The origins of the Ulster Volunteers are to be found in the great controversy over the Home Rule Bills of 1912-1914. Most of Donegal county were Home Rulers, but there was a strong 'Planter' element, particularly in the Laggan and along Donegal Bay, which regarded the maintenance of the Union as essential to its civil and religious liberty and to its economic prosperity.
The 1911 census showed that 21.5% of Co. Donegal's population was Protestant. However, the county's Protestant population was heavily concentrated in the East of Donegal. The signing of the Ulster Covenant and the Women's declaration of the 28th September 1912 showed that in East Donegal 4,187 men signed the Covenant. In May 1913 there were six Unionist Clubs in Donegal, in July 1913 the number had risen to nineteen, in four which training was taking place with dummy rifles. By September 1913 there were seventeen Ulster Unionists' clubs in the County. In most of them members were practicing drill and parading public roads carrying dummy rifles. The Royal Irish Constabulary believed that the strength of the UVF in the county in September 1913 to be 1,178 of whom 890 were concentrated around Raphoe.
On Thursday 2nd October 1913 Sir Edward Carson, accompanied by the Duke of Abercorn, travelled to Strabane by train, having been guests for the night of the Earl and Countess of Ranfurly. A large crowd greeted Carson at Strabane railway station. Carson completed his journey to Raphoe by motorcar. C.V. Stoney of Oakfield entertained Carson and his part in his home, originally the Deanery, a Georgian house built in 1739 at a cost of £1,680. Here a platform draped with brightly coloured bunting was erected. The village was fraped in Union Jacks and as early as 8.00am, people began converging on the area. The Unionist demonstration took place in the Oakfield demense. Carson reviewed 1,500 volunteers, under the command of the Earl of Leitrim. Contingents were drawn from all over the county, speaker after speaker assured the crowd that the success of their cause was guaranteed. The Earl of Leitrim alone insisted that their quarrel was not 'with our Roman Catholic neighbours, but with the government.' E.C. Herdman of Sion Mills and C.V. Stoney also spoke. The Raphoe meeting was part of Carson's fortnight long tour to mark the first anniversary of the signing of the Ulster Convenant. But these promises were never put to the test for war Swept Europe and the Home Rule issue was shelved.
When World War 1 broke out in 1914, Carson pledged his volunteers to the war effort. They became the 11th battalion of the Inniskillings, with Lord Leitrim as their major. In 1916 they were sent to Aldershot, en route for France. In 1916 they were heavily engaged in the fighting, and many Donegal families mourned the dead or anxiously awaited news of the wounded. For many families in Donegal, particularly in the east and south of the county, 1916 was the year of the Somme. That terrible battle, which began on July 1st, and continued for many days, took a heavy toll on the Ulster Division. The volunteers of West Ulster formed battalions of the Royal Inniskilling fusiliers. Donegal was the 11th battalion, Tyrone the 9th and Derry the 10th. Throughout July and August 1916 the local papers carried lengthening lists of casualties among the Inniskillings, and after a number of names came the words 'Donegal Volunteers.'
Between November and the summer of 1914 Carson's task was to save as much of Ulster as possible from the operation of a Home Rule Bill. At a Buckingham palace conference, on the eve of World War 1, it seemed as if only Antrim, Down and Londonderry could be saved for the Union, which left Donegal under the control of Dublin. To the horror of Donegal's Unionists, Carson and the other northerners accepted it. However, the settlement collapsed and it was not until February 1920 that the Government of Ireland Act was introduced into the Commons. Carson was invited to become Northern Ireland's first Prime Minister, but he declined as it would involved operating the Government of Ireland Act which he had viewed with distaste. In February 1921 he formally relinquished the leadership of Ulster Unionism. On May 21st Carson accepted a life peerage and judicial as Lord of appeal in Ordinary. Negotiations resulted in the Anglo-Irish treaty which brought the conflict to a close and gave Dominion status to the 26 counties. Carson regarded it as surrender to terrorism and humiliation for the British Empire. After that he took little interest in Ulster politics. He made occasional visits to parliament, and his statue was unveiled in front of Parliament Buildings in his presence on July 8th, 1933. Carson died on October 22nd 1935 at Cleve Court, near Ramsgate. HMS Broke conveyed the body to Belfast for a state funeral in St. Anne's Cathedral, where he was buried within the precincts. This subject relates to Political and Military history.