“Diligence and vigilance should be your watchword, so that the blow, if it is coming, may not come upon you as a thief in the night, and may not find you unready and taken by surprise.” Such had been Lord Randolph’s warning. It was now learnt, with feelings in which disgust and indignation were equally mingled, that Lord Randolph’s son was bent on coming to Belfast, not indeed as a thief in the night, but with challenging audacity, to give his countenance, encouragement, and support to the adherents of disloyalty whom Lord Randolph had told Ulster to resist to the death. And not only was he coming to Belfast; he was coming to the Ulster Hall—to the very building which his father’s oration had, as it were, consecrated to the Unionist cause, and which had come to be regarded as almost a loyalist shrine.
It is no doubt difficult for those who are unfamiliar with the psychology of the North of Ireland to understand the anger which this projected visit of Mr. Winston Churchill aroused in Belfast. His change of political allegiance from the party which his father had so brilliantly served and led, to the party which his father had so pitilessly chastised, was of course displeasing to Conservatives everywhere. Politicians who leave their friends to join their opponents are never popular with those they abandon, and Mr. Winston Churchill was certainly no exception. But such desertions, after the first burst of wrath has evaporated, are generally accepted with a philosophic shrug in what journalists call “political circles” in London, where plenty of precedents for lapses from party virtue can be quoted. In the provinces, even in England, resentment dies down less easily, and forgiveness is of slow growth; but in Ulster, where a political creed is held with a religious fervour, or, as a hostile critic might put it, with an intolerance unknown in England, and where the dividing line between “loyalty” and “disloyalty” is regarded almost as a matter of faith, the man who passes from the one to the other arouses the same bitterness of anger and contempt which soldiers feel for a deserter in face of the enemy.
To such sentiments there was added, in the case of Mr. Winston Churchill, a shocked feeling that his appearance in the Ulster Hall as an emissary of Home Rule would be an act not only of political apostasy but of filial impiety. The prevailing sentiment in Belfast at the time was expressed somewhat brutally, perhaps, in the local Press—“he is coming to dance on his father’s coffin.” It was an outrage on their feelings which the people of Belfast could not and would not tolerate. If Mr. Churchill was determined to flaunt the green flag let him find a more suitable site than the very citadel in which they had been exhorted by his father to keep the Union Jack flying to the last.