This article was originally published in Edition (8) of Prayer Magazine,  Oct-Dec 2006.

What started as a peculiar dream, would change the course and direction of my life.

“I woke up with a picture of a beaver’s dam.  To the left of it the ground was dry and barren, with only a few trickles of water filtering through.  Along their courses there was vegetation.  On the right of the dam a large volume of water was being retained.  I could see people on the dam itself, working in an attempt to dismantle it.  I had a strong sense that they knew the water needed to be released, so that it could flow across the barren ground.  I was equally aware they were, by and large, not being very successful.

I was then taken down under the water, which was being held back by the dam, to its foundations.  There I saw a large log lying across the full length of it, with the words “The Ulster Covenant” written on it.  I clearly heard a voice speaking to me, “If you want to see this water flow out across the land, then you must remove the log in the foundations of this dam.”  The “you” mentioned here had a very personal implication and also a wider corporate dimension to it.”

Following this dream I began a process of historic research.  It became evident very quickly that if we are going to seriously intercede for our nations, then we may need to visit our past, seeking to understand and interpret it from God’s perspective.  As a Protestant growing up in Northern Ireland, I knew about the Ulster Covenant, but like a lot of other people I have talked to, I was ignorant regarding the finer details.

In that dream, I found a direct pointer to 1912, when the British Government was introducing the Home Rule Bill.  If it had become an Act, it would have actually brought into being something akin to the Scottish or Welsh Assemblies.  But to the Protestants of 1912 it was seen as a Government being established in Dublin, which would have been firmly under the control of the Roman Catholic Hierarchy.  Hence the still quoted phrase - verbally and through graffiti - “Home Rule is Rome Rule”.

In response, a number of former Moderators of the Presbyterian Church got together and introduced from their Scottish Planter and Covenanter history, the dynamics of Covenant.  This was embraced by the majority of the other Protestant Churches here – especially the Church of Ireland and Methodist Churches, which in its denominational paper wrote: “Home Rule for Ireland means not only war against the crown rights of England, but against the crown rights of Christ .…. its inspiration is religious antipathy, its methods plunder, its object Protestant annihilation.”

The Ulster Covenant, endorsed by the leadership of these Churches, was based primarily on their hatred and fear of the Catholic Church and led to nearly 250,000 men signing it in September 1912.  The political and spiritual events of those days also produced the formation of the Ulster Volunteer Force - a private army, armed with rifles smuggled from Germany.  All of this was intended to force the hand of the British Government to pull back from making the Home Rule Bill an Act of Parliament.

In my research I was then taken to Scotland, to a time when the newly formed Presbyterian Church produced the National Covenant (1638) and the Solemn League and Covenant (1643) as the means of unifying themselves against measures the King, who was head of the Church of England, was seeking to introduce there.  Interestingly, I found that they had links with the Dutch Reformed Church, which was embracing similar ideas regarding God, Covenant and country – ideas that were eventually brought to South Africa as the theological foundation of Apartheid, and to Ireland during the Plantation. 

Researching the covenant that exists in my Nation, it’s effect and legacy, and the challenge of what to do about it and how to pray, reminded me of the story of Moses’ wilderness journey to the Promised Land.  Along the way, he had various encounters with God, causing him to erect a pile of stones, build altars and name wells/oases which became reminders of specific and significant meetings with God.  My journey over the last eleven years has been a bit like that. Highlights for me, have been a scriptural study of Biblical Covenant; the growing awareness that all the water being held back by the “beaver dam” was the River of God mentioned in Ezekiel 47, Revelation 22 and John 7; the deepening understanding of the nature of spiritual strongholds in our cultures (2 Corinthians chapters 9-11) and how to pray into them.

As my research continued, I became aware of what looked like another covenant having a part to play in the complexities of Ireland’s spiritual and political life.  The name of Padraig Pearse was regularly appearing.  In a small booklet entitled “Ireland: the Blood Sacrifice”, co-written by Paddy Monaghan and Eugene Boyle, they wrote about the birth of the Irish Republic and of the happenings on Easter Sunday 1912 - The Easter Rising:

“…….. a small group of revolutionaries took over the centre of Dublin city and held it for a week until it was reduced to rubble by the artillery of the British Army.  The leaders, all signatories to the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, were executed.  This event, solemnly commemorated every Easter, has become the foundation story of the Irish Republic.  It differs …. from most other foundation stories.  It is a religious as well as a political event.  According to the Commandant-General of the rebels, they were laying down their lives for Ireland as Christ laid down his life for the world; they were redeeming Ireland with their blood.  And they succeeded.  A whole new generation of revolutionaries sprang up after them as Pearse, the Commandant-General, had predicted …..”

