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


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Birth of Samuel Haliday, Irish Presbyterian Minister

burning-bushSamuel Haliday, Irish Presbyterian non-subscribing minister to the “first congregation” of Belfast, is born on July 16, 1685 in Omagh, County Tyrone, in what is now Northern Ireland. His refusal to sign the Westminster Confession of Faith leads to a split between Subscribing and Non-Subscribing adherents.

Haliday is the son of the Rev. Samuel Haliday (1637–1724), who is ordained presbyterian minister of Convoy, County Donegal, in 1664. He then moves to Omagh in 1677, leaving for Scotland in 1689, where he is successively minister of Dunscore, Drysdale, and New North Church, Edinburgh. He returns to Ireland in 1692, becoming minister of Ardstraw, where he continues until his death.

Haliday enters Glasgow College, enrolled among the students of the first class under John Loudon, professor of logic and rhetoric. He graduates M.A., and goes to Leiden University to study theology in November 1705.

In 1706 Haliday is licensed at Rotterdam and in 1708 receives ordination at Geneva, choosing to be ordained there because of its tolerance. He becomes chaplain to the 26th (Cameronian) Regiment of Foot, serving under John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough in Flanders. He is received by the Synod of Ulster in 1712 as an ordained minister without charge, and declared capable of being settled in any of its congregations. For some time, however, he lives in London, where he associates with the Whig faction, in and out of the government, and uses his influence to promote the interests of his fellow-churchmen. He opposes the extension of the Schism Act 1714 to Ireland. In 1718 he takes a leading part in obtaining an increase in the regium donum and the synod of Ulster thanks him. He introduces two historians, Laurence Echard and Edmund Calamy, in a London social meeting with Sir Richard Ellys, 3rd Baronet.

In 1719 Haliday is present at the Salters’ Hall debates, and in the same year receives a call from the first congregation of Belfast, vacant by the death of the Rev. John McBride. He is at this time chaplain to Colonel Anstruther’s regiment of foot. It being rumoured that he holds Arian views, the synod in June 1720 considers the matter, and clears him. His accuser, the Rev. Samuel Dunlop of Athlone, is rebuked.

On July 28, 1720, the day appointed for his installation in Belfast, Haliday refuses to subscribe the Westminster Confession of Faith, making instead a declaration to the presbytery. The presbytery proceeds with the installation, in violation of the law of the church, and in the face of a protest and appeal from four members. The case comes before the synod in 1721, but though Haliday still refuses to sign the Confession, the matter is allowed to drop. A resolution is, however, carried after long debate that all members of synod who are willing to subscribe the confession might do so, with which the majority comply. Hence arises the terms “subscribers” and “non-subscribers.” He continues to be identified with the latter until his death. A number of members of his congregation are so dissatisfied with the issue of the case that they refuse to remain under his ministry. After much opposition they are erected by the synod into a new charge.

The subscription controversy rages for years. Haliday continues to take a major part in it, both in the synod and through the press. To end the conflict, the synod in 1725 adopts the expedient of placing all the non-subscribing ministers in one presbytery, that of Antrim, which in the following year is excluded from the body.

Haliday is a lifelong friend to the philosopher Francis Hutcheson. In 1736 Thomas Drennan is installed as his colleague in Belfast. Haliday dies at the age of 54 on March 5, 1739.

(Pictured: The burning bush is a common symbol used by Presbyterian churches; here as used by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. The Latin inscription underneath translates as “burning but flourishing”. In Presbyterianism, alternative versions of the motto are also used such as “burning, yet not consumed”.)


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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.’