seamus dubhghaill

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


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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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Adoption of the Articles of Confederation

articles-of-confederationThe Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, the first written constitution of the United States is adopted by the Second Continental Congress on November 15, 1777. A number of the members of the Congress hail from Ireland including Secretary of the Congress Charles Thomson who is born in Maghera, County Derry in 1729. Thomson is the permanent Secretary of the Continental Congress for more than fifteen years. At least three signatories to the Declaration of Independence are Irish – James Smith, George Taylor, and Matthew Thornton.

The Articles of Confederation is approved, after much debate between July 1776 and November 1777, by the Second Continental Congress and sent to the states for ratification. The Articles come into force on March 1, 1781, after being ratified by all thirteen states. A guiding principle of the Articles is to preserve the independence and sovereignty of the states. The weak central government established by the Articles receives only those powers which the former colonies had recognized as belonging to king and parliament.

The document provides clearly written rules for how the states’ “league of friendship” are to be organized. During the ratification process, the Congress looks to the Articles for guidance as it conducts business, directs the war effort, conducts diplomacy with foreign nations, addresses territorial issues and deals with Native American relations. Little changes politically once the Articles of Confederation go into effect, as ratification does little more than legalize what the Continental Congress had already been doing. That body is renamed the Congress of the Confederation however most Americans continue to call it the Continental Congress, since its organization remains the same.

As the Confederation Congress attempts to govern the continually growing American states, delegates discover that the limitations placed upon the central government render it ineffective at doing so. As the government’s weaknesses become apparent, especially after Shays’ Rebellion, some prominent political thinkers in the fledgling nation begin asking for changes to the Articles. Their hope is to create a stronger national government.

Initially, some states meet to deal with their trade and economic problems. However, as more states become interested in meeting to change the Articles, a meeting is set in Philadelphia on May 25, 1787. This becomes the Constitutional Convention. It is quickly agreed that changes will not work, and instead the entire Articles needs to be replaced. On March 4, 1789, the government under the Articles is replaced with the federal government under the Constitution of the United States. The new Constitution provides for a much stronger federal government by establishing a chief executive (the President), courts, and taxing powers.


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Death of Lieutenant Presley Neville O’Bannon

presley-neville-obannonPresley Neville O’Bannon, first lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps and descendant of Brien Boru O’Bannon (1683) who is apparently the first notable O’Bannon to enter the American colonies, dies on September 12, 1850.

O’Bannon is born in 1776 in Fauquier County, Virginia, to William O’Bannon, a captain of the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War, and Anne Neville, a sister of General John Neville, commander of Fort Pitt in western Pennsylvania during the Revolution. He is probably named after Neville’s son, Presley, who is aide-de-camp to the Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette.

O’Bannon enters the Marine Corps on January 18, 1801. As a first lieutenant assigned to the USS Argus, he commands a detachment of seven Marines and two Navy midshipmen in diplomatic Consul General William Eaton‘s small army during the Tripoli campaign of the First Barbary War. In the combined operations with the United States Navy, he leads the successful attack at the Battle of Derna, a coastal town in eastern modern Libya on April 27, 1805, giving the Marines’ Hymn its line “to the shores of Tripoli.”

Lieutenant O’Bannon becomes the first man to raise a United States flag over foreign soil in time of war. O’Bannon’s superior, William Eaton, a former Army officer, had raised the American flag several months earlier while traveling on the Nile River from Alexandria to Cairo, but it had not been in a time of war. According to Marine Corps legend, Prince Hamet Karamanli is so impressed with O’Bannon’s bravery during the attempt to restore him to his throne as the Bey of Tripoli that he gives O’Bannon a sword as a gesture of respect. This sword becomes the model for the Mameluke sword, adopted in 1825 for Marine Corps officers, which is part of the formal uniform today.

O’Bannon resigns from the Marine Corps on March 6, 1807. He moves to Logan County, Kentucky, making his home in Russellville. He serves in the Kentucky Legislature in 1812, 1817, and 1820–21, and in the Kentucky State Senate from 1824 to 1826.

Some time before 1826, O’Bannon marries Matilda Heard, daughter of Major James Heard and Nancy Morgan, a daughter of American Revolutionary War general Daniel Morgan, commander at the Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina in 1781.

Presley O’Bannon dies at age 74 on September 12, 1850 in Pleasureville, Kentucky, where his daughter and nephew live. In 1919, his remains are moved to the Frankfort Cemetery on East Main Street in the state capital of Frankfort, Kentucky.

(Pictured: Oil painting of Lieutenant Presley Neville O’Bannon, USMC, by Colonel Donald L. Dickson, USMCR, from the Official Photograph Album Collection (COLL/2246) at the Archives Branch, Marine Corps History Division)


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The Boston Massacre

boston-massacre-1770The Boston Massacre, a riot known as the Incident on King Street by the British, takes place in Boston, Massachusetts on March 5, 1770. British Army soldiers shoot and kill several people while under attack by a mob.

The incident is heavily publicized by leading Patriots, such as Paul Revere and Samuel Adams, to encourage rebellion against the British authorities. British troops have been stationed in Boston, capital of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, since 1768 in order to protect and support crown-appointed colonial officials attempting to enforce unpopular Parliamentary legislation.

Amid ongoing tense relations between the population and the soldiers, a mob forms around a British sentry, who is subjected to verbal abuse and harassment. He is eventually supported by eight additional soldiers, who are subjected to verbal threats and repeatedly hit by clubs, stones and snowballs. Without orders, they fire a ragged series of shots into the crowd, striking eleven men. Three Americans, ropemaker Samuel Gray, mariner James Caldwell, and Crispus Attucks, die instantly. Samuel Maverick, a 17-year-old apprentice ivory turner, is struck by a ricocheting musket ball at the back of the crowd and dies a few hours later, in the early morning of the next day. An Irish immigrant, Patrick Carr, dies two weeks later. Christopher Monk, another apprentice, is one of those seriously wounded in the attack. Although he recovers to some extent, he is crippled and eventually dies in 1780, purportedly due to the injuries he had sustained in the attack a decade earlier.

The crowd eventually disperses after Acting Governor Thomas Hutchinson promises an inquiry, but the crowd re-forms the next day, prompting the withdrawal of the troops to Castle Island. Eight soldiers, one officer, and four civilians are arrested and charged with murder. Defended by lawyer and future American president John Adams, six of the soldiers are acquitted, while the other two are convicted of manslaughter and given reduced sentences. The men found guilty of manslaughter are sentenced to branding on their hand. Depictions, reports, and propaganda about the event, notably the colored engraving produced by Paul Revere, further heighten tensions throughout the Thirteen Colonies.

(Pictured: Famous depiction of the Boston Massacre engraved by Paul Revere (copied from an engraving by Henry Pelham), colored by Christian Remick, and printed by Benjamin Edes. The Old State House is depicted in the background.)