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


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Birth of Irish American Novelist Thomas Mayne Reid

Thomas Mayne Reid, Irish American novelist, who fought in the Mexican-American War (1846–1848), is born on April 4, 1818 in Ballyroney, a hamlet near Katesbridge, County Down, in present day Northern Ireland.

Reid is the son of the Rev. Thomas Mayne Reid, a Presbyterian minister and later a senior clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and his wife, a daughter of the Rev. Samuel Rutherford. Educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, he rebels against his father’s plans for him and decides not to pursue a career in the church. He briefly runs a school at Ballyroney before emigrating to the United States in 1839. Arriving in New Orleans, Louisiana, he finds a job as a corn factor’s clerk in the corn market. After six months he leaves because he refuses to whip slaves. Travelling across America, he works as a teacher, a clerk and an Indian-fighter, and anonymously publishes his first poem in August 1843. Later that year he meets Edgar Allan Poe in Philadelphia and the two become close friends. Poe later admits that Reid was ‘a colossal but most picturesque liar,’ but was impressed by his brilliant story-telling abilities.

With the outbreak of the Mexican-American War in 1846 Reid enlists in the 1st New York Infantry Regiment and is commissioned second lieutenant. Contributing a series of reports from the front under the pseudonym ‘Ecolier,’ he performs with great bravery in the Battle of Chapultepac on September 13, 1847. Wounded during the battle, he is promoted to first lieutenant three days later. Following his discharge from the army in 1848 he claims to have reached the rank of captain, but this is another of his inventions.

Reid’s first play, Love’s Martyr, is staged at the Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, for five nights in October 1848, and the following year he publishes an embellished account of his experiences in Mexico entitled War Life. All of his works are published under the name ‘Captain Mayne Reid.’ In July 1849 he sails to England with a group of Hungarian radicals, but decides against accompanying them to the Continent. Returning briefly to Ireland, he settles in London in 1850 and writes a novel, The Rifle Rangers. It is an immediate success and is followed quickly by The Scalp Hunters (1851), The Desert Home (1852), and The Boy Hunters (1853). While in England in 1851 he meets and falls in love with a 13-year old girl, Elizabeth Hyde, daughter of his publisher, G. W. Hyde, an English aristocrat. When he discovers her age he tells her that she is ‘getting old enough to have a lover, and you must have me.’ Two years later he continues with his suit, and this time is successful as they marry in 1853. He is immensely proud of his young bride, and later writes a semi-autobiographical novel The Child Wife (1868), based on their relationship.

Establishing a reputation as one of the most popular novelists of his generation, Reid does much to enhance the romantic image of the American West. His internationally successful books include The White Chief (1855), Bush Boys (1856), Oceola (1859), and The Headless Horseman (1865), and his novel about miscegenation, The Quadroon (1856), is later plagiarised by Dion Boucicault for The Octoroon (1859). A champion croquet player, he writes a treatise on the subject in 1863.

Disaster strikes in November 1866 when Reid is declared bankrupt. He had squandered all his money on the construction of ‘The Ranche,’ a Mexican-style hacienda in England. To raise money he returns to the United States and embarks on a successful lecturing tour. Settling at Newport, Rhode Island, he writes another novel, The Helpless Hand (1868), which is a huge success and alleviates some of his difficulties. His wife hates America, however, and after he is briefly hospitalised in 1870 they decide to return to England.

Ill health, artistic doubts, and financial insecurity plagued Reid’s final years. Diagnosed with acute depression, he is unable to recapture his earlier audience and, despite a pension from the U.S. government, he struggles for money. He dies at Ross in Herefordshire on October 22, 1883 and is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery in London.

Although not regarded as an important novelist, Reid none the less has a significant influence on subsequent writers. The young Vladimir Nabokov is deeply impressed by his adventure stories, and one of his own first works is a poetic recreation of The Headless Horseman in French alexandrine. Both Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle are admirers, and politicians as diverse as Theodore Roosevelt and Leon Trotsky also make reference to his varied output. In total, Reid publishes over sixty novels, which are printed in ten languages.


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Birth of Thomas Andrews, Chemist & Physicist

Thomas Andrews FRS FRSE, chemist and physicist who does important work on phase transitions between gases and liquids, is born in Belfast on December 19, 1813. He is a longtime professor of chemistry at Queen’s University Belfast.