They also gave helpful insight into an important aspect of Celtic Mythology which Pearse was integrating into his belief system:

“Before Christianity came to Ireland in the 5th century, our pagan ancestors used to worship many gods, one of whom was the earth goddess called ‘Eire’, who was regarded as the bride of a king who ‘married’ her at Tara at his inauguration.  From the earliest times Ireland was thought of as a woman and ….. some early writings on this period record that though Eire, symbolising the land, was old and ugly, when a human sacrifice was made to her, she became young and beautiful, a fit bride for the king.  Thus a young man had to be sacrificed, his blood seeping down into the earth.” 

Pearse, a poet and school teacher, who was greatly influenced by Celtic mythology, introduced this into his writings, plays and speeches in the years leading up to the 1916 Rebellion.  He taught “that Holiness was identical with extreme nationalism: ‘bloodshed is a cleansing and a sanctifying thing’; Irish nationalism was identical with Christianity and that just as Christ laid down his life for mankind so Ireland or Eire was calling on her young men to lay down their lives for her.  This was one of the reasons Pearse picked Easter Sunday for the Rebellion, so that the New Ireland he wanted would be identified with the Rising of Jesus. ….. Pearse saw himself as performing a supremely Christian act …..” (From the booklet Ireland: the Blood Sacrifice).

The mix was there: deity/spirituality; land; sacrifice.  This is the stuff of Covenant, which along with the Ulster Covenant, played its part in bringing about partition in 1922.  Nevertheless, it did not give them the complete fulfillment of their covenanted position – obtaining only 26 out of the 32 counties.  The struggle to achieve that continues, albeit over 80 years later!

In June 1998, the new legislative Assembly for Northern Ireland was formed after a Referendum a few weeks earlier.  Everyone was anticipating some sort of breakthrough in the political stalemate of those days.  The Assembly had been going for a few weeks, when I woke in the middle of the night with my second powerful image/vision/dream. 

I saw people trying to bring together the positive poles of two powerful magnets.  They came very close to connecting them, when they repelled each other.  This repeated itself a few times …. I then had a sense that God was saying to me that gathered around the table in the new Assembly were two groups of people who were covenanted against each other.  Like the two magnets, they were destined to repel each other, and no matter how many times the British and Irish Governments tried to bring them together, their efforts would fail.  Built into the Assembly was the mechanism for its own downfall. 

The suspension of the Assembly on the 14th October 2002, bringing Northern Ireland once again under direct rule from Westminster, was therefore no surprise to me.  Neither were the recent attempts of getting devolved Government going again in the last elections in November 2003.  What we have ended up with is an unworkable bi-party state, with Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party at one extreme and Gerry Adam’s Sinn Fein at the other.  They are positionally the epitome of the Covenants of 1912 and 1916.  Both are looking for totally opposite outcomes from the political process:  one, the maintenance of the union with Britain, the other a United Ireland.  Both have underscored their position with the spiritual power of covenant.”

So how can we pray into this complex issue ?  It might feel sometimes, that the deeper you dig into the research the more complex the issue becomes and the more difficult the a positive outcome is.   Yet as we pray we begin to connect with a God that fundamentally loves everyone what ever the political flavour.  In and through prayer we have the opportunity to enter into the spiritual possibility of God’s desire, in this case for Northern Ireland.  My desire in doing so is what I also believe is God’s desire:

1.     To relate back to the first dream, God wants the ‘dam’ removed.  There is a great opportunity here for the current leadership of the Churches that put the dam in place (and specifically the log in its foundations), to acknowledge that the actions of their forefathers were wrong; and break the negative spiritual foothold the covenant gave the devil, through an act of repentance.

2.     God wants to see the water  - the River of His Spirit - held back by that dam, released.  Wrong actions expressed in documents such as the Ulster Covenant, block that flow and is seen in an aridness - evidenced by an increasingly culturally irrelevant expression of Christianity, and by the spiritual, political and moral decay all around us.  On the other hand, wherever the river flows there is life, healing and fruitfulness (Ezekiel 47:9,12).

As we look back to our Christian foundations it is clear that God has a very special purpose for Ireland among the nations. Satan has done a good job in thwarting that purpose by taking the very thing that is closest to the heart of God – COVENANT – and twisting it with devastating consequences. 

In recent months I have turned all the research, the story and journey of all of this into a Book – Heal not Lightly, which is based around a scripture in Jeremiah 8.   My overwhelming desire is to see Ireland flourish and to see division reconciled. Please Pray with us, that as people read the book, they may experience revelation and breakthrough, the destruction of the dam, the release of the River of God.

Harry’s book can be ordered from Christian Renewal Centre in Rostrevor.  Through the website, or by phone 02841 738492.

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