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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of James Patrick Mahon, Journalist, Barrister & Parliamentarian

Charles James Patrick Mahon, Irish nationalist journalist, barrister, parliamentarian and international mercenary, is born into a prominent Roman Catholic family in Ennis, County Clare, on March 17, 1800.

Mahon, the eldest of four children, is the son of Patrick Mahon of New Park, who took part in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and Barbara, a considerable heiress and the only daughter of James O’Gorman of Ennis. He studies at Clongowes Wood College, where he is one of the earliest pupils, and at Trinity College Dublin, where he takes his BA in 1822 and his MA in law in 1832. Following his father’s death in 1821, he inherits half the family property and becomes a magistrate for Clare.

In 1830, Mahon marries Christina, the daughter of John O’Brien of Dublin. She is an heiress and has property valued at £60,000 in her own right, which gives him the resources to seek election to parliament. The couple spends little time together, and she dies apart from him in Paris in 1877. They have one son who dies in 1883.

In 1826, Mahon joins the newly formed Catholic Association. He encourages fellow member Daniel O’Connell to stand for election at the 1828 Clare by-election. O’Connell’s election, in which Mahon plays a large role, persuades the British Government to pass the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, which finalises the process of Catholic Emancipation and permitted Roman Catholics to sit in the British Parliament.

As a result, when Mahon is elected for Clare at the 1830 United Kingdom general election, he is entitled to take his seat. However, during the election campaign he quarrels with O’Connell, and after his election he is unseated for bribery. He is subsequently acquitted, and stands again at the 1831 United Kingdom general election, but is defeated by two O’Connell-backed candidates, one of whom is his old schoolfriend Maurice O’Connell, Daniel O’Connell’s son. He gives up on politics, becomes deputy lieutenant of Clare, and captain of the local militia.

Mahon becomes a barrister in 1834, but the following year, he leaves for Paris. There he associates with Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, becoming a favourite at Louis Philippe‘s court and working as a journalist. He travels the world, spending time in both Africa, where he befriends Ferdinand de Lesseps, engineer of the Suez Canal, and South America, before returning to Ireland in 1846.

At the 1847 United Kingdom general election, Mahon is elected for Ennis, and declares himself a Whig in favour of Irish Repeal. However, he opposes the Young Irelanders, and narrowly loses his seat at the 1852 United Kingdom general election.

Following his defeat in the 1852 election, Mahon returns to Paris, then travels on to Saint Petersburg, where he serves in the Imperial Bodyguard. During this period, he journeys through lands from Finland to Siberia. He then travels across China, India and Arabia. His finances largely exhausted, he serves as a mercenary in the Ottoman and Austrian armies before returning to England in 1858. Late that year, he leaves for South America, where he attempts to finance the construction of a canal through Central America.

After exploits abroad Mahon returns to Ireland in 1871 and is a founding member of the Home Rule League. Nearly ruined by his ventures, he even ends up at the Old Bailey as a consequence of his dealings, but is acquitted. He is defeated in Ennis at the 1874 United Kingdom general election, and also at the 1877 Clare by-election. Finally, he wins the 1879 Clare by-election and holds the seat at the 1880 United Kingdom general election.

Mahon is a close associate of Charles Stewart Parnell, who he successfully nominates for the leadership of the League in 1880, but is dropped in 1885 as a party candidate because of his age and his tendency to vote with the Liberal Party in Parliament. He is also embroiled in a court case disputing the will of his son.

Parnell personally ensures Mahon is a candidate at the 1887 County Carlow by-election, which he wins at the age of 87 as a Liberal. By this point, he is the oldest MP in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. He dies at his home in South Kensington, London on June 15, 1891 while still in office.

Mahon had served alongside William O’Shea as an MP, and the two were close friends. He introduced him and Katharine O’Shea, his wife, to Parnell. After Parnell is named in the O’Sheas’ divorce case in 1890, Mahon splits with Parnell, siding with the Irish National Federation. However, Parnell attends Mahon’s funeral in Glasnevin Cemetery a few months later.