Andrews’ father is a linen merchant. He attends the Belfast Academy and the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, where at the latter of which he studies mathematics under James Thomson. In 1828 he goes to the University of Glasgow to study chemistry under Professor Thomas Thomson, then studies at Trinity College, Dublin, where he gains distinction in classics as well as in science. Finally, at University of Edinburgh in 1835, he is awarded a doctorate in medicine.

Andrews begins a successful medical practice in his native Belfast in 1835, also giving instruction in chemistry at the Academical Institution. In 1842, he marries Jane Hardie Walker (1818–1899). They have six children, including the geologist Mary Andrews. In 1845 he is appointed vice-president of the newly established Queen’s University Belfast, and professor of chemistry there. He holds these two offices until his retirement in 1879 at age 66.

Andrews first becomes known as a scientific investigator with his work on the heat developed in chemical actions, for which the Royal Society awards him a Royal Medal in 1844. Another important investigation, undertaken in collaboration with Peter Guthrie Tait, is devoted to ozone.

Andrews’ reputation mainly rests on his work with liquefaction of gases. In the 1860s he carries out a very complete inquiry into the gas laws, expressing the relations of pressure, temperature, and volume in carbon dioxide. In particular, he establishes the concepts of critical temperature and critical pressure, showing that a substance passes from vapor to liquid state without any breach of continuity.

In Andrews’ experiments on phase transitions, he shows that carbon dioxide may be carried from any of the states we usually call liquid to any of those we usually call gas, without losing homogeneity. The mathematical physicist Josiah Willard Gibbs cites these results in support of the Gibbs free energy equation. They also set off a race among researchers to liquify various other gases. In 1877-78 Louis Paul Cailletet is the first to liquefy oxygen.

Andrews dies in Belfast on November 26, 1885, and is buried in the Borough Cemetery in the city.


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Birth of Sir Joseph Larmor, Physicist & Mathematician

Sir Joseph Larmor FRS FRSE, Irish and British physicist and mathematician who makes breakthroughs in the understanding of electricity, dynamics, thermodynamics, and the electron theory of matter, is born in Magheragall, County Antrim on July 11, 1857. His most influential work is Aether and Matter, a theoretical physics book published in 1900.

Larmor is the son of Hugh Larmor, a Belfast shopkeeper and his wife, Anna Wright. The family moves to Belfast around 1860, and he is educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, and then studies mathematics and experimental science at Queen’s College, Belfast, where one of his teachers is John Purser. He obtains his BA in 1874 and MA in 1875. He subsequently studies at St. John’s College, Cambridge where in 1880 he is Senior Wrangler and Smith’s Prizeman, and obtains his MA in 1883. After teaching physics for a few years at Queen’s College, Galway, he accepts a lectureship in mathematics at Cambridge in 1885. In 1892 he is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, and he serves as one of the Secretaries of the society. He is made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1910.

In 1903 Larmor is appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, a post he retains until his retirement in 1932. He never marries. He is knighted by King Edward VII in 1909.

Motivated by his strong opposition to Home Rule for Ireland, in February 1911 Larmor runs for and is elected as Member of Parliament for Cambridge University (UK Parliament constituency) with the Conservative Party. He remains in parliament until the 1922 general election, at which point the Irish question has been settled. Upon his retirement from Cambridge in 1932 he moves back to County Down in Northern Ireland.

Larmor receives the honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) from the University of Glasgow in June 1901. He is awarded the Poncelet Prize for 1918 by the French Academy of Sciences. He is a Plenary Speaker in 1920 at the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) at Strasbourg and an Invited Speaker at the ICM in 1924 in Toronto and at the ICM in 1928 in Bologna.

Larmor dies in Holywood, County Down, Northern Ireland on May 19, 1942.


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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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Birth of John Miller Andrews, 2nd Prime Minister of Northern Ireland

john-miller-andrewsJohn Miller Andrews, the second Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, is born in Comber, County Down on July 17, 1871. He is the eldest child in the family of four sons and one daughter of Thomas Andrews, flax spinner, and his wife Eliza Pirrie, a sister of William Pirrie, 1st Viscount Pirrie, chairman of Harland and Wolff. He is named after his maternal great-uncle, John Miller of Comber (1795–1883).

Andrews is educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. In business, Andrews is a landowner, a director of his family linen-bleaching company and of the Belfast Ropeworks. His younger brother, Thomas Andrews, who dies in the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic, served as managing director of the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Another brother, Sir James Andrews, 1st Baronet, was Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland.

In 1902 Andrews marries Jessie, eldest daughter of Bolton stockbroker Joseph Ormrod at Rivington Unitarian Chapel, Rivington, near Chorley, Lancashire, England. They have one son and two daughters. His younger brother, Sir James, marries Jessie’s sister.

