William Drennan (1754-1824)


Life
[var. d. 1820] b. Belfast, son of Thomas Drennan (d.1768), a Presbyterian minister in ‘New Light’ tradition who held the ministry of the First Presbyterian Church in Belfast, in succession to Alexander Haliday (son of Samuel, the first non-subscribing Presbyterian Divine); ed. in Glasgow, 1771; Edinburgh, MD [1778]; practised gynaecological medicine in Belfast, Dublin, and Newry;
 
joined the Irish Volunteers, 1778; his letters on the misrepresentation of the northern counties in Parliament, under the title ‘Address to the Volunteers’ (1781), enjoined ‘men of Fermanagh and Cavan’ to ‘add a new strings to the Irish harp [so that it would] in rich and deep variety of tone, resound throughout the nation; same published in book-form as Letters of Orellana to Seven Northern Counties for obtaining more equal representation in the Parliament of Ireland by An Irish Helot (1784);
 
often regarded as the author of United Irishmen’s constitution and their oath, 1791; chairman of the United Irishmen, 1792; a radical address to the Irish Volunteers in 1792 led to his trial for sedition in 1794 with Arthur Wolfe [Lord Kilwarden] prosecuting as Attorney General; successfully defended by John Philpot Curran, who completely discredited the leading witness William Paulet Carey (1759-1839), leading the jury to ‘regret at seeing a criminal they cannot reach and a guilt which they cannot punish’;
 
his “An Intended Defence”, describing his political formation, was written in prison on 25 June 1794 just prior to the trial, and suppressed on Curran’s advice though later published with Fugitive Pieces (1815); withdrew from politics after his trial; issued A Philosophical Essay on the Moral and Political State of Ireland in a Letter to Earl Fitzwilliam (1795), addressing question of Presbyterian and Catholic education; A Letter to Pitt (Dublin 1799); but wrote “The Wake of William Orr” on the execution of that United Irishman in 1797;
 
wrote tracts against sectarianism in education (1795) and against the Act of Union (1799); called by Arthur O’Connor to give character evidence in England but pre-empted by the ill-report of John Gifford; married Sarah, a wealthy Englishwoman, 1800; co-fnd. The Belfast Magazine and Literary Journal, 1808-1813 (13 vols.) [var. 1825 OCIL], edited by Cairns and published by Jellett; contrib. to Edward Bunting’s Ancient Irish Music (rev. edn. 1809); suffered death of his beloved son “Little Tom”, 1812; co-fnd. of the Belfast Acad. Inst., 1814;
 
ssued Fugitive Pieces in Verse and Prose (1815), while a collection including poems by his surviving sons, William Drennan (1802-73 [see note]) and John Swanick Drennan (1809-93), appeared as Glendalloch (1859), the title poem - composed in 1802 - being a historical survey from earliest times to the failure of the United Irish Rebellion, all treated from a republican standpoint (‘Conquest was then, and ever since, / The real design of priest and prince’);
 
he is best-remembered as author of the phrase ‘Emerald Isle’ in the poem “When Erin First Rose from the dark-swelling flood”; also “The Wail of the Women after the Battle” and “The Worm of the Still”, a temperance poem and another in praise of tea (he was a tea-totaller); once declared, ‘The Catholics may save themselves, but it is the Protestants who must save the nation’;
 
left instructions that coffin was to be carried by six Catholics and six Protestants and should halt outside the Belfast Academical Institute en route to the cemetary; Drennan’s “Song to Ireland” appeared in Joshua Edkin’s Collection of Poems by Many Hands (1801); he figures as a character in Lady Morgan’s The O’Briens and the O’Flaherty’s (1828) while Lover’s Rory O’More was based on on his song on the rebellion of 1641; there is a portrait by Robert Home (c.1780); Drennan appears in Lady Morgan’s The O’Briens and the O’Flaherty’s. CAB PI JMC TAY ODQ DIB DIW DIH DIL DUB OCIL FDA

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Works
Contemporary editions
  • Letters of “Orellana” to Seven Northern Counties for obtaining more equal representation in the Parliament of Ireland by an Irish Helot (Dublin 1784);
  • A Philosophical Essay on the Moral and Political State of Ireland in a Letter to Earl Fitzwilliam (1795);
  • A Letter to the Right Honourable William Pitt (Dublin 1799);
  • A Second Letter to the Right Honourable William Pitt (1799);
  • Letter to Charles James Fox (Dublin 1806);
  • Fugitive Pieces in Verse and Prose (Belfast 1815) [incls. posthum. “Glendalloch”, pp.100-15];
  • The Electra (Belfast 1817), trans. from Sophocles;
  • Glendalloch And Other Poems, with Verses by his Sons (Dublin 1859) [see details].
Modern editions
  • D. A. Chart, ed., The Letters of William Drennan, Being a Selection of the Correspondence [ ...] between William Drennan, M.D., and his brother-in-law and sister, Samuel and Martha McTier during the years 1776-1819 (Belfast: HMSO 1931);
  • Jean Agnew, ed., The Drennan-McTier Letters 1776-1819, 3 vols. [Women’s History Project, gen. ed. Maria Luddy] (Dublin: Irish Manuscript Commission 1998-99) [Vol. 1:1776-1793; Vol. 2: 1794-1801; Vol. 3: 1802-1819];
  • John Larkin, ed., The Trial of William Drennan (Blackrock: IAP 1991);
  • [Brendan Clifford., ed.,] Selected Writings of William Drennan (Belfast: Athol Books 1998), Vol. 1: The Irish Volunteers 1775-1790 [‘Letters of Orellana’, 1784; poems], 236pp.; Vol. 2: Selected Letters: The United Irish Years, 1791-1798 [letters and pamphlet addressed to Lord Fitzwilliam, 1795], 220pp.

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Bibliographical details
Glendalloch, and Other Poems, by the Late Dr. Drennan. With additional verses, by his sons [J. S. and W. Drennan; ed. by W. Drennan] [2nd edn.] (Dublin: William Robertson 1859), xxii, 280pp. [8°]; See also Literature Online digital copy of 2000 with only poems of Wm. Drennan the Elder included. See also W[illiam] Drennan [1754-1820], Glendalloch: July, 1802 ( [London] : Printed by C. Mercier & Co. [1802]), 22pp., 22cm. [no t.p.; title from caption].

Note that Glendalloch [ ... &c.] (Dublin 1859) is called the 2nd edn. presumably in deference to the London edition of the title-poem, given in COPAC as Glendalloch: Joyly 1802 (Mercier [1802]), but elsewhere listed title as Glendalloch (Belfast 1815) [q.source]. See also note on William Drennan, Jnr. - infra.

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Criticism
  • Terence Brown, Northern Voices: Poets from Ulster (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1975), pp.24-28.
  • [q.auth.], ‘William Drennan, Edmund Burke and the Dissenting Muse’ [Irish Historians in Britain Conference, University of York, April 1990].
  • Mary McNeill, Little Tom Drennan (Dublin 1962) [account of his relationship with son who died in 1812].
See also ...
  • R. R. Madden, Lives of the United Irishmen (1842-46);
  • Brian Inglis, Freedom of the Press in Ireland (London: Faber & Faber 1954);
  • Mary Helen Thuente, The Harp Re-strung: The United Irishmen and the Rise of Irish Literary Nationalism (Syracuse UP 1994);
  • Oliver Knox, Rebels and Informers: Stirrings of Irish Independence (London: John Murray 1997).

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Commentary
Isaac Butt: Butt wrote, ‘An allusion to “the emerald isle” at a publc meeting will draw thunders of applause … but in that cheap tribute to sentiment, our nationality too often effervesces … The Scotchman cultivates his thistle in his garden; the Irishman wears his shamrock till it withers on his bosom, or he drowns it in his bowl.’ (‘ Gallery of Illustrious Irishmen’, Dublin University Magazine, Jan. 1836; cited in Joseph Spence, ‘Isaac Butt, Nationality and Irish Toryism, 1833-1852’, in Bullán, 2, 1, Summer 1995, p.49.)

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Robert Welch, A History of Verse Translation from the Irish 1789-1897 (Gerrards Cross 1988), refers to ‘unpublished letters’ from Drennan to his sister expressing strong anti-Catholic feelings on both sides; copied in ‘unpublished thesis’ at QUB [viz. Patrick Curley, ‘William Drennan and the Young Samuel Ferguson: Patriotism and the Union in Ulster Poetry between 1778 and 1848’(QUB 1987)]. (See Welch, op. cit., [q.p.].)

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Adrian Rice, ‘No Lithe Interloper, William Drennan’, Causeway 1 (Autumn 1993), pp.6-13: contains extensive selections from poetry, with port. of Drennan by Robert Home (c.1780), and others of his father, Thomas Drennan and his mother Anne Lennox; Rice quotes a poem of 1806: ‘his creed without claws, his faith without fetters’. Drennan was called by liberal divine Henry Montgomery a ‘philosopher, statesman, orator, poet - all that gives dignity to the name, a MAN!’ He was a prolific correspondent. John Hewitt (in Weaver Poets) laments the tendency for Drennan to be represented only by “William Orr” and “When Erin First Rose from the dark-swelling flood”, and notes Geoffrey Taylor [ed., Irish Poets of the Nineteenth Century, 1951]; as an honourable exemption. In the preface to Fugitive Pieces (1815), he wrote, ‘I am well aware of the wide distinction between a poet and a writer of verse [...]’; poem on a young man (William) questioning his father why Ulysses should have such a fervent desire ‘for home’, ‘“What made a barren rock so dear?” / “My boy, he had a country there!” / And who then dropt a prescient tear?’ Drennan appears in Lady Morgan’s The O’Briens and the O’Flaherty’s (1828), [he] ‘might have passed, in appearance, for the demure minister of some remote village-congregation of the Scotch kirk ...’. Rice dilates on the long autobiographical poem “W.D.” (‘Let me picture myself, from the mirror of my mind’), which Rice sees as refuting the charge. This includes an account of Drennan’s involvement with politics: ‘Still shrinking from praise, tho’ in search of a name / He trod on the brink of precipitate fame; / And stretched forth his arm to the beckoning form, / A vision of glory, which flash’d thro’ the storm; / Independence shot past him in letters of light, / Then the scroll seem’d to shrivel, and vanish in night; / And all the illumin’d horizon became / In the shift of a moment, a darkness - a dream’; again, ‘No lithe interloper, no cour[t]eous encroacher, / No practice detailer, no puffer, no poacher’; suffered death of his son, “Little Tom”, in 1812. Drennan’s “Song” was printed in in Joseph Edkins, ed., Poems by Many Hands (Dublin 1801). Bibliography cites Mary McNeill, Little Tom Drennan (Dublin 1962), a detailed account of his relationship with his son, and includes account of his wife Sarah; also Patrick Curley, ‘William Drennan and the Young Samuel Ferguson: Patriotism and the Union in Ulster Poetry between 1778 and 1848 (Thesis, QUB 1987).

