Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Behind the Name

“To live in mankind is far more than to live in a name.”...Vachel Lindsay

I’ve been on a road of self- discovery since my birthday last fall. I’m recalculating where I want to land and how I want my life story to finish at the end. I decided to start at the beginning, thinking the end view from the starting point might make my path clearer. The beginning didn’t start the day I came into existence. It began with significant people who transferred and embedded their values, morals and convictions onto the next generation and so on and so on.

My beginning takes me back to my Great Granny Buick, born as Eleanor but known as “Nellie”. I was named after her. I’ve hated my middle name my entire life. I can recall her gnarled hands and quiet presence. She was the Matriarch of the Buick family. More than that she raised my dad and my aunt when my grandfather James went to serve in WWII. She was either feared or revered by all who knew her. Nellie was a God fearing woman. My dad always said when Granny Buick prayed God listened. I inherited her bible when she died and it is tucked away in my ‘hopeless chest’ among my souvenirs.

Rather than recounting the endless stories and memories about her I went on a search to learn something new about this magnificent woman. What I discovered about her in my quest was unexpected, unassuming and historical.

It all boils down to Ulster Day 1912. Successive Westminster governments had being trying to settle the “Irish question” by giving Ireland a limited measure of local autonomy known as 'Home Rule'. The first two Home Rule Bills, in 1886 and 1893, had been rejected by Parliament, following concerted pressure from Unionists in Great Britain and Ireland.

In April 1912 the Third Home Rule Bill was introduced, in which the authority of the United Kingdom Government "over all persons, matters and things in Ireland" was clearly acknowledged. On the eve of the introduction of the bill a mass demonstration was held in Belfast.

On 23 September 1912 the Ulster Unionist Council passed a resolution pledging itself to the Ulster Covenant. Circulars were distributed to local Ulster Day Committees which arranged for Unionists to have the opportunity to sign the Covenant in their own districts. The Ulster Covenant was signed by just under half a million of men and women from Ulster on and before September 28, 1912. The Covenant had two basic parts: the Covenant itself, which was signed by men, and the Declaration, which was signed by women. In total, the Covenant was signed by 237,368 men, and the Declaration by 234,046 women. The Ulster Covenant is immortalized in Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Ulster 1912”.

Back at Westminster, Unionists put up fierce opposition to each stage of the Home Rule Bill, and the third reading was not carried until January 1913, after which the Bill received its expected defeat in the House of Lords. The outbreak of World War I then halted further progress. Today Ulster remains.

So what does this have to do with Nellie? In the age before woman could vote or work outside the home Nellie stood by her convictions, her husband and Ulster and was one of the 234,046 women who signed the Declaration for Ulster. Her signature is the last one in the picture. Her address the same as the home she raised my father in.

Shortly after this historical event her husband Samuel, my great grandfather was enlisted into World War I. Nellie was one of the first women in Belfast to vote in 1917. She could never be classified as being a ‘libber or feminist’. She lived passionately and did what she had to do; determined, with perseverance, tenacity and with her whole heart. I could not ask to be named after a greater person.

“Whoa Nellie, I’ll meet up with you at the end of my life story. I hope I make you proud.” MWAH!