(Pictured: Caricature of James Patrick Mahon by Sir Leslie Matthew Ward under the pseudonym “Spy” published in Vanity Fair in 1885)


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Birth of John MacHale, Archbishop of Tuam

John MacHale, Irish Roman Catholic Archbishop of Tuam and Irish nationalist, is born in Tubbernavine, near Lahardane, County Mayo on March 6, 1791.

MacHale’s parents are Patrick and Mary Mulkieran MacHale. He is so feeble at birth that he is baptised at home by Father Andrew Conroy. By the time he is five years of age, he begins attending a hedge school. Three important events happen during his childhood: the Irish Rebellion of 1798, the landing at Killala of French troops, whom the boy, hidden in a stacked sheaf of flax, watches marching through a mountain pass to Castlebar, and a few months later the brutal hanging of Father Conroy on a false charge of high treason.

Being destined for the priesthood, at the age of thirteen, the he is sent to a school at Castlebar to learn Latin, Greek, and English grammar. In his sixteenth year the Bishop of Killala gives him a busarship at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. At the age of 24, he is ordained a priest by Daniel Murray, Archbishop of Dublin. In 1825, Pope Leo XII appoints him titular bishop of Maronia, and coadjutor bishop to Dr. Thomas Waldron, Bishop of Killala.

With his friend and ally, Daniel O’Connell, MacHale takes a prominent part in the important question of Catholic emancipation, impeaching in unmeasured terms the severities of the former penal code, which had branded Catholics with the stamp of inferiority. During 1826 his zeal is omnipresent. He calls on the Government to remember how the Act of Union in 1800 was carried by William Pitt the Younger on the distinct assurance and implied promise that Catholic emancipation, which had been denied by the Irish Parliament, should be granted by the Parliament of the Empire.

Oliver Kelly, Archbishop of Tuam, dies in 1834, and the clergy selects MacHale as one of three candidates, to the annoyance of the Government who despatches agents to induce Pope Gregory XVI not to nominate him to the vacant see. Disregarding their request, the pope appoints MacHale Archbishop of Tuam. He is the first prelate since the Reformation who has received his entire education in Ireland. The corrupt practices of general parliamentary elections and the Tithe War cause frequent rioting and bloodshed, and are the subjects of denunciation by the new archbishop, until the passing of a Tithes bill in 1838. He also leads the opposition to the Protestant Second Reformation, which is being pursued by evangelical clergy in the Church of Ireland, including the Bishop of Tuam, Killala and Achonry, Thomas Plunket.

The repeal of the Acts of Union 1800, advocated by O’Connell, enlists MacHale’s ardent sympathy and he assists the Liberator in many ways, and remits subscriptions from his priests for this purpose. In his zeal for the cause of the Catholic religion and of Ireland, so long down-trodden, but not in the 1830s, he frequently incurs from his opponents the charge of intemperate language, something not altogether undeserved. In his anxiety to reform abuses and to secure the welfare of Ireland, by an uncompromising and impetuous zeal, he makes many bitter and unrelenting enemies, particularly British ministers and their supporters.

The Great Famine of 1846–47 affects his diocese more than any. In the first year he announces in a sermon that the famine is a divine punishment on his flock for their sins. Then by 1846 he warns the Government as to the state of Ireland, reproaches them for their dilatoriness, and holds up the uselessness of relief works. From England as well as other parts of the world, cargoes of food are sent to the starving Irish. Bread and soup are distributed from the archbishop’s kitchen. Donations sent to him are acknowledged, accounted for, and disbursed by his clergy among the victims.

The death of O’Connell in 1847 is a setback to MacHale as are the subsequent disagreements within the Repeal Association. He strongly advises against the violence of Young Ireland. Over the next 30 years he becomes involved in political matters, particularly those involving the church. Toward the end of his life he becomes less active in politics.

MacHale attends the First Vatican Council in 1869. He believes that the favourable moment has not arrived for an immediate definition of the dogma of papal infallibility. Better to leave it a matter of faith, not written down, and consequently he speaks and votes in the council against its promulgation. Once the dogma had been defined, he declares the dogma of infallibility “to be true Catholic doctrine, which he believed as he believed the Apostles’ Creed“. In 1877, to the disappointment of the archbishop who desires that his nephew should be his co-adjutor, Dr. John McEvilly, Bishop of Galway, is elected by the clergy of the archdiocese, and is commanded by Pope Leo XIII after some delay, to assume his post. He had opposed this election as far as possible, but submits to the papal order.

