Opportunity for the populace to get into closer touch with the leader did not, however, come till the autumn. He was unable to attend the Orange celebration on the 12th of July, when the anniversary, which preceded by less than a month the “removal of the last obstacle to Home Rule” by the passing of the Parliament Act, was kept with more than the usual fervour, and the speeches proved that the gravity of the situation was fully appreciated. The Marquis of Londonderry, addressing an immense concourse of Belfast Lodges, stated that it was the first time an Ex-Viceroy had been present at an Orange gathering, but that he had deliberately created the precedent owing to his sense of the danger threatening the Loyalist cause.
It was the first of innumerable similar actions by which Lord Londonderry identified himself whole-heartedly with the popular movement, throwing aside all the conventional restraints of rank and wealth, and thereby endearing himself to every man and woman in Protestant Ulster. There was no more familiar figure in the streets of Belfast. Barefooted street urchins, catching sight of him on the steps of the Ulster Club, would gather round and, with free-and-easy familiarity, shout “Three cheers for Londonderry.” He knew everybody and was everybody’s friend. There was no aristocratic hauteur or aloofness about his genial personality. He was in the habit of entertaining the whole Unionist Council, some five hundred strong, at luncheon or dinner as the occasion required, when important meetings of the delegates took place. Distinguished political visitors from England could always be invited over without thought for their entertainment, since a welcome at Mount Stewart was never wanting. His financial support of the political movement was equally open-handed.
But, helpful as were his hospitality and his subscriptions, it was the countenance and support of a man who had held high Cabinet office, and especially the great position of Viceroy of Ireland, that made Lord Londonderry’s full participation an asset of incalculable value to the cause he espoused. Moreover, while he was always ready to cross the Channel, even if for a few hours only, when wanted for any conference or public meeting, never pleading his innumerable social and political engagements in London or the North of England as an excuse for absence, his natural modesty of character made it easy for him to act under the leadership of another. Indeed, he underrated his own abilities; but there are probably not many men of his prominence and antecedents who, if similarly placed, would have been able to give, without a trace of amour-propre, to a leader who had in former years been his own official subordinate, the consistently loyal backing that Lord Londonderry gave to Sir Edward Carson.