Although the main business of the day was over, so far as Carson and the other leaders were concerned, when they had signed the Covenant in the City Hall at noon, every hour, and every minute in the hour, until they took their departure in the Liverpool packet in the evening, was full of incident and excitement. The multitude in the streets leading to the City Hall was so densely packed that they had great difficulty in making their way to the Reform Club, where they were to be entertained at lunch. And, as every man and woman in the crowd was desperately anxious the moment they saw him to get near enough to Carson to shake him by the hand, the pressure of the swaying mass of humanity was a positive danger. Happily the behaviour of the people was as exemplary as it was tumultuously enthusiastic. The Times Special Correspondent thus summed up his impressions of the scene:
“Belfast did all that a city could do for such an occasion. I do not well see how its behaviour could have been more impressive. The tirelessness of the crowd—it was that perhaps which struck me most; and, secondly, the good conduct of the crowd. Belfast had one of the lowest of its Saturday records for drunkenness and disorderliness yesterday. I was in the Reform Club between one and three o’clock. Again and again I went out on the balcony and watched the streets. I saw the procession of thousands upon thousands come down Royal Avenue. But this was not the only line of march, for all Belfast was now converging upon the City Hall, the arrangements in which must have been elaborate. It was a procession a description of which would have been familiar to the Belfast public, but the like of which is only seen in Ulster.”
The tribute here paid to the conduct of the Belfast crowd was well merited. But in this respect the day of the Covenant was not so exceptional as it would have been before the beginning of the Ulster Movement. Before that period neither Belfast nor any part of Ulster could have been truthfully described as remarkable for its sobriety. But by the universal testimony of those qualified to judge in such matters—police, clergy of all denominations, and workers for social welfare—the political movement had a sobering and steadying influence on the people, which became more and more noticeable as the movement developed, and especially as the volunteers grew in numbers and discipline. The “man in the street” gained a sense of responsibility from the feeling that he formed one of a great company whom it was his wish not to discredit, and he found occupation for mind and body which diminished the temptations of idle hours.