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John Larkin, ed., The Trial of William Drennan (Dublin: Irish Academic Press 1991). Drennan wrote an “Intended Defence” which he was persuaded not to use by J. P. Curran, his barrister, at the sedition trial of 25th June 1794; it is an apologia pro vita sua; Larkin establishes that Drennan was a leading member of the Dublin Society, and formed by a Presbyterian rationalist tradition which was led by John Abernethy in the preceeding generation, and readily turned from the politics of Cromwellian Commonwealth to those of the French Revolution. Drennan was prosecuted for his address to ‘The Volunteers of Ireland’ (1792). Curran successfully discredited the State witnesses. Bibl., R. B. McDowell, Ireland in the Age of Imperialism and Revolution, 1760-1801 (OUP 1979); A. T. Q. Stewart, ‘“A Stable Unseen Power,” Dr William Drennan and the origins of the United Irishmen,’ in Bossy & Jupp, eds., Essays Presented to Michael Roberts (Belf. 1976), regarded by Larkin as a seminal work; also R. B. McDowell, ed. Proceedings of the Dublin Soc. of the United Irishmen, in Analecta Hibernica, 17 (Dublin 1947).

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John Nelson, review of Larkin, ed., The Trial of William Drennan (1991), in Linenhall Review, April 1991, Nelson suggests that the view of Drennan simply as author of the phrase ‘emerald isle’ is a travesty. He held an honoured place ... as one of the moving spirits of the Dublin Society of the United Irishmen ... his paper of Dec. 1792 to ‘The Volunteers of Ireland’ provided the pretext for his prosecution. Sedition trial, 25 June 1794, Four Courts; forensic skill of John Philipot Curran in destroying credibility of Govt. witnesses; the Jury said, ‘they regret at seeing a criminal they cannot reach and a guilt which they cannot punish’; a document called his ‘Intended Defence’, which Drennan left unused on Curran’s advice, was published in Belfast Magazine and in Fugitive Pieces of Verse and Prose. In reality it is his apologia pro vita sua. In it Drennan proudly recites the names of Abernethy, Bruce, Duchal and Hucheson. Drennan was imbued with his father’s principles which emerged from non-subscribing tradition of the 1720s. John Abernethy was a leader of the so-called ‘new light’ movement. Drennan’s father, who died when he was 14, was a minister of the First Presbyterian Church Belfast, following Samuel Haliday’s predecessor in the office. The liberal ‘non-subscribers’ believed a right of free judgement on the basis that God had given him reason for a purpose, that man was not naturally wicked, and all were of infinite value in the eyes of God. Drennan grew up in company where the Republican virtues of the Cromwellian period were still venerate; to his mind there was nothing untoward in the principle of government followed in either Fance or America [in the revolutionary period].

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A. T. Q. Stewart, A Deeper Silence, The Hidden Origins of the United Irishmen (Faber 1993), refers to previous work by Stewart arguing in 1986 that Drennan was the seminal ideologue of the United Irishmen, but argues that his central position is being challenged increasingly; the marvellous run of his 1,400 letters and his superb command of rhetoric endears him to historians; a deeper silence represented by Neilson, MacCabe, MacCracken, and Russell existed behind him. [Undated reviewd by Kevin Whelan.]

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Katie Trumpener, Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire (Princeton UP 1997): ‘Another founder of the United Irishmen, William Drennan, was tried for seditious libel in 1794, and thereafter turned to poetry as his principal mode of political expresion, moving from a revolutionary nationalism back to a bardic one. In the wake of the 1790s, as Drennan’s case suggest, a radical cultural nationalism continued to sustain itself in the way that (and partly because) a radical political nationalism could not. Drennan’s strong dissatisfaction with the 1802 Act of Union [sic] thus finds expression in the composition of poetic strains of almost Ossianic melancholy.’ (p.11.)

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R. F. Foster, ‘Remembering 1798’, in The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland (Penguin 2001): ‘A founder member [of the United Irishmen], the cautious Ulsterman William Drennan, had called for “the establishment of societies of liberal and ingenious men, uniting their labours, without regard to nation, sect or party, in one grand pursuit, alike interesting to all, by which mental prejudice may be worn off, a humane and  truly philosophic spirit may be cherished in the heart as well as the head, in practice as well as theory”. The “general end”, he said, was “real Independence to Ireland” and republicanism “the general purpose”. (Quoted in Ian McBride, Scripture Politics: Ulster Presbyterians and Irish Radicalism in Late Eighteenth-century Ireland, Oxford 1998, p.231; here p.261.)

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Patrick Ward, Exile, Emigration and Irish Writing (Dublin IAP 2002), contains a discussion of William Drennan’s “The Wake of William Orr”: ‘Out of dystopian chaos of irrationality, arbitrary injustice and casual cruelty, he prays for a new creation [...] Drennan’s appeal is to a shared future rather than a fragmented, nightmarish past from which he was necessarily excluded. His past, his history, had to be in a sense erased to effect any kind of union with the Catholic oppressed. This meant that freedom and harmony inevitably had to be projected onto a millenarian future. He was perhaps naïve in his aspirations and like Edgeworth ignorant of the depth and difference of Irish feeling. Like [sic for unlike] most of the United Irish leadership however, he survived the rising and its savage reprisals with his life and limbs intact and his liberty unimpaired.’ (p.71.)

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Quotations

When Erin first rose from the dark swelling flood
God blessed the green Island, and saw it was good;
The em’rald of Europe, it sparkled and shone -
In the ring of the world the most precious stone.
In her sun, in her soil, in her station thrice blest.
With her back towards Britain, her face to the West,
Erin stands proudly insular on her steep shore,
And strikes her high harp ’mid the ocean’s deep roar.

But when its soft tones seem to moan and to weep,
The dark chain of silence is thrown o’er the deep;
At the thought of the past the tears gush from her eyes
And the palse of her heart makes her white bosom rise.
Oh! sons of green Erin, lament o’er the time
When religion was war and our conntry a crime;
When man in God’s image inverted His plan.
And moulded his God in the image of man;

When the int’rest of State wrought the general woe,
The stranger a friend and the native a foe;
While the mother rejoiced o’er her children oppressed
And clasped the invader more close to her breast;
When with Pale for the body and Pale for the soul,
Church and State joined in compact to conquer the whole,
And, as Shannon was stained with Milesian blood,
Eyed each other askance and pronounced it was good.

By the groans that ascend from your forefathers’ grave
For their country thus left to the brute and the slave.
Drive the demon of Bigotry home to his den,
And where Britain made brutes now let Erin make men.
Let my sons, like the leaves of the shamrock, unite -
A partition of sects from one footstalk of right;
Give each his full share of the earth and the sky,
Nor fatten the slave where the serpent woald die.

Alas! for poor Erin that some are still seen
Who would dye the grass red from their hatred to Green:
Yet, oh ! when you ’re up and they’re down, let them live
Then yield them that mercy which they would not give.
Arm of Erin, be strong! but be gentle as brave!
And, uplifted to strike, be as ready to save!
Let no feeling of vengeance presame to defile
The cause or the men of the Emerald Isle.

The cause it is good, and the men they are true.
And the Green shall outlive both the Orange and Blue!
And the triumphs of Erin her daughters shall share
With the full swelling chest and the fair flowing hair.
Their bosom heaves high for the worthy and brave.
But no coward shall rest in that soft-swelling wave.
Men of Erin! awake, and make haste to be blest!
Rise, Arch of the Ocean and Queen of the West!

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The Wake of William Orr”: ‘There our murdered brother lies; / Wake him not with woman’s cries; / Mourn the way that manhood ought / Sit in silent trance of thought. // Write his merits on your mind; / Morals pure and manners kind; / In his head, as on a hill, / Virtue placed her citadel. // Why cut off in palmy youth? / Truth he spoke, and acted truth. / “Countrymen, UNITE,”he cried, / And died for what our Saviour died. // God of peace and God of love! / Let it not Thy vengeance move - / Let it not Thy lightnings draw - / A nation guillotined by law. // Hapless Nation, rent and torn, / Thou wert early taught to mourn; / Warfare of six hundred years! / Epochs marked with blood and tears! // Hunted thro’ thy native grounds, / Or flung reward to human hounds, / Each one pulled and tore his share, / Heedless of thy deep despair. // Hapless Nation! hapless Land! Heap of uncementing sand! / - Crumbled by a foreign weight: / And by worse, domestic hate. // God of mercy! God of peace! Make this mad confusion cease; / O’er the mental chaos move, / Through it SPEAK the light of love. // Monstrous and unhappy sight! / Brothers’ blood will not unite; / Holy oil and holy water mix, / and fill the world with slaughter. // Who is she with aspect wild? / The widow’d mother with her child - / Child new stirring in the womb! / Husband waiting for the tomb! // Angel of this sacred place, / Calm her soul and whisper peace - / Cord, or axe, or guillotine, / Make the sentence - not the sin. // Here we watch our brother’s sleep: / Watch with us, but do not weep: / Watch with us thro’ dead of night / But expect the morning light.’

[“Erin” and “The Wake of William Orr” are given in full in Justin McCarthy, ed., Irish Literature (Washington: Catholic University of America 1904), pp.855-58; available at Internet Archive - online.]