Every Sunday MacHale preaches a sermon in Irish at the cathedral, and during his diocesan visitations he always addresses the people in their native tongue, which is still largely used in his diocese. On journeys he usually converses in Irish with his attendant chaplain, and has to use it to address people of Tuam or the beggars who greet him whenever he goes out. He preaches his last Irish sermon after his Sunday Mass, April 1881. He dies in Tuam seven months later, on November 7, 1881.

A marble statue perpetuates his memory on the grounds of the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Tuam. MacHale Park in Castlebar, County Mayo and Archbishop McHale College in Tuam are named after him. In his birthplace the Parish of Addergoole, the local GAA Club, Lahardane MacHales, is named in his honour. The Dunmore GAA team, Dunmore MacHales, is also named after him.


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House of Lords Votes for the Acts of Union

The House of Lords votes on February 10, 1800 for the Acts of Union which sees Ireland lose its own parliament, direct rule is imposed on Ireland, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland is created. The acts come into force on January 1, 1801, and the merged Parliament of the United Kingdom has its first meeting on January 22, 1801. Both acts remain in force, with amendments, in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but have been repealed in the Republic of Ireland.

Before these Acts, Ireland had been in personal union with England since 1541, when the Parliament of Ireland had passed the Crown of Ireland Act 1542, proclaiming King Henry VIII of England to be King of Ireland. Since the 12th century, the King of England had been technical overlord of the Lordship of Ireland, a papal possession. Both the Kingdoms of Ireland and England later came into personal union with that of Scotland upon the Union of the Crowns in 1603.

In 1707, the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland were united into a single kingdom: the Kingdom of Great Britain. The Irish Parliament at that time was subject to a number of restrictions that placed it subservient to the Parliament of England and, following the union of England and Scotland, the Parliament of Great Britain. Ireland, however, gained effective legislative independence from Great Britain through the Constitution of 1782.

By this time access to institutional power in Ireland was restricted to a small minority, the Anglo-Irish of the Protestant Ascendancy, and frustration at the lack of reform among the Catholic majority eventually led, along with other reasons, to the Irish Rebellion in 1798, involving a French invasion of Ireland and the seeking of complete independence from Great Britain. This rebellion was crushed with much bloodshed, and the subsequent drive for union between Great Britain and Ireland that passes in 1800 is motivated at least in part by the belief that the rebellion was caused as much by reactionary loyalist brutality as by the Society of United Irishmen.

Furthermore, Catholic emancipation is being discussed in Great Britain, and fears that a newly enfranchised Catholic majority will drastically change the character of the Irish government and parliament also contributes to a desire from London to merge the Parliaments.

Complementary acts have to be passed in the Parliament of Great Britain and in the Parliament of Ireland. The Parliament of Ireland had recently gained a large measure of legislative independence under the Constitution of 1782. Many members of the Irish Parliament jealously guard this autonomy and a motion for union is legally rejected in 1799.

Only Anglicans are permitted to become members of the Parliament of Ireland, though the great majority of the Irish population are Roman Catholic, with many Presbyterians in Ulster. In 1793 Roman Catholics regain the right to vote if they own or rent property worth £2 per acre. The Catholic hierarchy is strongly in favour of union, hoping for rapid emancipation and the right to sit as MPs, which is delayed after the passage of the acts until the passage of the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829.

From the perspective of Great Britain, the union is desirable because of the uncertainty that followed the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and the French Revolution of 1789. If Ireland adopted Catholic Emancipation, willingly or not, a Roman Catholic Parliament could break away from Britain and ally with the French. Also the Irish and British Parliaments, when creating a regency during King George III‘s “madness”, gave the Prince Regent different powers. These considerations lead Great Britain to decide to attempt merger of the two kingdoms and their Parliaments.

The final passage of the Act in the Irish Parliament is achieved with substantial majorities, in part according to contemporary documents through bribery, namely the awarding of peerages and honours to critics to get their votes. Whereas the first attempt had been defeated in the Irish House of Commons by 109 votes against to 104 for, the second vote in 1800 produces a result of 158 to 115.

