21 July 1914: The Buckingham Palace Conference began on this day. It ran between 21 and 24 July. Though the issue of home rule had been on the political agenda since the 1870s, the 1914 conference was the first time that a formal conference had been called involving both Nationalists and Unionists.
Those who attended were the British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, Lloyd George for the Liberal Party, the Irish Parliamentary leader John Redmond, his deputy, John Dillon, across the table the leader of the Irish Unionists, Edward Carson together with Bonar Law, James Craig and Lord Landsdowne. The Speaker of the House of Commons presided.
Each delegation was met in person on arrival by King George V who was anxious for a peaceful settlement over whether Ulster should be in whole or part be included in an All Ireland Parliament under a form of ‘Home Rule’ for the Country.
By the second day Asquith saw that no solution as to which counties were to be temporarily excluded was going to emerge. He wrote to an associate:
"I have rarely felt more helpless in any particular affair, an impasse with unspeakable consequences, upon a matter which to English eyes seems inconceivably small and to Irish eyes immeasurably big. Isn't it a real tragedy?"
The conference broke up after three days without agreement. All sides, however, argued that it had been a useful engagement, with Unionists and Nationalists for the first time having meaningful discussions on how to allay each other's fears about the other. A limited understanding emerged between Carson and the Nationalists that if Ulster were to be excluded, in its entirety, the province should come in or out as a whole.
With hindsight it was seen as a failure as there was only so far each side was prepared to go on a compromise - and to the other side that was not far enough.
Within weeks the First World War broke out and any tenuous development that might have come from this meeting of the main players was washed away by the momentous and bloody events in Europe.