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Dear PM (A Letter to the right honourable William Pitt, Dublin 1799): ‘It is not from [...] any consideration of equal relationshihp to the whole family of the people, that this plan has proceeded’ (p.23); ‘The nation that does not feel the debasement of the very proposition deservres to suffer the prostitution: for certin proposals may be made to individuals, in whic the injury, monstrous as it is, is lost in the insult: which by the one sex, can be repelled only by a look of ineffable contempt, and by the other, with a blow - so there are affronts to nations, on which controversy is contamination; as if we could be reasoned into making a capon of our country - an eunuch of Ireland.’ (p.32); [calls the proposed Union as] ‘revolting to the nation, as to the man’ (p.33); ends with the signature, ‘I am your humble servant, But not yet - your slave - ’ (p.48; quoted in Willa Murphy, ‘A Queen of hearts or an Old Maid?: Maria Edgeworth’s Fictions of Union’, in Dáire Keogh & Kevin Whelan, eds., Acts of Union: The Causes, Contexts and Consequences of the Act of Union, Dublin: Four Courts Press 2001, pp.206-07.)

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The Catholics still keep one at the head of the professions of their country, degraded as they are; at least the first physician, the first apothecary, and the first merchant [Edward Byrne] in Dublin are Catholics.’ (1801; Drennan Letters, p.311; quoted in Maureen Wall, Catholic Ireland in the 18th c., ed. Gerard O’Brien, 1989.)

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References
D. J. O’Donoghue, The Poets of Ireland: A Biographical Dictionary (Dublin: Hodges Figgis & Co 1912); lists Fugitive Pieces (Belfast 1815) trans. The Electra, from Sophocles (1817); Glendalloch and other poems (Dublin 1857) [sic; and here called 2nd edn.]; Drennan was the first to address Ireland as ‘The Emerald Isle’; anthologised in Joshua Edkin’s Collection of Poems (Dublin 1801). PI notes in error that a writer of the same name, author of Glendalloch is often confused with the above, his father.

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2, p.997, ftn., ‘chain of silence’, Moore acknowledges that he borrowed the figure from ‘a rebellious, but beautiful song’ by Drennan, ‘When First Rose’ [from which also ‘Emerald Isle’]. See FDA1, p. 1064, for Moore’s poem, and The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Vol. 3, p.327, for Drennan’s. The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Vol. 3, p.377: b. Belast 1754, son of radical minister Thomas Drennan; ed. Edinburgh, and friend and pupil of Dugald Stewart; practised Belfast, Newry, and Dublin; his ‘Irish Helot’ letters attracted great attention in the 1780s; founding member of United Irishmen, tried for sedition and defended successfully by J. P. Curran, 1794; withdrew from politics; poems incl. ‘The Wail of the Women after the Battle’ and ‘The Death of William Orr’ fnd. Belfast Acad., Inst., 1814; fnd. Belfast Magazine; his coffin carried by six Catholics and six Protestants. The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Vol. 3, p.319ff., selects ‘A Stable Unseen Power’, from a letter from Dublin to Samuel McTier, his brother-in-law in Belfast; also frm ‘The Intended Defence’ [“the constitutional interposition of the whole people” in caps] (25th June, 1794). Works, Letters of an Irish Helot, signed Orellana (Dublin 1785); A letter to Pitt (Dublin 1799); A second letter to Pitt (1799); Letter to Charles James Fox (Dublin 1806); Fugitive Pieces (Belfast 1815).

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Justin McCarthy, ed.,Irish Literature (Washington: University of America 1904); selects ‘The Wake of William Orr,’ and one other. McKenna (Irish Lit., 1978) cites R. R. Madden, United Irishmen (1842). Works, The Electra of Sophocles (Belfast 1817); Fugitive Pieces (1815); Glendalloch ... (2nd ed. Dublin 1859). Oxford Dict. Quot. quotes from ‘The Men of the Emerald Isle,’ with bio-dates 1754-1820.

Stephen Brown, ed., Ireland in Fiction (Dublin: Maunsel 1919), lists Helen Duffin, a great-granddaughter of William Drennan and author of Over Here (1918), a tale of Irish middle class life, without political content, set in Derrymore, Co. Down.

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Geoffrey Taylor, Irish Poets of the 19th c. (1951) notices separately William Drennan and his son John Swanick, 1809-1893. Brendan Kennelly, ed., Penguin Book of Irish Verse (1970), selects “The Wake of William Orr”, pp.126-27 [infra].

Roy Foster, Modern Ireland (1988), p.260, b. Belfast, ed. Glasgow and Edinburgh; Letters of Orellana, an Irish Helot (1784); wrote the orig. prospectus for the United Irishmen, 1791; tried and acquitted, 1794; withdrew from politics but expressed nationalism in romantic poetry, considering himself an ‘aristocratical democrat.’

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Patrick Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English, The Romantic Period, 1789-1850 (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1980), Vol. 2; Bibliographical details incl. A Philosophical Essay on the moral and political state of Ireland in a letter to Earl Fitzwilliam [on Presbyterian and Catholic education] (1795), A Letter to Pitt [on the Union] (1799), and another to Charles Fox (1806). See also Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English (1980), Vol. 1, commentary: Glendalloch, written 1802, published in Fugitive Pieces (1815), pp.100-15; calls Drennan a Presbyterian liberal who requested that his coffin be born by six Protestants and six Catholics, yet the poem reveals total incomprehension of monachism [i.e., monastic culture], an obvious insensibility with regard to symbols, and a pervasive anti-clericalism; a harvest of observations offensive to Catholics; monks likened more often to crows than doves, ‘Who leads the black procession on? / St Kevin’s living skeleton’ (ibid, p.107) [61]. Further, Drennan, “The Wake of William Orr”, ‘There our murdered brother lies; / Wake him not with woman’s cries; / Mourn him the way that manhood ought / Sit in silent trance of thought ... Here we watch our brother sleep / Watch with us but do not weep: / Watch with us thr’ dead of night / / But expect the morning light.’ The poem appeared in The Press, Jan. 14 1798, and was rep. in The Harp of Erin, a Cork paper, 10 March 1798; it reappeared in Fugitive Pieces (1815), pp.78-81, with a curiously modified first line, ‘Here our brother worthy lies’, and reprinted thus in Glendalloch and Other Poems (1859). Edkin’s anthology contains his patriotic poem “To Ireland” (1801, p.48). A more substantial body of work, including “Erin” (called ‘the emerald of Europe’ [sic]), Gaelic translations, and “Glendalloch”, etc. [110, and n.] Also: ‘O country gain’d but to be lost! ... / Lost - by thy chosen children sold: / And conquered not by steel but gold.’ (Fugitive Pieces, 1815, p.144.) [135]. On emigration, ‘If to a foreign clime I go / What Henry feels will Emma know?’ (Fugitive Pieces, p.6.) [138].

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Chris Morash, The Hungry Voice (IAP 1989), selects: “And the Famine was Sore in the Land, 1847”, by John Swannick Drennan, 1809-93, medical doctor and son of the author of the UI manifesto, in William Drennan, Glendalloch and Other Poems by the late Dr Drennan, with Additional Verse by His Sons (Dublin: William Robertson 1859). p.110. Also William Drennan, Jnr., 1802-1895, lawyer, son of namesake, ‘1848’, in Glendalloch (1859), p.151.

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James J. Gaskin, Varieties of Irish History (1869), with 32pp. appendix from the Writings of Wm. Drennan, dated 1874), 4 chrom.; lacking map (Hyland 214; 220).

Belfast Public Library holds Glendalloch and other Poems (1859), as well as A Letter to Earl Fitzwilliam, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1795).

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Linen Hall Library (Belfast) holds Fugitive Pieces (1815); Letter to Lord Fitzwilliam, Lord Lieutentant (1795); Letters of Orellana to 7 Northern Counties for obtaining more equal representation in the Parliament of Ireland ([1785]); Glendalloch and Other Poems, with verses by his sons (Dublin 1859) [indicating the grounds of the confusion mentioned by O’Donoghue].

Ulster Univ. Library holds The Drennan Letters, ed. D. A. Chart (Deputy Keeper of the Records of N. Ireland; Royal Stationary Office 1931).

Ulster Univ. Library, Morris Collection, holds The Letters of William Drennan, being a selection of the correspondence ... between William Drennan, M.D., and his brother-in-law and sister, Samuel and Martha McTier during the years 1776-1819, ed. Chart (HMSO, 1931).

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Notes
Glendalloch [ ... &c.] (Dublin 1859) is sometimes called the 2nd edn. in reference to the earlier appearance of “Glendalloch” in (Belfast 1815).

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Robert Emmet: ‘Marianne Elliott writes that “the advanced thinkers of the day were regularly invited to Dr Emmet’s dinner parties, and on one of these occasions Dr William Drennan was flattered when parts of his radical Letters of Orellanea were recited by the twelve-year-old Robert Emmet. This had called for an end to religious discord and championed the right of extra-parliamentary agitation in favour of parliamentary reform.”’ (Quoted in Colm Tóibín, ‘Emmet and the historians [what the epaulets were for]’, in The Dublin Review, Autumn 2003, p.116.)

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Edna Longley takes a sentence from Drennan as the epigraph for The Living Stream ([Bloodaxe] 1994): ‘The Catholics may save themselves but it is the Protestants must save the nation’.