In the first Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the members of the House of Commons are not elected afresh. By royal proclamation authorised by the Act, all the members of the last House of Commons from Great Britain take seats in the new House, and from Ireland 100 members are chosen from the last Irish House of Commons: two members from each of the 32 counties and from the two largest boroughs, and one from each of the next 31 boroughs (chosen by lot) and from the University of Dublin. The other 84 Irish parliamentary boroughs are disfranchised, all being pocket boroughs, whose patrons receive £15,000 compensation for the loss of what is considered their property.

(Pictured: Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom from 1837 to 1952 used by Queen Victoria, King Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII and George VI)


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Death of William Drennan, Physician, Poet & Political Radical

William Drennan, physician, poet and political radical, dies on February 5, 1820 in Belfast. He is one of the chief architects of the Society of United Irishmen and is known as the first to refer in print to Ireland as “the emerald isle” in his poem When Erin first rose.

Drennan is born on May 23, 1754 in Belfast, the son the son of Reverend Thomas Drennan (1696–1768), minister of Belfast’s First Presbyterian Church on Rosemary Street. Thomas Drennan is an educated man from the University of Glasgow and is ordained to the congregation of Holywood, County Down in 1731. Drennan is heavily influenced by his father, whose religious convictions serve as the foundation for his own radical political ideas. His sister, Martha, marries fellow future United Irishman Samuel McTier in 1773.

In 1769 Drennan follows in his father’s footsteps by enrolling in the University of Glasgow where he becomes interested in the study of philosophy. In 1772 he graduates in arts and then in 1773 he commences the study of medicine at Edinburgh. After graduating in 1778 he sets up practice in Belfast, specialising in obstetrics. He is credited with being one of the earliest advocates of inoculation against smallpox and of hand washing to prevent the spread of infection. He also writes much poetry, coining the phrase “Emerald Isle” and is the founder and editor of a literary periodical, Belfast Magazine. He moves to Newry in 1783 but eventually moves to Dublin in 1789 where he quickly becomes involved in nationalist circles.

Like many other Ulster Presbyterians, Drennan is an early supporter of the American Colonies in the American Revolution and joins the Volunteers who had been formed to defend Ireland for Britain in the event of French invasion. The Volunteer movement soon becomes a powerful political force and a forum for Protestant nationalists to press for political reform in Ireland eventually assisting Henry Grattan to achieve legislative independence for the Irish parliament in 1782. However Drennan, like many other reformers, quickly becomes dismayed by the conservative and sectarian nature of the Irish parliament and in 1791 he co-founds the Society of United Irishmen with Wolfe Tone and Thomas Russell.

Drennan writes many political pamphlets for the United Irishmen and is arrested in 1794 for seditious libel, a political charge that is a major factor in driving the United Irishmen underground and into becoming a radical revolutionary party. Although he is eventually acquitted, he gradually withdraws from the United Irishmen but continues to campaign for Catholic Emancipation.

On February 8, 1800, Drennan marries Sarah Swanwick, “an English lady of some wealth” from Shropshire. They have one daughter and four sons.

Drennan settles in Belfast in 1807. In 1810 he co-founds the non-denominational Royal Belfast Academical Institution. As a poet, he is best remembered for his poem The Wake of William Orr, written in memory of a United Irishman executed by the British. Despite his links with revolutionary republicans, he gradually becomes alienated from the post-Union nationalism of the period. His abiding concern for Liberalism and post union realities make him contemplate his political ideas anew.

Drennan dies in Belfast on February 5, 1820. He directs that his coffin be carried by an equal number of Catholics and Protestants with clergy from different denominations in attendance.

Drennan’s son, John Swanwick Drennan, is a noted poet who, along with his brother William Drennan, write a biography of him for Richard Davis Webb‘s A Compendium of Irish Biography. Through his daughter Sarah, who marries John Andrews of a prominent family of flax merchants, he has several notable descendants, including William Drennan Andrews, judge of the High Court of Justice in Ireland, Sir James Andrews, 1st Baronet, Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, John Miller Andrews, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Thomas Andrews who drew up the plans for the RMS Titanic and was aboard and drowned when she sank, and Thomas Drennan, performance artist known primarily for his seminal work ‘Journey to the Centre of Drennan.’


