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


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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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Death of Anglican Priest & Author Patrick Brontë

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Patrickbronte.jpgPatrick Brontë, Irish Anglican priest and author who spends most of his adult life in England, dies in Haworth, Yorkshire, England on June 7, 1861. He is the father of the writers Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell Brontë.

Brontë is the first of ten children born to Hugh Brunty, a farm labourer, and Alice McClory, in Drumballyroney, County Down. At one point in his adult life, he formally changes the spelling of his name from Brunty to Brontë.

Brontë has several apprenticeships until he becomes a teacher in 1798. He moves to England in 1802 to study theology at St. John’s College, Cambridge, and receives his BA degree in 1806. He is then appointed curate at Wethersfield, Essex, where he is ordained a deacon of the Church of England in 1806, and into the priesthood in 1807.

In 1809, Brontë becomes assistant curate at Wellington, Shropshire, and in 1810 his first published poem, Winter Evening Thoughts, appears in a local newspaper, followed in 1811 by a collection of moral verses, Cottage Poems. He moves to the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1811 as assistant curate at Hartshead, where he serves until 1815. In the meantime he is appointed a school examiner at a Wesleyan academy, Woodhouse Grove School, near Guiseley. In 1815 he moves again on becoming perpetual curate of Thornton. At Guiseley, Brontë meets Maria Branwell, whom he marries on December 29, 1812.

Brontë is offered the perpetual curacy of St. Michael and All Angels’ Church, Haworth in June 1819, and he takes the family there in April 1820. His sister-in-law Elizabeth Branwell, who had lived with the family at Thornton in 1815, joins the household in 1821 to help to look after the children and to care for Maria Brontë, who is suffering the final stages of uterine cancer. She decides to move permanently to Haworth to act as housekeeper.

After several attempts to seek a new spouse, Brontë comes to terms with widowhood at the age of 47, and spends his time visiting the sick and the poor, giving sermons, communion, and extreme unction, leaving his children alone with their aunt and a maid, Tabitha Aykroyd (Tabby), who tirelessly recounts local legends in her Yorkshire dialect while preparing the meals.

Brontë is responsible for the building of a Sunday school in Haworth, which he opens in 1832. He remains active in local causes into his old age, and between 1849 and 1850 organises action to procure a clean water supply for the village, which is eventually achieved in 1856.

In August 1846, Brontë travels to Manchester, accompanied by Charlotte, to undergo surgery on his eyes. On August 28 he is operated upon, without anaesthetic, to remove cataracts. Surgeons do not yet know how to use stitches to hold the incision in the eye together and as a consequence the patient is required to lie quietly in a darkened room for weeks after the operation. Charlotte uses her time in Manchester to begin writing Jane Eyre, the book which is to make her famous.

Following the death of his last surviving child, Charlotte, nine months after her marriage, he co-operates with Elizabeth Gaskell on the biography of his daughter. He is also responsible for the posthumous publication of Charlotte’s first novel, The Professor, in 1857. Charlotte’s husband, Arthur Bell Nicholls, who had been Brontë’s curate, stays in the household until he returns to Ireland after Brontë’s death, at the age of 84, on June 7, 1861. Brontë outlives not only his wife (by 40 years) but all six of his children.


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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.’