfolio of a Cabinet Minister.
These honours were bestowed by the King in person at an investiture held in the Ulster Hall in the afternoon. There must have been many present whose minds went back to some of the most stirring events of Ulster’s domestic history which had been transacted in the same building within recent years. Did Sir Hamar Greenwood, the Chief Secretary, as he stood in attendance on the Sovereign in the resplendent uniform of a Privy Councillor, look in curiosity round the walls which he and Mr. Churchill had been prohibited from entering on a memorable occasion when they had to content themselves with an imported tent in a football field instead? Did Colonel Wallace’s thoughts wander back to the scene of wild enthusiasm in that hall on the evening before the Covenant, when he presented the ancient Boyne flag to the Ulster leader? Did those who spontaneously started the National Anthem in the presence of the King without warrant from the prearranged programme, and made the Queen smile at the emphasis with which they “confounded politics” and “frustrated knavish tricks,” remember the fervour with which on many a past occasion the same strains testified to Ulster’s loyalty in the midst of perplexity and apprehension? If these memories crowded in, they must have added to the sense of relief arising from the conviction that the ceremony they were now witnessing was the realisation of the policy propounded by Carson, when he declared that Ulster must always be ruled either by the Imperial Parliament or by a Government of her own.