Andrews is elected as a member of parliament in the House of Commons of Northern Ireland, sitting from 1921 until 1953 (for Down from 1921–29 and for Mid Down from 1929–1953). He is a founder member of the Ulster Unionist Labour Association, which he chairs, and is Minister of Labour from 1921 to 1937. He is Minister of Finance from 1937 to 1940, succeeding to the position on the death of Hugh MacDowell Pollock. Upon the death of James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon in 1940, he becomes leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the second Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

In April 1943 backbench dissent forces Andrews from office. He is replaced as Prime Minister by Basil Brooke, 1st Viscount Brookeborough. He remains, however, the recognised leader of the UUP for a further three years. Five years later he becomes the Grand Master of the Orange Order. From 1949, he is the last parliamentary survivor of the original 1921 Northern Ireland Parliament, and as such is recognised as the Father of the House. He is the only Prime Minister of Northern Ireland not to have been granted a peerage. His predecessor and successor receive hereditary viscountcies, and later prime ministers are granted life peerages.

Throughout his life Andrews is deeply involved in the Orange Order. He holds the positions of Grand Master of County Down from 1941 and Grand Master of Ireland (1948–1954). In 1949 he is appointed Imperial Grand Master of the Grand Orange Council of the World.

Andrews is a committed and active member of the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland. He regularly attends Sunday worship, in the church built on land donated by his great-grandfather, James Andrews, in his hometown Comber. He serves on the Comber Congregational Committee from 1896 until his death on August 5, 1956, holding the position of Chairman from 1935 onwards. He is buried in the small graveyard adjoining the church.


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Resignation of John Miller Andrews, 2nd Prime Minister of Northern Ireland

john-miller-andrewsJohn Miller Andrews, the second Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, resigns on April 28, 1943 and is succeeded by Sir Basil Brooke, later Lord Brookeborough.

Andrews is born in Comber, County Down, on July 17, 1871, the eldest child in the family of four sons and one daughter of Thomas Andrews, flax spinner, and his wife Eliza Pirrie, a sister of William Pirrie, 1st Viscount Pirrie, chairman of Harland and Wolff. He is named after his maternal great-uncle, John Miller of Comber (1795–1883). As a young man, with his parents and family, he is a committed and active member of the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland. He regularly attends Sunday worship in the church built on land donated by his great-grandfather James Andrews in his home town Comber.

Andrews is educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. In business, he is a landowner, a director of his family linen-bleaching company and of the Belfast Ropeworks. His younger brother, Thomas Andrews, who dies in the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic, is managing director of the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Another brother, Sir James Andrews, 1st Baronet, is Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland.

In 1902 Andrews marries Jessie Ormrod, eldest daughter of Bolton stockbroker Joseph Ormrod at Rivington Unitarian Chapel, Rivington, near Chorley, Lancashire, England. They have one son and two daughters. His younger brother, Sir James, marries Jessie’s sister.

Andrews is elected as a member of parliament in the House of Commons of Northern Ireland, sitting from 1921 until 1953 (for Down from 1921–1929 and for Mid Down from 1929–1953). He is a founder member of the Ulster Unionist Labour Association, which he chairs, and is Minister of Labour from 1921 to 1937. He is Minister of Finance from 1937 to 1940, succeeding to the position on the death of Hugh MacDowell Pollock. On the death of James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon, in 1940, he becomes leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the second Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

In April 1943 backbench dissent forces him from office. He is replaced as Prime Minister by Sir Basil Brooke. Andrews remains, however, the recognised leader of the UUP for three more years. Five years later he becomes the Grand Master of the Orange Order.  Throughout his life he is deeply involved in the Orange Order. He holds the positions of Grand Master of County Down from 1941 and Grand Master of Ireland (1948–1954). In 1949 he is appointed Imperial Grand Master of the Grand Orange Council of the World.

From 1949, he is the last parliamentary survivor of the original 1921 Northern Ireland Parliament, and as such is recognised as the Father of the House. He is the only Prime Minister of Northern Ireland not to have been granted a peerage. His predecessor and successor received hereditary viscountcies, and later prime ministers are granted life peerages.

Andrews serves on the Comber Congregational Committee from 1896 until his death, holding the position of Chairman from 1935 onward. He dies in Comber on August 5, 1956 and is buried in the small graveyard adjoining the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland.