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William Drennan (1754-1824)


Life
[var. d. 1820] b. Belfast, son of Thomas Drennan (d.1768), a Presbyterian minister in ‘New Light’ tradition who held the ministry of the First Presbyterian Church in Belfast, in succession to Alexander Haliday (son of Samuel, the first non-subscribing Presbyterian Divine); ed. in Glasgow, 1771; Edinburgh, MD [1778]; practised gynaecological medicine in Belfast, Dublin, and Newry;
 
joined the Irish Volunteers, 1778; his letters on the misrepresentation of the northern counties in Parliament, under the title ‘Address to the Volunteers’ (1781), enjoined ‘men of Fermanagh and Cavan’ to ‘add a new strings to the Irish harp [so that it would] in rich and deep variety of tone, resound throughout the nation; same published in book-form as Letters of Orellana to Seven Northern Counties for obtaining more equal representation in the Parliament of Ireland by An Irish Helot (1784);
 
often regarded as the author of United Irishmen’s constitution and their oath, 1791; chairman of the United Irishmen, 1792; a radical address to the Irish Volunteers in 1792 led to his trial for sedition in 1794 with Arthur Wolfe (Lord Kilwarden) prosecuting as Attorney General; successfully defended by John Philpot Curran, who completely discredited the leading witness William Paulet Carey (1759-1839), leading the jury to ‘regret at seeing a criminal they cannot reach and a guilt which they cannot punish’;
 
his “An Intended Defence”, describing his political formation, was written in prison on 25 June 1794 just prior to the trial, and suppressed on Curran’s advice though later published with Fugitive Pieces (1815); withdrew from politics after his trial; issued A Philosophical Essay on the Moral and Political State of Ireland in a Letter to Earl Fitzwilliam (1795), addressing question of Presbyterian and Catholic education; A Letter to Pitt (Dublin 1799); but wrote “The Wake of William Orr” on the execution of that United Irishman in 1797;
 
wrote tracts against sectarianism in education (1795) and against the Act of Union (1799); called by Arthur O’Connor to give character evidence in England but pre-empted by the ill-report of John Gifford; married Sarah, a wealthy Englishwoman, 1800; co-fnd. The Belfast Magazine and Literary Journal, 1808-1813 (13 vols.) [var. 1825 OCIL], edited by Cairns and published by Jellett; contrib. to Edward Bunting’s Ancient Irish Music (rev. edn. 1809); suffered death of his beloved son “Little Tom”, 1812; co-fnd. of the Belfast Acad. Inst., 1814;
 
ssued Fugitive Pieces in Verse and Prose (1815), while a collection including poems by his surviving sons, William Drennan (1802-73) and John Swanick Drennan (1809-93), appeared as Glendalloch (1859), the title poem - composed in 1805 - being a historical survey from earliest times to the failure of the United Irish Rebellion, all treated from a republican standpoint (‘Conquest was then, and ever since,/The real design of priest and prince’);
 
he is best-remembered as author of the phrase ‘Emerald Isle’ in the poem “When Erin First Rose from the dark-swelling flood”; also “The Wail of the Women after the Battle” and “The Worm of the Still”, a temperance poem and another in praise of tea (he was a tea-totaller); once declared, ‘The Catholics may save themselves, but it is the Protestants who must save the nation’;
 
left instructions that coffin was to be carried by six Catholics and six Protestants and should halt outside the Belfast Academical Institute en route to the cemetary; Drennan’s “Song to Ireland” appeared in Joshua Edkin’s Collection of Poems by Many Hands (1801); he figures as a character in Lady Morgan’s The O’Briens and the O’Flaherty’s (1828) while Lover’s Rory O’More was based on on his song on the rebellion of 1641; there is a portrait by Robert Home (c.1780). CAB PI JMC TAY ODQ DIB DIW DIH DIL DUB OCIL FDA

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Works
Contemporary editions
  • Letters of “Orellana” to Seven Northern Counties for obtaining more equal representation in the Parliament of Ireland by an Irish Helot (Dublin 1784);
  • A Philosophical Essay on the Moral and Political State of Ireland in a Letter to Earl Fitzwilliam (1795);
  • A Letter to the Right Honourable William Pitt (Dublin 1799);
  • A Second Letter to the Right Honourable William Pitt (1799);
  • Letter to Charles James Fox (Dublin 1806);
  • Fugitive Pieces in Verse and Prose (Belfast 1815) [incls. posthum. “Glendalloch”, pp.100-15];
  • The Electra (Belfast 1817), trans. from Sophocles;
  • Glendalloch And Other Poems, with Verses by his Sons (Dublin 1859).
Modern editions
  • D. A. Chart, ed., The Letters of William Drennan, Being a Selection of the Correspondence [ ...] between William Drennan, M.D., and his brother-in-law and sister, Samuel and Martha McTier during the years 1776-1819 (Belfast: HMSO 1931);
  • Jean Agnew, ed., The Drennan-McTier Letters 1776-1819, 3 vols. [Women’s History Project, gen. ed. Maria Luddy] (Dublin: Irish Manuscript Commission 1998-99) [Vol. 1:1776-1793; Vol. 2: 1794-1801; Vol. 3: 1802-1819];
  • John Larkin, ed., The Trial of William Drennan (Blackrock: IAP 1991);
  • [Brendan Clifford., ed.,] Selected Writings of William Drennan (Belfast: Athol Books 1998), Vol. 1: The Irish Volunteers 1775-1790 [‘Letters of Orellana’, 1784; poems], 236pp.; Vol. 2: Selected Letters: The United Irish Years, 1791-1798 [letters and pamphlet addressed to Lord Fitzwilliam, 1795], 220pp.

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Criticism
  • Terence Brown, Northern Voices: Poets from Ulster (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1975), pp.24-28.
  • [q.auth.], ‘William Drennan, Edmund Burke and the Dissenting Muse’ [Irish Historians in Britain Conference, University of York, April 1990].
  • Mary McNeill, Little Tom Drennan (Dublin 1962) [account of his relationship with son who died in 1812].
See also ...
  • R. R. Madden, Lives of the United Irishmen (1842-46);
  • Brian Inglis, Freedom of the Press in Ireland (London: Faber & Faber 1954);
  • Mary Helen Thuente, The Harp Re-strung: The United Irishmen and the Rise of Irish Literary Nationalism (Syracuse UP 1994);
  • Oliver Knox, Rebels and Informers: Stirrings of Irish Independence (London: John Murray 1997).

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Commentary
Isaac Butt: Butt wrote, ‘An allusion to “the emerald isle” at a publc meeting will draw thunders of applause … but in that cheap tribute to sentiment, our nationality too often effervesces … The Scotchman cultivates his thistle in his garden; the Irishman wears his shamrock till it withers on his bosom, or he drowns it in his bowl.’ (‘ Gallery of Illustrious Irishmen’, Dublin University Magazine, Jan. 1836; cited in Joseph Spence, ‘Isaac Butt, Nationality and Irish Toryism, 1833-1852’, in Bullán, 2, 1, Summer 1995, p.49.)

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Robert Welch, A History of Verse Translation from the Irish 1789-1897 (Gerrards Cross 1988), refers to ‘unpublished letters’ from Drennan to his sister expressing strong anti-Catholic feelings on both sides; copied in ‘unpublished thesis’ at QUB [viz. Patrick Curley, ‘William Drennan and the Young Samuel Ferguson: Patriotism and the Union in Ulster Poetry between 1778 and 1848’(QUB 1987)]. (See Welch, op. cit., [q.p.].)

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Adrian Rice, ‘No Lithe Interloper, William Drennan’, Causeway 1 (Autumn 1993), pp.6-13: contains extensive selections from poetry, with port. of Drennan by Robert Home (c.1780), and others of his father, Thomas Drennan and his mother Anne Lennox; Rice quotes a poem of 1806: ‘his creed without claws, his faith without fetters’. Drennan was called by liberal divine Henry Montgomery a ‘philosopher, statesman, orator, poet - all that gives dignity to the name, a MAN!’ He was a prolific correspondent. John Hewitt (in Weaver Poets) laments the tendency for Drennan to be represented only by “William Orr” and “When Erin First Rose from the dark-swelling flood”, and notes Geoffrey Taylor [ed., Irish Poets of the Nineteenth Century, 1951]; as an honourable exemption. In the preface to Fugitive Pieces (1815), he wrote, ‘I am well aware of the wide distinction between a poet and a writer of verse [...]’; poem on a young man (William) questioning his father why Ulysses should have such a fervent desire ‘for home’, ‘“What made a barren rock so dear?” / “My boy, he had a country there!” / And who then dropt a prescient tear?’ Drennan appears in Lady Morgan’s The O’Briens and the O’Flaherty’s (1828), [he] ‘might have passed, in appearance, for the demure minister of some remote village-congregation of the Scotch kirk ...’. Rice dilates on the long autobiographical poem “W.D.” (‘Let me picture myself, from the mirror of my mind’), which Rice sees as refuting the charge. This includes an account of Drennan’s involvement with politics: ‘Still shrinking from praise, tho’ in search of a name / He trod on the brink of precipitate fame; / And stretched forth his arm to the beckoning form, / A vision of glory, which flash’d thro’ the storm; / Independence shot past him in letters of light, / Then the scroll seem’d to shrivel, and vanish in night; / And all the illumin’d horizon became / In the shift of a moment, a darkness - a dream’; again, ‘No lithe interloper, no cour[t]eous encroacher, / No practice detailer, no puffer, no poacher’; suffered death of his son, “Little Tom”, in 1812. Drennan’s “Song” was printed in in Joseph Edkins, ed., Poems by Many Hands (Dublin 1801). Bibliography cites Mary McNeill, Little Tom Drennan (Dublin 1962), a detailed account of his relationship with his son, and includes account of his wife Sarah; also Patrick Curley, ‘William Drennan and the Young Samuel Ferguson: Patriotism and the Union in Ulster Poetry between 1778 and 1848 (Thesis, QUB 1987).

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John Larkin, ed., The Trial of William Drennan (Dublin: Irish Academic Press 1991). Drennan wrote an “Intended Defence” which he was persuaded not to use by J. P. Curran, his barrister, at the sedition trial of 25th June 1794; it is an apologia pro vita sua; Larkin establishes that Drennan was a leading member of the Dublin Society, and formed by a Presbyterian rationalist tradition which was led by John Abernethy in the preceeding generation, and readily turned from the politics of Cromwellian Commonwealth to those of the French Revolution. Drennan was prosecuted for his address to ‘The Volunteers of Ireland’ (1792). Curran successfully discredited the State witnesses. Bibl., R. B. McDowell, Ireland in the Age of Imperialism and Revolution, 1760-1801 (OUP 1979); A. T. Q. Stewart, ‘“A Stable Unseen Power,” Dr William Drennan and the origins of the United Irishmen,’ in Bossy & Jupp, eds., Essays Presented to Michael Roberts (Belf. 1976), regarded by Larkin as a seminal work; also R. B. McDowell, ed. Proceedings of the Dublin Soc. of the United Irishmen, in Analecta Hibernica, 17 (Dublin 1947).