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The Registration Act 1704 Comes Into Force

parliament-of-irelandThe Registration Act 1704 (2 Ann c.7; long title An Act for registering the Popish Clergy), an Act of the Parliament of Ireland, comes into force on June 23, 1704 after receiving royal assent on March 4, 1704. It requires all Catholic priests in Ireland to register at their local magistrates‘ court, to pay two £50 bonds to ensure good behaviour, and to stay in the county where they registered.

The act is one of a series of Penal Laws passed after the Williamite War to protect the victorious Protestant Ascendancy from a church seen as loyal to the defeated Jacobites and to foreign powers. Its second section states that if an Irish Catholic priest is converted to the established Church of Ireland, he will receive a £20 stipend, levied on the residents of the area where he had last practised. Unregistered clergy are to depart Ireland before July 20, 1704 and any remaining after June 24, 1705 are to be deported. Any that returned are to be punished as under the Banishment Act of 1697 (as high treason). These are sought out by freelance “priest hunters.”

A 1704 act (4 Anne c.2) amends the Registration Act, Banishment Act and Popery Act, to close a loophole whereby they had not applied to priests ordained after the original act first came into force. The 1704 act, originally set to expire after the 1708–1709 session of Parliament, is made permanent in that session. The Roman Catholic Relief Act 1782 provides that these acts’ provisions cannot apply to a priest who has registered and taken an oath of allegiance. Daniel O’Connell drafts a comprehensive Catholic emancipation bill in the 1820s which would have repealed all these acts; in the event the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 is more limited and the acts are not formally repealed until the Statute Law Revision (Ireland) Act 1878 is passed on August 13, 1878.


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Birth of Richard “Humanity Dick” Martin

richard-martinColonel Richard Martin, Irish politician and campaigner against cruelty to animals, is born in Ballynahinch, County Galway on January 15, 1754. He is known as “Humanity Dick,” a nickname bestowed on him by King George IV. He succeeds in getting the pioneering Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act 1822, nicknamed ‘Martin’s Act,’ passed into British law.

Martin is brought up at Dangan House, situated on the River Corrib, four miles upriver from the town of Galway. The Martins are one of the Tribes of Galway. They own one of the biggest estates in all of Great Britain and Ireland as well as much of the land in Connemara. He studies at Harrow School in London and then gains admission to Trinity College, Cambridge on March 4, 1773. He does not graduate with a degree but studies for admission to the bar and is admitted to Lincoln’s Inn on February 1, 1776. He serves as a lawyer in Ireland and becomes High Sheriff of Galway Town in 1782.

Martin is elected to represent County Galway in Parliament in 1800. He is very popular with people in Galway and is well known as a duelist and as a witty speaker in the houses of Parliament. He campaigns for Catholic emancipation but is best remembered for his work to outlaw cruelty to animals. He earns the nickname “Humanity Dick” because of his compassion for the plight of animals at that time.

Through Martin’s work the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act is enacted in 1822. This is the first piece of legislation which aims to protect animals from cruelty. Most people do not recognise animal rights in those days and people often make fun of him. Cartoons of him with donkey ears appears in the newspapers of the day.

After having the Bill passed by Parliament, Martin actively seeks out cases where cruelty has been inflicted on animals on the streets of London. He is responsible for bringing many people to court for cruelty against horses. He often pays half the fine of the accused in cases where the accused cannot afford it and seems genuinely sorry for his actions.

Due to Martin’s profile as a politician and as the drafter of the anti-cruelty legislation, a public perception develops that he is the initiator and creator of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). At the Society’s first anniversary meeting he sets the public record straight and gives credit to Rev. Arthur Broome, although he maintains an interest in the Society.

After the election of 1826, Martin, now a heavy gambler, loses his parliamentary seat because of a petition which accuses him of illegal intimidation during the election. He flees into hasty exile to Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, because he can no longer enjoy a parliamentary immunity to arrest for debt. He dies there peacefully in the presence of his second wife and their three daughters on January 6, 1834. A year after Martin’s death, the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act is extended to cover cruelty to all domestic animals.