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Birth of Robert Wilson Lynd, Writer & Irish Nationalist

robert-wilson-lyndRobert Wilson Lynd, Irish writer, editor of poetry, urbane literary essayist and strong Irish nationalist, is born in Belfast on April 20, 1879.

Lynd is born to Robert John Lynd, a Presbyterian minister, and Sarah Rentoul Lynd, the second of seven children. His paternal great-grandfather emigrated from Scotland to Ireland. He is educated at Royal Belfast Academical Institution and Queen’s University Belfast. His father serves a term as Presbyterian Church Moderator but he is just one of a long line of Presbyterian clergy in the family.

Lynd begins as a journalist with The Northern Whig in Belfast. He moves to London in 1901, via Manchester, sharing accommodation with his friend the artist Paul Henry. Initially he writes drama criticism for Today, edited by Jerome K. Jerome. He also writes for The Daily News (later the News Chronicle), being its literary editor from 1912 until 1947.

Lynd marries the writer Sylvia Dryhurst on April 21, 1909. They meet at Gaelic League meetings in London. Their daughters Máire and Sigle become close friends of Isaiah Berlin. Sigle’s son, born in 1941, is artist Tim Wheeler. In March 1924, they move to what is to be their long-term married home, the elegant Regency house of 5 Keats Grove in the leafy suburb of Hampstead in northwest London. The house had been lived in by various members of Sylvia’s family.

The Lynds are literary hosts, in the group including J. B. Priestley. They are on good terms also with Hugh Walpole. Priestley, Walpole and Sylvia Lynd are founding committee members of the Book Society. Irish guests include James Joyce and James Stephens. On one occasion reported by Victor Gollancz in Reminiscences of Affection, Joyce intones Anna Livia Plurabelle to his own piano accompaniment. Joyce and his wife Nora Barnacle hold their wedding lunch at the Lynds’ house after getting married at Hampstead Town Hall on July 4, 1931.

Lynd uses the pseudonym Y.Y. in writing for the New Statesman. According to C. H. Rolph‘s Kingsley, Lynd’s weekly essay, which runs from 1913 to 1945, is “irreplaceable.” In 1941, editor Kingsley Martin decides to alternate it with pieces by James Bridie on Ireland, but the experiment is not at all a success.

Lynd’s political views are at a certain point radicalised by his experience of how Ulster and Home Rule develops in the 1912–1914 period. He is appalled at the threat of the use of violence to deliver Ulster from Home Rule and the later decision to postpone the implementation of the Third Home Rule Bill. He later writes, “Then came August 1914 and England began a war for the freedom of small nations by postponing the freedom of the only small nation in Europe which it was within her power to liberate with the stroke of a pen.”

Lynd becomes fluent in the Irish language and is a Gaelic League member. As a Sinn Féin activist, he uses the name Robiard Ó Flionn/Roibeard Ua Flionn. He dies in Hampstead, London on October 6, 1949. He is buried in Belfast City Cemetery.


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Birth of Forrest Reid, Novelist & Critic

forrest-reidForrest Reid, novelist, literary critic and translator, is born in Belfast on June 24, 1875. He is, along with Hugh Walpole and J. M. Barrie, a leading pre-war novelist of boyhood. He is still acclaimed as the greatest of Ulster novelists and is recognised with the award of the 1944 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel Young Tom.

Reid is the youngest son of a Protestant family of twelve, six of whom survive. His mother, his father’s second wife, comes from an aristocratic Shropshire family. Although proud of this ancestry, he finds the strict Protestant ethics of his immediate family constricting. He is educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, after which he is initially apprenticed into the Belfast tea-trade before going to Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he reads medieval and modern languages, and is influenced by the novelist E. M. Forster. His first book, The Kingdom of Twilight, is published in 1904. Following graduation in 1908, he returns to Belfast to pursue a writing career.

As well as his fiction, Reid also translates poems from the Greek Anthology. His study of the work of W. B. Yeats, W. B. Yeats: A Critical Study, has been acclaimed as one of the best critical studies of that poet. He also writes the definitive work on the English woodcut artists of the 1860s, Illustrators of the Sixties (1928). His collection of original illustrations from that time is housed in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Reid is a close friend of Walter de la Mare, whom he first meets in 1913, and about whose fiction he publishes a perceptive book in 1929. He is also an influence on novelist Stephen Gilbert, and has good connections to the Bloomsbury Group of writers. He is a founding member of the Imperial Art League (later the Artists League of Great Britain) and is also a close friend of Arthur Greeves, the artist known to be C. S. Lewis‘s best friend. Greeves paints several portraits of Reid, now all in the possession of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution.