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John Nelson, review of Larkin, ed., The Trial of William Drennan (1991), in Linenhall Review, April 1991, Nelson suggests that the view of Drennan simply as author of the phrase ‘emerald isle’ is a travesty. He held an honoured place ... as one of the moving spirits of the Dublin Society of the United Irishmen ... his paper of Dec. 1792 to ‘The Volunteers of Ireland’ provided the pretext for his prosecution. Sedition trial, 25 June 1794, Four Courts; forensic skill of John Philipot Curran in destroying credibility of Govt. witnesses; the Jury said, ‘they regret at seeing a criminal they cannot reach and a guilt which they cannot punish’; a document called his ‘Intended Defence’, which Drennan left unused on Curran’s advice, was published in Belfast Magazine and in Fugitive Pieces of Verse and Prose. In reality it is his apologia pro vita sua. In it Drennan proudly recites the names of Abernethy, Bruce, Duchal and Hucheson. Drennan was imbued with his father’s principles which emerged from non-subscribing tradition of the 1720s. John Abernethy was a leader of the so-called ‘new light’ movement. Drennan’s father, who died when he was 14, was a minister of the First Presbyterian Church Belfast, following Samuel Haliday’s predecessor in the office. The liberal ‘non-subscribers’ believed a right of free judgement on the basis that God had given him reason for a purpose, that man was not naturally wicked, and all were of infinite value in the eyes of God. Drennan grew up in company where the Republican virtues of the Cromwellian period were still venerate; to his mind there was nothing untoward in the principle of government followed in either Fance or America [in the revolutionary period].

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A. T. Q. Stewart, A Deeper Silence, The Hidden Origins of the United Irishmen (Faber 1993), refers to previous work by Stewart arguing in 1986 that Drennan was the seminal ideologue of the United Irishmen, but argues that his central position is being challenged increasingly; the marvellous run of his 1,400 letters and his superb command of rhetoric endears him to historians; a deeper silence represented by Neilson, MacCabe, MacCracken, and Russell existed behind him. [Undated reviewd by Kevin Whelan.]

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Katie Trumpener, Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire (Princeton UP 1997): ‘Another founder of the United Irishmen, William Drennan, was tried for seditious libel in 1794, and thereafter turned to poetry as his principal mode of political expresion, moving from a revolutionary nationalism back to a bardic one. In the wake of the 1790s, as Drennan’s case suggest, a radical cultural nationalism continued to sustain itself in the way that (and partly because) a radical political nationalism could not. Drennan’s strong dissatisfaction with the 1802 Act of Union [sic] thus finds expression in the composition of poetic strains of almost Ossianic melancholy.’ (p.11.)

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R. F. Foster, ‘Remembering 1798’, in The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland (Penguin 2001): ‘A founder member [of the United Irishmen], the cautious Ulsterman William Drennan, had called for “the establishment of societies of liberal and ingenious men, uniting their labours, without regard to nation, sect or party, in one grand pursuit, alike interesting to all, by which mental prejudice may be worn off, a humane and  truly philosophic spirit may be cherished in the heart as well as the head, in practice as well as theory”. The “general end”, he said, was “real Independence to Ireland” and republicanism “the general purpose”. (Quoted in Ian McBride, Scripture Politics: Ulster Presbyterians and Irish Radicalism in Late Eighteenth-century Ireland, Oxford 1998, p.231; here p.261.)

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Patrick Ward, Exile, Emigration and Irish Writing (Dublin IAP 2002), contains a discussion of William Drennan’s “The Wake of William Orr”: ‘Out of dystopian chaos of irrationality, arbitrary injustice and casual cruelty, he prays for a new creation [...] Drennan’s appeal is to a shared future rather than a fragmented, nightmarish past from which he was necessarily excluded. His past, his history, had to be in a sense erased to effect any kind of union with the Catholic oppressed. This meant that freedom and harmony inevitably had to be projected onto a millenarian future. He was perhaps naïve in his aspirations and like Edgeworth ignorant of the depth and difference of Irish feeling. Like [sic for unlike] most of the United Irish leadership however, he survived the rising and its savage reprisals with his life and limbs intact and his liberty unimpaired.’ (p.71.)

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Quotations

When Erin first rose from the dark swelling flood
God blessed the green Island, and saw it was good;
The em’rald of Europe, it sparkled and shone -
In the ring of the world the most precious stone.
In her sun, in her soil, in her station thrice blest.
With her back towards Britain, her face to the West,
Erin stands proudly insular on her steep shore,
And strikes her high harp ’mid the ocean’s deep roar.

But when its soft tones seem to moan and to weep,
The dark chain of silence is thrown o’er the deep;
At the thought of the past the tears gush from her eyes
And the palse of her heart makes her white bosom rise.
Oh! sons of green Erin, lament o’er the time
When religion was war and our conntry a crime;
When man in God’s image inverted His plan.
And moulded his God in the image of man;

When the int’rest of State wrought the general woe,
The stranger a friend and the native a foe;
While the mother rejoiced o’er her children oppressed
And clasped the invader more close to her breast;
When with Pale for the body and Pale for the soul,
Church and State joined in compact to conquer the whole,
And, as Shannon was stained with Milesian blood,
Eyed each other askance and pronounced it was good.

By the groans that ascend from your forefathers’ grave
For their country thus left to the brute and the slave.
Drive the demon of Bigotry home to his den,
And where Britain made brutes now let Erin make men.
Let my sons, like the leaves of the shamrock, unite -
A partition of sects from one footstalk of right;
Give each his full share of the earth and the sky,
Nor fatten the slave where the serpent woald die.

Alas! for poor Erin that some are still seen
Who would dye the grass red from their hatred to Green:
Yet, oh ! when you ’re up and they’re down, let them live
Then yield them that mercy which they would not give.
Arm of Erin, be strong! but be gentle as brave!
And, uplifted to strike, be as ready to save!
Let no feeling of vengeance presame to defile
The cause or the men of the Emerald Isle.

The cause it is good, and the men they are true.
And the Green shall outlive both the Orange and Blue!
And the triumphs of Erin her daughters shall share
With the full swelling chest and the fair flowing hair.
Their bosom heaves high for the worthy and brave.
But no coward shall rest in that soft-swelling wave.
Men of Erin! awake, and make haste to be blest!
Rise, Arch of the Ocean and Queen of the West!

The Wake of William Orr”: ‘There our murdered brother lies; / Wake him not with woman’s cries; / Mourn the way that manhood ought / Sit in silent trance of thought. // Write his merits on your mind; / Morals pure and manners kind; / In his head, as on a hill, / Virtue placed her citadel. // Why cut off in palmy youth? / Truth he spoke, and acted truth. / “Countrymen, UNITE,”he cried, / And died for what our Saviour died. // God of peace and God of love! / Let it not Thy vengeance move - / Let it not Thy lightnings draw - / A nation guillotined by law. // Hapless Nation, rent and torn, / Thou wert early taught to mourn; / Warfare of six hundred years! / Epochs marked with blood and tears! // Hunted thro’ thy native grounds, / Or flung reward to human hounds, / Each one pulled and tore his share, / Heedless of thy deep despair. // Hapless Nation! hapless Land! Heap of uncementing sand! / - Crumbled by a foreign weight: / And by worse, domestic hate. // God of mercy! God of peace! Make this mad confusion cease; / O’er the mental chaos move, / Through it SPEAK the light of love. // Monstrous and unhappy sight! / Brothers’ blood will not unite; / Holy oil and holy water mix, / and fill the world with slaughter. // Who is she with aspect wild? / The widow’d mother with her child - / Child new stirring in the womb! / Husband waiting for the tomb! // Angel of this sacred place, / Calm her soul and whisper peace - / Cord, or axe, or guillotine, / Make the sentence - not the sin. // Here we watch our brother’s sleep: / Watch with us, but do not weep: / Watch with us thro’ dead of night / But expect the morning light.’

[“Erin” and “The Wake of William Orr” are given in full in Justin McCarthy, ed., Irish Literature (Washington: Catholic University of America 1904), pp.855-58; available at Internet Archive - online.]

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Dear PM (A Letter to the right honourable William Pitt, Dublin 1799): ‘It is not from [...] any consideration of equal relationshihp to the whole family of the people, that this plan has proceeded’ (p.23); ‘The nation that does not feel the debasement of the very proposition deservres to suffer the prostitution: for certin proposals may be made to individuals, in whic the injury, monstrous as it is, is lost in the insult: which by the one sex, can be repelled only by a look of ineffable contempt, and by the other, with a blow - so there are affronts to nations, on which controversy is contamination; as if we could be reasoned into making a capon of our country - an eunuch of Ireland.’ (p.32); [calls the proposed Union as] ‘revolting to the nation, as to the man’ (p.33); ends with the signature, ‘I am your humble servant, But not yet - your slave - ’ (p.48; quoted in Willa Murphy, ‘A Queen of hearts or an Old Maid?: Maria Edgeworth’s Fictions of Union’, in Dáire Keogh & Kevin Whelan, eds., Acts of Union: The Causes, Contexts and Consequences of the Act of Union, Dublin: Four Courts Press 2001, pp.206-07.)

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The Catholics still keep one at the head of the professions of their country, degraded as they are; at least the first physician, the first apothecary, and the first merchant [Edward Byrne] in Dublin are Catholics.’ (1801; Drennan Letters, p.311; quoted in Maureen Wall, Catholic Ireland in the 18th c., ed. Gerard O’Brien, 1989.)

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References
D. J. O’Donoghue, The Poets of Ireland: A Biographical Dictionary (Dublin: Hodges Figgis & Co 1912); lists Fugitive Pieces (Belfast 1815) trans. The Electra, from Sophocles (1817); Glendalloch and other poems (Dublin 1857) [sic; and here called 2nd edn.]; Drennan was the first to address Ireland as ‘The Emerald Isle’; anthologised in Joshua Edkin’s Collection of Poems (Dublin 1801). PI notes in error that a writer of the same name, author of Glendalloch is often confused with the above, his father.