Martin’s work continues today. The RSPCA now has members all over the world. In Ireland it is known as the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA). Many other groups have been set up which protect animals from cruelty.


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Birth of Charles O’Conor, Writer & Antiquarian

charles-o-conor-of-belanagareCharles O’Conor, Irish writer and antiquarian who is enormously influential as a protagonist for the preservation of Irish culture and history in the eighteenth century, is born on January 1, 1710 in Killintrany, County Sligo. He combines an encyclopaedic knowledge of Irish manuscripts and Gaelic culture in demolishing many specious theories and suppositions concerning Irish history.

O’Conor is born into a cadet branch of the land-owning family of O’Conor Don and is sent for his education to Father Walter Skelton’s school in Dublin. He grows up in an environment that celebrates Gaelic culture and heritage. He begins collecting and studying ancient manuscripts at an early age.

His marriage brings him financial stability so that he can devote himself to his writing, but he is widowed in 1750, within a year of his father’s death. When his eldest son Denis marries in 1760, he gives up the residence at Bellanagare to him and moves into a small cottage that he had built on the estate. He devotes the remainder of his life to the collection and study of Irish manuscripts, to the publication of dissertations, and especially to the cause of Irish and Catholic emancipation.

O’Conor is well known in Ireland from his youth as a civil-tongued, but adamant, advocate of Gaelic culture and history. He garners fame outside Ireland through his Dissertations on the ancient history of Ireland (1753), which is generally well received. When Samuel Johnson is made aware of it, he is moved to write a letter to O’Conor in 1755, complimenting the book, complimenting the Irish people, and urging O’Conor to write on the topic of Celtic languages.

The book is less well received in some Scottish circles, where there exists a movement to write Celtic history based upon Scottish origins. When James Macpherson publishes a spurious story in 1761 about having found an ancient Gaelic (and Scottish) cycle of poems by a certain “Ossian“, among the critics who rejects it as false is O’Conor, as an inclusion in the 1766 rewrite of his 1753 work. While the issue was laid to public rest by others, notably Samuel Johnson, the issue is laid to intellectual rest by O’Conor in 1775, with the publication of his Dissertation on the origin and antiquities of the antient Scots. The fact that the issue occurs provides O’Conor the opportunity to establish Ireland as the source of Gaelic culture in the minds of the non-Irish general public.

O’Conor’s later life is that of the respected dean of Irish historians. He continues to write as always in favour of ideas that he favours and are consistent with the historical record, and against any and all ideas that are inconsistent with the historical record, including those of other Irish historians. Such is his esteemed reputation that even those whom he challenges would include his challenges in the next edition of their own books. He continues to collect, study, and annotate Irish manuscripts. Upon his death in Bellanagare, County Roscommon on July 1, 1791, his collection becomes the first part of the Annals of the Four Masters at the Stowe Library. In 1883 these are returned to the Royal Irish Academy library.

His unfinished History of Ireland, that Johnson had encouraged in 1777, is destroyed on his instructions at his death.


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Birth of William Drennan, Physician, Poet & Political Radical

william-drennanWilliam Drennan, physician, poet and political radical, is born on May 23, 1754 in Belfast. He is one of the chief architects of the Society of United Irishmen and is known as the first to refer in print to Ireland as “the emerald isle” in his poem When Erin first rose.

Drennan is son the son of Reverend Thomas Drennan (1696–1768), minister of Belfast’s First Presbyterian Church on Rosemary Street. Thomas Drennan is an educated man from the University of Glasgow and is ordained to the congregation of Holywood, County Down in 1731. Drennan is heavily influenced by his father, whose religious convictions serve as the foundation for his own radical political ideas. His sister, Martha, marries fellow future United Irishman Samuel McTier in 1773.

In 1769 Drennan follows in his father’s footsteps by enrolling in the University of Glasgow where he becomes interested in the study of philosophy. In 1772 he graduates in arts and then in 1773 he commences the study of medicine at Edinburgh. After graduating in 1778 he sets up practice in Belfast, specialising in obstetrics. He is credited with being one of the earliest advocates of inoculation against smallpox and of hand washing to prevent the spread of infection. He also writes much poetry, coining the phrase “Emerald Isle” and is the founder and editor of a literary periodical, Belfast Magazine. He moves to Newry in 1783 but eventually moves to Dublin in 1789 where he quickly becomes involved in nationalist circles.