Reid publishes articles in many magazines, including Uladh, The Westminster Review and the Ulster Review, and he reviews books for The Manchester Guardian. Apostate, an autobiography, is published in 1926, and its sequel, Private Road, is published in 1940. He is a founder member of the Irish Academy of Letters.

Forrest Reid dies on January 4, 1947 in Warrenpoint, County Down, Northern Ireland.

Though Reid’s books are not necessarily well known today, he has been labelled “the first Ulster novelist of European stature,” and comparisons have been drawn between his own coming of age novel of Protestant Belfast, Following Darkness (1912), and James Joyce‘s seminal novel of growing up in Catholic Dublin, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1914). Reid’s fiction, which often uses submerged narratives to explore male beauty and love, can be placed within the historical context of the emergence of a more explicit expression of homosexuality in English literature in the 20th century.

A ‘Forrest Reid Collection’ is held at the University of Exeter, consisting of first editions of all Reid’s works and books about him. Many of his original manuscripts are in the archives of the Belfast Central Library. In 2008, Queen’s University Belfast catalogues a large collection of Forrest Reid documentary material including many letters from E. M. Forster.

In 1952 Forster travels to Belfast to unveil a plaque commemorating Forrest Reid’s life at 13 Ormiston Crescent.


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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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Birth of Historian George Benn

george-bennGeorge Benn, Irish historian of Belfast, is born in Tanderagee, County Armagh on January 1, 1801.

Benn’s grandfather, Jonn Benn, came from Cumberland about 1760 as engineer of the Newry Canal. His father, also John Benn (1767-1853), was proprietor of a brewery in Belfast. He is educated at the Belfast Academy, under Rev. Dr. Bruce and afterwards under Sheridan Knowles, then a teacher of English at Belfast. He enters the collegiate classes of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution in 1816, being one of the original alumni, and takes gold medals in logic (1817) and moral philosophy (1818).

In 1819 the faculty prize is offered for the “best account of a parish.” Benn is the successful essayist, with the parish of Belfast as his theme. He also gains in 1821 the faculty prize (The Crusades), and Dr. Tennant’s gold medal (Sketch of Irish Authors in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries). His essay of 1819 attracts the attention of James M’Knight, LL.D., then editor of the Belfast News-Letter who offers to print and publish it. It is issued anonymously in an enlarged form in 1823, with three maps and sixteen engravings by J. Thomson. For so young a writer it is a work of uncommon judgment and research, exceedingly well written, with an eye for scenery and a taste for economics as well as for antiquities. It is not superseded by Benn’s later labours.

Benn, with his brother Edward (1798- 1874), engages in distilling near Downpatrick. Subsequently the brothers spend the prime of their days on an estate they purchase at Glenravel, near Ballymena. Here, in an unimproved district, they plant the hillsides, plough the moors, build good houses, and collect a valuable library. They endeavour to create a new industry by an experiment in the manufacture of potato spirit, but excise regulations in place at the time frustrate their object. The cost of the experiment, and the losses from potato disease, induce the brothers to undertake a business in Liverpool for some years. Returning to Glenravel, a casual circumstance leads to a rich discovery of iron ore in the Glenravel hills. The first specimen is smelted in 1851 under Edward Benn’s direction. In 1866 an agreement is made with James Fisher, of Barrow-in-Furness, to work the mineral beds. Hence comes a new and valuable addition to the commercial products of Ulster, which has since attained important proportions.

Meanwhile, Edward Benn is contributing antiquarian articles to various journals and forming a fine archaeological collection, now in the Ulster Museum. It his proposed to George to resume and complete the history of Belfast. He modestly indicates, as more fit for the task, William Pinkerton, who collects some materials, but dies in 1871 without having begun the history. Pinkerton’s papers are submitted to Benn for publication, but he finds employment of them impracticable, and states in his preface to his history, “It is all my own work from beginning to end.”

Benn returns to Belfast after his brother’s death in 1874, publishing A History of the Town of Belfast in 1877. A second volume appears in 1880. This supplementary volume, though the proof-sheets are “corrected by a kind friend,” the late John Carlisle, head of the English department in the Royal Academical Institution, bears evidence of the author’s affecting statement: “Before I had proceeded very far, my sight entirely failed.” Benn dies on January 8, 1882.

Edward and George Benn are members of the nonsubscribing presbyterian body, but wide in their sympathies and broad in their charities beyond the limits of their sect. Edward is the founder, and George the benefactor, of three hospitals in Belfast and their gifts to educational institutions are munificent.