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2, p.997, ftn., ‘chain of silence’, Moore acknowledges that he borrowed the figure from ‘a rebellious, but beautiful song’ by Drennan, ‘When First Rose’ [from which also ‘Emerald Isle’]. See FDA1, p. 1064, for Moore’s poem, and The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Vol. 3, p.327, for Drennan’s. The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Vol. 3, p.377: b. Belast 1754, son of radical minister Thomas Drennan; ed. Edinburgh, and friend and pupil of Dugald Stewart; practised Belfast, Newry, and Dublin; his ‘Irish Helot’ letters attracted great attention in the 1780s; founding member of United Irishmen, tried for sedition and defended successfully by J. P. Curran, 1794; withdrew from politics; poems incl. ‘The Wail of the Women after the Battle’ and ‘The Death of William Orr’ fnd. Belfast Acad., Inst., 1814; fnd. Belfast Magazine; his coffin carried by six Catholics and six Protestants. The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Vol. 3, p.319ff., selects ‘A Stable Unseen Power’, from a letter from Dublin to Samuel McTier, his brother-in-law in Belfast; also frm ‘The Intended Defence’ [“the constitutional interposition of the whole people” in caps] (25th June, 1794). Works, Letters of an Irish Helot, signed Orellana (Dublin 1785); A letter to Pitt (Dublin 1799); A second letter to Pitt (1799); Letter to Charles James Fox (Dublin 1806); Fugitive Pieces (Belfast 1815).

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Justin McCarthy, ed.,Irish Literature (Washington: University of America 1904); selects ‘The Wake of William Orr,’ and one other. McKenna (Irish Lit., 1978) cites R. R. Madden, United Irishmen (1842). Works, The Electra of Sophocles (Belfast 1817); Fugitive Pieces (1815); Glendalloch ... (2nd ed. Dublin 1859). Oxford Dict. Quot. quotes from ‘The Men of the Emerald Isle,’ with bio-dates 1754-1820.

Stephen Brown, ed., Ireland in Fiction (Dublin: Maunsel 1919), lists Helen Duffin, a great-granddaughter of William Drennan and author of Over Here (1918), a tale of Irish middle class life, without political content, set in Derrymore, Co. Down.

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Geoffrey Taylor, Irish Poets of the 19th c. (1951) notices separately William Drennan and his son John Swanick, 1809-1893. Brendan Kennelly, ed., Penguin Book of Irish Verse (1970), selects “The Wake of William Orr”, pp.126-27 [infra].

Roy Foster, Modern Ireland (1988), p.260, b. Belfast, ed. Glasgow and Edinburgh; Letters of Orellana, an Irish Helot (1784); wrote the orig. prospectus for the United Irishmen, 1791; tried and acquitted, 1794; withdrew from politics but expressed nationalism in romantic poetry, considering himself an ‘aristocratical democrat.’

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Patrick Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English, The Romantic Period, 1789-1850 (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1980), Vol. 2; Bibliographical details incl. A Philosophical Essay on the moral and political state of Ireland in a letter to Earl Fitzwilliam [on Presbyterian and Catholic education] (1795), A Letter to Pitt [on the Union] (1799), and another to Charles Fox (1806). See also Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English (1980), Vol. 1, commentary: Glendalloch, written 1802, published in Fugitive Pieces (1815), pp.100-15; calls Drennan a Presbyterian liberal who requested that his coffin be born by six Protestants and six Catholics, yet the poem reveals total incomprehension of monachism [i.e., monastic culture], an obvious insensibility with regard to symbols, and a pervasive anti-clericalism; a harvest of observations offensive to Catholics; monks likened more often to crows than doves, ‘Who leads the black procession on? / St Kevin’s living skeleton’ (ibid, p.107) [61]. Further, Drennan, “The Wake of William Orr”, ‘There our murdered brother lies; / Wake him not with woman’s cries; / Mourn him the way that manhood ought / Sit in silent trance of thought ... Here we watch our brother sleep / Watch with us but do not weep: / Watch with us thr’ dead of night / / But expect the morning light.’ The poem appeared in The Press, Jan. 14 1798, and was rep. in The Harp of Erin, a Cork paper, 10 March 1798; it reappeared in Fugitive Pieces (1815), pp.78-81, with a curiously modified first line, ‘Here our brother worthy lies’, and reprinted thus in Glendalloch and Other Poems (1859). Edkin’s anthology contains his patriotic poem “To Ireland” (1801, p.48). A more substantial body of work, including “Erin” (called ‘the emerald of Europe’ [sic]), Gaelic translations, and “Glendalloch”, etc. [110, and n.] Also: ‘O country gain’d but to be lost! ... / Lost - by thy chosen children sold: / And conquered not by steel but gold.’ (Fugitive Pieces, 1815, p.144.) [135]. On emigration, ‘If to a foreign clime I go / What Henry feels will Emma know?’ (Fugitive Pieces, p.6.) [138].

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Chris Morash, The Hungry Voice (IAP 1989), selects: “And the Famine was Sore in the Land, 1847”, by John Swannick Drennan, 1809-93, medical doctor and son of the author of the UI manifesto, in William Drennan, Glendalloch and Other Poems by the late Dr Drennan, with Additional Verse by His Sons (Dublin: William Robertson 1859). p.110. Also William Drennan, Jnr., 1802-1895, lawyer, son of namesake, ‘1848’, in Glendalloch (1859), p.151.

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James J. Gaskin, Varieties of Irish History (1869), with 32pp. appendix from the Writings of Wm. Drennan, dated 1874), 4 chrom.; lacking map (Hyland 214; 220).

Belfast Public Library holds Glendalloch and other Poems (1859), as well as A Letter to Earl Fitzwilliam, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1795).

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Linen Hall Library (Belfast) holds Fugitive Pieces (1815); Letter to Lord Fitzwilliam, Lord Lieutentant (1795); Letters of Orellana to 7 Northern Counties for obtaining more equal representation in the Parliament of Ireland ([1785]); Glendalloch and Other Poems, with verses by his sons (Dublin 1859) [indicating the grounds of the confusion mentioned by O’Donoghue].

Ulster Univ. Library holds The Drennan Letters, ed. D. A. Chart (Deputy Keeper of the Records of N. Ireland; Royal Stationary Office 1931).

Ulster Univ. Library, Morris Collection, holds The Letters of William Drennan, being a selection of the correspondence ... between William Drennan, M.D., and his brother-in-law and sister, Samuel and Martha McTier during the years 1776-1819, ed. Chart (HMSO, 1931).

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Notes
Glendalloch [ ... &c.] (Dublin 1859) is sometimes called the 2nd edn. in reference to the earlier appearance of “Glendalloch” in (Belfast 1815).

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Robert Emmet: ‘Marianne Elliott writes that “the advanced thinkers of the day were regularly invited to Dr Emmet’s dinner parties, and on one of these occasions Dr William Drennan was flattered when parts of his radical Letters of Orellanea were recited by the twelve-year-old Robert Emmet. This had called for an end to religious discord and championed the right of extra-parliamentary agitation in favour of parliamentary reform.”’ (Quoted in Colm Tóibín, ‘Emmet and the historians [what the epaulets were for]’, in The Dublin Review, Autumn 2003, p.116.)

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Edna Longley takes a sentence from Drennan as the epigraph for The Living Stream ([Bloodaxe] 1994): ‘The Catholics may save themselves but it is the Protestants must save the nation’.

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William Drennan (1754-1824)


Life
[var. d. 1820] b. Belfast, son of Thomas Drennan (d.1768), a Presbyterian minister in ‘New Light’ tradition who held the ministry of the First Presbyterian Church in Belfast, in succession to Alexander Haliday (son of Samuel, the first non-subscribing Presbyterian Divine); ed. in Glasgow, 1771; Edinburgh, MD [1778]; practised gynaecological medicine in Belfast, Dublin, and Newry;
 
joined the Irish Volunteers, 1778; his letters on the misrepresentation of the northern counties in Parliament, under the title ‘Address to the Volunteers’ (1781), enjoined ‘men of Fermanagh and Cavan’ to ‘add a new strings to the Irish harp [so that it would] in rich and deep variety of tone, resound throughout the nation; same published in book-form as Letters of Orellana to Seven Northern Counties for obtaining more equal representation in the Parliament of Ireland by An Irish Helot (1784);
 
often regarded as the author of United Irishmen’s constitution and their oath, 1791; chairman of the United Irishmen, 1792; a radical address to the Irish Volunteers in 1792 led to his trial for sedition in 1794 with Arthur Wolfe (Lord Kilwarden) prosecuting as Attorney General; successfully defended by John Philpot Curran, who completely discredited the leading witness William Paulet Carey (1759-1839), leading the jury to ‘regret at seeing a criminal they cannot reach and a guilt which they cannot punish’;
 
his “An Intended Defence”, describing his political formation, was written in prison on 25 June 1794 just prior to the trial, and suppressed on Curran’s advice though later published with Fugitive Pieces (1815); withdrew from politics after his trial; issued A Philosophical Essay on the Moral and Political State of Ireland in a Letter to Earl Fitzwilliam (1795), addressing question of Presbyterian and Catholic education; A Letter to Pitt (Dublin 1799); but wrote “The Wake of William Orr” on the execution of that United Irishman in 1797;
 
wrote tracts against sectarianism in education (1795) and against the Act of Union (1799); called by Arthur O’Connor to give character evidence in England but pre-empted by the ill-report of John Gifford; married Sarah, a wealthy Englishwoman, 1800; co-fnd. The Belfast Magazine and Literary Journal, 1808-1813 (13 vols.) [var. 1825 OCIL], edited by Cairns and published by Jellett; contrib. to Edward Bunting’s Ancient Irish Music (rev. edn. 1809); suffered death of his beloved son “Little Tom”, 1812; co-fnd. of the Belfast Acad. Inst., 1814;
 
ssued Fugitive Pieces in Verse and Prose (1815), while a collection including poems by his surviving sons, William Drennan (1802-73) and John Swanick Drennan (1809-93), appeared as Glendalloch (1859), the title poem - composed in 1805 - being a historical survey from earliest times to the failure of the United Irish Rebellion, all treated from a republican standpoint (‘Conquest was then, and ever since,/The real design of priest and prince’);
 
he is best-remembered as author of the phrase ‘Emerald Isle’ in the poem “When Erin First Rose from the dark-swelling flood”; also “The Wail of the Women after the Battle” and “The Worm of the Still”, a temperance poem and another in praise of tea (he was a tea-totaller); once declared, ‘The Catholics may save themselves, but it is the Protestants who must save the nation’;
 
left instructions that coffin was to be carried by six Catholics and six Protestants and should halt outside the Belfast Academical Institute en route to the cemetary; Drennan’s “Song to Ireland” appeared in Joshua Edkin’s Collection of Poems by Many Hands (1801); he figures as a character in Lady Morgan’s The O’Briens and the O’Flaherty’s (1828) while Lover’s Rory O’More was based on on his song on the rebellion of 1641; there is a portrait by Robert Home (c.1780). CAB PI JMC TAY ODQ DIB DIW DIH DIL DUB OCIL FDA