Like many other Ulster Presbyterians, Drennan is an early supporter of the American Colonies in the American Revolution and joins the Volunteers who had been formed to defend Ireland for Britain in the event of French invasion. The Volunteer movement soon becomes a powerful political force and a forum for Protestant nationalists to press for political reform in Ireland eventually assisting Henry Grattan to achieve legislative independence for the Irish parliament in 1782. However Drennan, like many other reformers, quickly becomes dismayed by the conservative and sectarian nature of the Irish parliament and in 1791 he co-founds the Society of United Irishmen with Wolfe Tone and Thomas Russell.

Drennan writes many political pamphlets for the United Irishmen and is arrested in 1794 for seditious libel, a political charge that is a major factor in driving the United Irishmen underground and into becoming a radical revolutionary party. Although he is eventually acquitted, he gradually withdraws from the United Irishmen but continues to campaign for Catholic Emancipation.

On February 8, 1800, Drennan marries Sarah Swanwick, “an English lady of some wealth” from Shropshire. They have one daughter and four sons.

Drennan settles in Belfast in 1807. In 1810 he co-founds the non-denominational Royal Belfast Academical Institution. As a poet, he is best remembered for his poem The Wake of William Orr, written in memory of a United Irishman executed by the British. Despite his links with revolutionary republicans, he gradually becomes alienated from the post-Union nationalism of the period. His abiding concern for Liberalism and post union realities make him contemplate his political ideas anew.

Drennan dies on February 5, 1820. He directs that his coffin be carried by an equal number of Catholics and Protestants with clergy from different denominations in attendance.

Drennan’s son, John Swanwick Drennan, is a noted poet who, along with his brother William Drennan, write a biography of him for Richard Davis Webb‘s A Compendium of Irish Biography. Through his daughter Sarah, who marries John Andrews of a prominent family of flax merchants, he has several notable descendants, including William Drennan Andrews, judge of the High Court of Justice in Ireland, Sir James Andrews, 1st Baronet, Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, John Miller Andrews, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Thomas Andrews who drew up the plans for the RMS Titanic and was aboard and drowned when she sank, and Thomas Drennan, performance artist known primarily for his seminal work ‘Journey to the Centre of Drennan.’


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The Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 Receives Royal Assent

coat-of-arms-of-the-united-kingdomThe Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, the culmination of the process of Catholic emancipation throughout the United Kingdom, receives royal assent on April 13, 1829. In Ireland it repeals the Test Act 1673 and the remaining Penal Laws which had been in force since the passing of the Disenfranchising Act of the Parliament of Ireland of 1728. Its passage follows a vigorous campaign that threatens insurrection led by Irish lawyer Daniel O’Connell. The British leaders, starting with the Prime MinisterArthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington,  and his top aide Robert Peel, although personally opposed, give in to avoid civil strife. Ireland is quiet after the passage.

In 1778, English Catholics are relieved of the restrictions on land inheritance and purchase. A savage reaction to these concessions produces the Gordon Riots of 1780, and the whole history of Catholic Emancipation is one of struggle against great resistance. In 1791 the Roman Catholic Relief Act repeals most of the disabilities in Great Britain, provided Catholics take an oath of loyalty. In 1793 the army, the navy, the universities, and the judiciary are opened to Catholics, although seats in Parliament and some offices are still denied. These reforms are sponsored by William Pitt the Younger, who hopes thereby to split the alliance of Irish Catholics and Protestants. But Pitt’s attempt to secure a general repeal of the Penal Laws is thwarted by George III. Pope Pius VII consents to a royal veto on episcopal nominations if the Penal Laws are repealed, but the move fails. In Ireland the repeal of Poynings’ Law in 1782 is followed by an act (1792) of the Irish Parliament relaxing the marriage and education laws and an act (1793) allowing Catholics to vote and hold most offices.

The Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 permits members of the Catholic Church to sit in the parliament at Westminster and to hold all but a handful of public offices. O’Connell had won a seat in a by-election for Clare in 1828 against an Anglican. Under the then extant penal law, O’Connell as a Catholic, is forbidden to take his seat in Parliament. Peel, the Home Secretary, until then is called “Orange Peel” because he always supports the Orange (anti-Catholic) position. Peel now concludes, “Though emancipation was a great danger, civil strife was a greater danger.” Fearing a revolution in Ireland, Peel draws up the Catholic Relief Bill and guides it through the House of Commons. To overcome the vehement opposition of both the House of Lords and King George IV, the Duke of Wellington works tirelessly to ensure passage in the House of Lords, and threatens to resign as Prime Minister if the King does not give Royal Assent.

With the Universities Tests Act 1871, which opens the universities to Roman Catholics, Catholic Emancipation in the United Kingdom is virtually complete.


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First Clash of the Tithe War

battle-at-carrickshockThe first clash of the Tithe War takes place on March 3, 1831 in Graiguenamanagh, County Kilkenny, when a force of 120 yeomanry attempt to enforce seizure orders on cattle belonging to a Roman Catholic priest. Encouraged by his bishop, he has organised people to resist tithe collection by placing their stock under his ownership prior to sale.

The Tithe War is a campaign of mainly nonviolent civil disobedience, punctuated by sporadic violent episodes, in Ireland between 1830 and 1836 in reaction to the enforcement of tithes on the Roman Catholic majority for the upkeep of the established state church – the Church of Ireland. Tithes are payable in cash or kind and payment is compulsory, irrespective of an individual’s religious adherence.

After Emancipation in 1829, an organized campaign of resistance to collection begins. It is sufficiently successful to have a serious financial effect on the welfare of established church clergy. In 1831, the government compiles lists of defaulters and issues collection orders for the seizure of goods and chattels. Spasmodic violence breaks out in various parts of Ireland, particularly in counties Kilkenny, Tipperary and Wexford. The Royal Irish Constabulary, which had been established in 1822, attempts to enforce the orders of seizures. At markets and fairs, the constabulary often seize stock and produce, which often results in violent resistance.

A campaign of passive resistance is proposed by Patrick “Patt” Lalor, a farmer of Tenakill, Queen’s County (now County Laois), who later serves as a repeal MP. He declares at a public meeting in February 1831 in Maryborough that he would never again pay tithes and, although the tithe men might take his property and offer it for sale, his countrymen would not buy or bid for it if offered for sale. Lalor holds true to his word and does not resist the confiscation of 20 sheep from his farm, but is able to ensure no buyers appear at subsequent auctions.

Following the clash at Graiguenamanagh, the revolt soon spreads. On June 18, 1831, in Bunclody, County Wexford, people resisting the seizure of cattle are fired upon by the Royal Irish Constabulary, who kill twelve and wound twenty. One yeoman is shot dead in retaliation. This massacre causes objectors to organise and use warnings such as church bells to signal the community to round up the cattle and stock. On December 14, 1831, resisters use such warnings to ambush a detachment of 40 Constabulary at Carrickshock, County Kilkenny. Twelve constables, including the Chief Constable, are killed and more wounded.

Regular clashes causing fatalities continue over the next two years. On December 18, 1834, the conflict comes to a head at Rathcormac, County Cork, when armed Constabulary reinforced by the regular British Army kill twelve and wound forty-two during several hours of fighting when trying to enforce a tithe order reputedly to the value of 40 shillings.

Finding and collecting livestock chattels and the associated mayhem creates public outrage and proves an increasing strain on police relations. The government suspends collections. In 1838, parliament introduces a Tithe Commutation Act. This reduces the amount payable directly by about a quarter and makes the remainder payable in rent to landlords. They in turn are to pass payment to the authorities. Tithes are thus effectively added to a tenant’s rent payment. This partial relief and elimination of the confrontational collections ends the violent aspect of the Tithe War.

Full relief from the tax is not achieved until the Irish Church Act 1869, which disestablishes the Church of Ireland, by the William Ewart Gladstone government.

(Pictured: The battle at Carrickshock, from Cassell’s Illustrated History of England’, volume VII – 1895.)