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Works
Contemporary editions
  • Letters of “Orellana” to Seven Northern Counties for obtaining more equal representation in the Parliament of Ireland by an Irish Helot (Dublin 1784);
  • A Philosophical Essay on the Moral and Political State of Ireland in a Letter to Earl Fitzwilliam (1795);
  • A Letter to the Right Honourable William Pitt (Dublin 1799);
  • A Second Letter to the Right Honourable William Pitt (1799);
  • Letter to Charles James Fox (Dublin 1806);
  • Fugitive Pieces in Verse and Prose (Belfast 1815) [incls. posthum. “Glendalloch”, pp.100-15];
  • The Electra (Belfast 1817), trans. from Sophocles;
  • Glendalloch And Other Poems, with Verses by his Sons (Dublin 1859).
Modern editions
  • D. A. Chart, ed., The Letters of William Drennan, Being a Selection of the Correspondence [ ...] between William Drennan, M.D., and his brother-in-law and sister, Samuel and Martha McTier during the years 1776-1819 (Belfast: HMSO 1931);
  • Jean Agnew, ed., The Drennan-McTier Letters 1776-1819, 3 vols. [Women’s History Project, gen. ed. Maria Luddy] (Dublin: Irish Manuscript Commission 1998-99) [Vol. 1:1776-1793; Vol. 2: 1794-1801; Vol. 3: 1802-1819];
  • John Larkin, ed., The Trial of William Drennan (Blackrock: IAP 1991);
  • [Brendan Clifford., ed.,] Selected Writings of William Drennan (Belfast: Athol Books 1998), Vol. 1: The Irish Volunteers 1775-1790 [‘Letters of Orellana’, 1784; poems], 236pp.; Vol. 2: Selected Letters: The United Irish Years, 1791-1798 [letters and pamphlet addressed to Lord Fitzwilliam, 1795], 220pp.

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Criticism
  • Terence Brown, Northern Voices: Poets from Ulster (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1975), pp.24-28.
  • [q.auth.], ‘William Drennan, Edmund Burke and the Dissenting Muse’ [Irish Historians in Britain Conference, University of York, April 1990].
  • Mary McNeill, Little Tom Drennan (Dublin 1962) [account of his relationship with son who died in 1812].
See also ...
  • R. R. Madden, Lives of the United Irishmen (1842-46);
  • Brian Inglis, Freedom of the Press in Ireland (London: Faber & Faber 1954);
  • Mary Helen Thuente, The Harp Re-strung: The United Irishmen and the Rise of Irish Literary Nationalism (Syracuse UP 1994);
  • Oliver Knox, Rebels and Informers: Stirrings of Irish Independence (London: John Murray 1997).

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Commentary
Isaac Butt: Butt wrote, ‘An allusion to “the emerald isle” at a publc meeting will draw thunders of applause … but in that cheap tribute to sentiment, our nationality too often effervesces … The Scotchman cultivates his thistle in his garden; the Irishman wears his shamrock till it withers on his bosom, or he drowns it in his bowl.’ (‘ Gallery of Illustrious Irishmen’, Dublin University Magazine, Jan. 1836; cited in Joseph Spence, ‘Isaac Butt, Nationality and Irish Toryism, 1833-1852’, in Bullán, 2, 1, Summer 1995, p.49.)

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Robert Welch, A History of Verse Translation from the Irish 1789-1897 (Gerrards Cross 1988), refers to ‘unpublished letters’ from Drennan to his sister expressing strong anti-Catholic feelings on both sides; copied in ‘unpublished thesis’ at QUB [viz. Patrick Curley, ‘William Drennan and the Young Samuel Ferguson: Patriotism and the Union in Ulster Poetry between 1778 and 1848’(QUB 1987)]. (See Welch, op. cit., [q.p.].)

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Adrian Rice, ‘No Lithe Interloper, William Drennan’, Causeway 1 (Autumn 1993), pp.6-13: contains extensive selections from poetry, with port. of Drennan by Robert Home (c.1780), and others of his father, Thomas Drennan and his mother Anne Lennox; Rice quotes a poem of 1806: ‘his creed without claws, his faith without fetters’. Drennan was called by liberal divine Henry Montgomery a ‘philosopher, statesman, orator, poet - all that gives dignity to the name, a MAN!’ He was a prolific correspondent. John Hewitt (in Weaver Poets) laments the tendency for Drennan to be represented only by “William Orr” and “When Erin First Rose from the dark-swelling flood”, and notes Geoffrey Taylor [ed., Irish Poets of the Nineteenth Century, 1951]; as an honourable exemption. In the preface to Fugitive Pieces (1815), he wrote, ‘I am well aware of the wide distinction between a poet and a writer of verse [...]’; poem on a young man (William) questioning his father why Ulysses should have such a fervent desire ‘for home’, ‘“What made a barren rock so dear?” / “My boy, he had a country there!” / And who then dropt a prescient tear?’ Drennan appears in Lady Morgan’s The O’Briens and the O’Flaherty’s (1828), [he] ‘might have passed, in appearance, for the demure minister of some remote village-congregation of the Scotch kirk ...’. Rice dilates on the long autobiographical poem “W.D.” (‘Let me picture myself, from the mirror of my mind’), which Rice sees as refuting the charge. This includes an account of Drennan’s involvement with politics: ‘Still shrinking from praise, tho’ in search of a name / He trod on the brink of precipitate fame; / And stretched forth his arm to the beckoning form, / A vision of glory, which flash’d thro’ the storm; / Independence shot past him in letters of light, / Then the scroll seem’d to shrivel, and vanish in night; / And all the illumin’d horizon became / In the shift of a moment, a darkness - a dream’; again, ‘No lithe interloper, no cour[t]eous encroacher, / No practice detailer, no puffer, no poacher’; suffered death of his son, “Little Tom”, in 1812. Drennan’s “Song” was printed in in Joseph Edkins, ed., Poems by Many Hands (Dublin 1801). Bibliography cites Mary McNeill, Little Tom Drennan (Dublin 1962), a detailed account of his relationship with his son, and includes account of his wife Sarah; also Patrick Curley, ‘William Drennan and the Young Samuel Ferguson: Patriotism and the Union in Ulster Poetry between 1778 and 1848 (Thesis, QUB 1987).

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John Larkin, ed., The Trial of William Drennan (Dublin: Irish Academic Press 1991). Drennan wrote an “Intended Defence” which he was persuaded not to use by J. P. Curran, his barrister, at the sedition trial of 25th June 1794; it is an apologia pro vita sua; Larkin establishes that Drennan was a leading member of the Dublin Society, and formed by a Presbyterian rationalist tradition which was led by John Abernethy in the preceeding generation, and readily turned from the politics of Cromwellian Commonwealth to those of the French Revolution. Drennan was prosecuted for his address to ‘The Volunteers of Ireland’ (1792). Curran successfully discredited the State witnesses. Bibl., R. B. McDowell, Ireland in the Age of Imperialism and Revolution, 1760-1801 (OUP 1979); A. T. Q. Stewart, ‘“A Stable Unseen Power,” Dr William Drennan and the origins of the United Irishmen,’ in Bossy & Jupp, eds., Essays Presented to Michael Roberts (Belf. 1976), regarded by Larkin as a seminal work; also R. B. McDowell, ed. Proceedings of the Dublin Soc. of the United Irishmen, in Analecta Hibernica, 17 (Dublin 1947).

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John Nelson, review of Larkin, ed., The Trial of William Drennan (1991), in Linenhall Review, April 1991, Nelson suggests that the view of Drennan simply as author of the phrase ‘emerald isle’ is a travesty. He held an honoured place ... as one of the moving spirits of the Dublin Society of the United Irishmen ... his paper of Dec. 1792 to ‘The Volunteers of Ireland’ provided the pretext for his prosecution. Sedition trial, 25 June 1794, Four Courts; forensic skill of John Philipot Curran in destroying credibility of Govt. witnesses; the Jury said, ‘they regret at seeing a criminal they cannot reach and a guilt which they cannot punish’; a document called his ‘Intended Defence’, which Drennan left unused on Curran’s advice, was published in Belfast Magazine and in Fugitive Pieces of Verse and Prose. In reality it is his apologia pro vita sua. In it Drennan proudly recites the names of Abernethy, Bruce, Duchal and Hucheson. Drennan was imbued with his father’s principles which emerged from non-subscribing tradition of the 1720s. John Abernethy was a leader of the so-called ‘new light’ movement. Drennan’s father, who died when he was 14, was a minister of the First Presbyterian Church Belfast, following Samuel Haliday’s predecessor in the office. The liberal ‘non-subscribers’ believed a right of free judgement on the basis that God had given him reason for a purpose, that man was not naturally wicked, and all were of infinite value in the eyes of God. Drennan grew up in company where the Republican virtues of the Cromwellian period were still venerate; to his mind there was nothing untoward in the principle of government followed in either Fance or America [in the revolutionary period].

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A. T. Q. Stewart, A Deeper Silence, The Hidden Origins of the United Irishmen (Faber 1993), refers to previous work by Stewart arguing in 1986 that Drennan was the seminal ideologue of the United Irishmen, but argues that his central position is being challenged increasingly; the marvellous run of his 1,400 letters and his superb command of rhetoric endears him to historians; a deeper silence represented by Neilson, MacCabe, MacCracken, and Russell existed behind him. [Undated reviewd by Kevin Whelan.]

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Katie Trumpener, Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire (Princeton UP 1997): ‘Another founder of the United Irishmen, William Drennan, was tried for seditious libel in 1794, and thereafter turned to poetry as his principal mode of political expresion, moving from a revolutionary nationalism back to a bardic one. In the wake of the 1790s, as Drennan’s case suggest, a radical cultural nationalism continued to sustain itself in the way that (and partly because) a radical political nationalism could not. Drennan’s strong dissatisfaction with the 1802 Act of Union [sic] thus finds expression in the composition of poetic strains of almost Ossianic melancholy.’ (p.11.)

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R. F. Foster, ‘Remembering 1798’, in The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland (Penguin 2001): ‘A founder member [of the United Irishmen], the cautious Ulsterman William Drennan, had called for “the establishment of societies of liberal and ingenious men, uniting their labours, without regard to nation, sect or party, in one grand pursuit, alike interesting to all, by which mental prejudice may be worn off, a humane and  truly philosophic spirit may be cherished in the heart as well as the head, in practice as well as theory”. The “general end”, he said, was “real Independence to Ireland” and republicanism “the general purpose”. (Quoted in Ian McBride, Scripture Politics: Ulster Presbyterians and Irish Radicalism in Late Eighteenth-century Ireland, Oxford 1998, p.231; here p.261.)

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Patrick Ward, Exile, Emigration and Irish Writing (Dublin IAP 2002), contains a discussion of William Drennan’s “The Wake of William Orr”: ‘Out of dystopian chaos of irrationality, arbitrary injustice and casual cruelty, he prays for a new creation [...] Drennan’s appeal is to a shared future rather than a fragmented, nightmarish past from which he was necessarily excluded. His past, his history, had to be in a sense erased to effect any kind of union with the Catholic oppressed. This meant that freedom and harmony inevitably had to be projected onto a millenarian future. He was perhaps naïve in his aspirations and like Edgeworth ignorant of the depth and difference of Irish feeling. Like [sic for unlike] most of the United Irish leadership however, he survived the rising and its savage reprisals with his life and limbs intact and his liberty unimpaired.’ (p.71.)

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Quotations

When Erin first rose from the dark swelling flood
God blessed the green Island, and saw it was good;
The em’rald of Europe, it sparkled and shone -
In the ring of the world the most precious stone.
In her sun, in her soil, in her station thrice blest.
With her back towards Britain, her face to the West,
Erin stands proudly insular on her steep shore,
And strikes her high harp ’mid the ocean’s deep roar.

But when its soft tones seem to moan and to weep,
The dark chain of silence is thrown o’er the deep;
At the thought of the past the tears gush from her eyes
And the palse of her heart makes her white bosom rise.
Oh! sons of green Erin, lament o’er the time
When religion was war and our conntry a crime;
When man in God’s image inverted His plan.
And moulded his God in the image of man;

When the int’rest of State wrought the general woe,
The stranger a friend and the native a foe;
While the mother rejoiced o’er her children oppressed
And clasped the invader more close to her breast;
When with Pale for the body and Pale for the soul,
Church and State joined in compact to conquer the whole,
And, as Shannon was stained with Milesian blood,
Eyed each other askance and pronounced it was good.

By the groans that ascend from your forefathers’ grave
For their country thus left to the brute and the slave.
Drive the demon of Bigotry home to his den,
And where Britain made brutes now let Erin make men.
Let my sons, like the leaves of the shamrock, unite -
A partition of sects from one footstalk of right;
Give each his full share of the earth and the sky,
Nor fatten the slave where the serpent woald die.

Alas! for poor Erin that some are still seen
Who would dye the grass red from their hatred to Green:
Yet, oh ! when you ’re up and they’re down, let them live
Then yield them that mercy which they would not give.
Arm of Erin, be strong! but be gentle as brave!
And, uplifted to strike, be as ready to save!
Let no feeling of vengeance presame to defile
The cause or the men of the Emerald Isle.

The cause it is good, and the men they are true.
And the Green shall outlive both the Orange and Blue!
And the triumphs of Erin her daughters shall share
With the full swelling chest and the fair flowing hair.
Their bosom heaves high for the worthy and brave.
But no coward shall rest in that soft-swelling wave.
Men of Erin! awake, and make haste to be blest!
Rise, Arch of the Ocean and Queen of the West!

The Wake of William Orr”: ‘There our murdered brother lies; / Wake him not with woman’s cries; / Mourn the way that manhood ought / Sit in silent trance of thought. // Write his merits on your mind; / Morals pure and manners kind; / In his head, as on a hill, / Virtue placed her citadel. // Why cut off in palmy youth? / Truth he spoke, and acted truth. / “Countrymen, UNITE,”he cried, / And died for what our Saviour died. // God of peace and God of love! / Let it not Thy vengeance move - / Let it not Thy lightnings draw - / A nation guillotined by law. // Hapless Nation, rent and torn, / Thou wert early taught to mourn; / Warfare of six hundred years! / Epochs marked with blood and tears! // Hunted thro’ thy native grounds, / Or flung reward to human hounds, / Each one pulled and tore his share, / Heedless of thy deep despair. // Hapless Nation! hapless Land! Heap of uncementing sand! / - Crumbled by a foreign weight: / And by worse, domestic hate. // God of mercy! God of peace! Make this mad confusion cease; / O’er the mental chaos move, / Through it SPEAK the light of love. // Monstrous and unhappy sight! / Brothers’ blood will not unite; / Holy oil and holy water mix, / and fill the world with slaughter. // Who is she with aspect wild? / The widow’d mother with her child - / Child new stirring in the womb! / Husband waiting for the tomb! // Angel of this sacred place, / Calm her soul and whisper peace - / Cord, or axe, or guillotine, / Make the sentence - not the sin. // Here we watch our brother’s sleep: / Watch with us, but do not weep: / Watch with us thro’ dead of night / But expect the morning light.’

[“Erin” and “The Wake of William Orr” are given in full in Justin McCarthy, ed., Irish Literature (Washington: Catholic University of America 1904), pp.855-58; available at Internet Archive - online.]

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Dear PM (A Letter to the right honourable William Pitt, Dublin 1799): ‘It is not from [...] any consideration of equal relationshihp to the whole family of the people, that this plan has proceeded’ (p.23); ‘The nation that does not feel the debasement of the very proposition deservres to suffer the prostitution: for certin proposals may be made to individuals, in whic the injury, monstrous as it is, is lost in the insult: which by the one sex, can be repelled only by a look of ineffable contempt, and by the other, with a blow - so there are affronts to nations, on which controversy is contamination; as if we could be reasoned into making a capon of our country - an eunuch of Ireland.’ (p.32); [calls the proposed Union as] ‘revolting to the nation, as to the man’ (p.33); ends with the signature, ‘I am your humble servant, But not yet - your slave - ’ (p.48; quoted in Willa Murphy, ‘A Queen of hearts or an Old Maid?: Maria Edgeworth’s Fictions of Union’, in Dáire Keogh & Kevin Whelan, eds., Acts of Union: The Causes, Contexts and Consequences of the Act of Union, Dublin: Four Courts Press 2001, pp.206-07.)

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The Catholics still keep one at the head of the professions of their country, degraded as they are; at least the first physician, the first apothecary, and the first merchant [Edward Byrne] in Dublin are Catholics.’ (1801; Drennan Letters, p.311; quoted in Maureen Wall, Catholic Ireland in the 18th c., ed. Gerard O’Brien, 1989.)

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References
D. J. O’Donoghue, The Poets of Ireland: A Biographical Dictionary (Dublin: Hodges Figgis & Co 1912); lists Fugitive Pieces (Belfast 1815) trans. The Electra, from Sophocles (1817); Glendalloch and other poems (Dublin 1857) [sic; and here called 2nd edn.]; Drennan was the first to address Ireland as ‘The Emerald Isle’; anthologised in Joshua Edkin’s Collection of Poems (Dublin 1801). PI notes in error that a writer of the same name, author of Glendalloch is often confused with the above, his father.

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2, p.997, ftn., ‘chain of silence’, Moore acknowledges that he borrowed the figure from ‘a rebellious, but beautiful song’ by Drennan, ‘When First Rose’ [from which also ‘Emerald Isle’]. See FDA1, p. 1064, for Moore’s poem, and The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Vol. 3, p.327, for Drennan’s. The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Vol. 3, p.377: b. Belast 1754, son of radical minister Thomas Drennan; ed. Edinburgh, and friend and pupil of Dugald Stewart; practised Belfast, Newry, and Dublin; his ‘Irish Helot’ letters attracted great attention in the 1780s; founding member of United Irishmen, tried for sedition and defended successfully by J. P. Curran, 1794; withdrew from politics; poems incl. ‘The Wail of the Women after the Battle’ and ‘The Death of William Orr’ fnd. Belfast Acad., Inst., 1814; fnd. Belfast Magazine; his coffin carried by six Catholics and six Protestants. The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Vol. 3, p.319ff., selects ‘A Stable Unseen Power’, from a letter from Dublin to Samuel McTier, his brother-in-law in Belfast; also frm ‘The Intended Defence’ [“the constitutional interposition of the whole people” in caps] (25th June, 1794). Works, Letters of an Irish Helot, signed Orellana (Dublin 1785); A letter to Pitt (Dublin 1799); A second letter to Pitt (1799); Letter to Charles James Fox (Dublin 1806); Fugitive Pieces (Belfast 1815).

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Justin McCarthy, ed.,Irish Literature (Washington: University of America 1904); selects ‘The Wake of William Orr,’ and one other. McKenna (Irish Lit., 1978) cites R. R. Madden, United Irishmen (1842). Works, The Electra of Sophocles (Belfast 1817); Fugitive Pieces (1815); Glendalloch ... (2nd ed. Dublin 1859). Oxford Dict. Quot. quotes from ‘The Men of the Emerald Isle,’ with bio-dates 1754-1820.

Stephen Brown, ed., Ireland in Fiction (Dublin: Maunsel 1919), lists Helen Duffin, a great-granddaughter of William Drennan and author of Over Here (1918), a tale of Irish middle class life, without political content, set in Derrymore, Co. Down.

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Geoffrey Taylor, Irish Poets of the 19th c. (1951) notices separately William Drennan and his son John Swanick, 1809-1893. Brendan Kennelly, ed., Penguin Book of Irish Verse (1970), selects “The Wake of William Orr”, pp.126-27 [infra].

Roy Foster, Modern Ireland (1988), p.260, b. Belfast, ed. Glasgow and Edinburgh; Letters of Orellana, an Irish Helot (1784); wrote the orig. prospectus for the United Irishmen, 1791; tried and acquitted, 1794; withdrew from politics but expressed nationalism in romantic poetry, considering himself an ‘aristocratical democrat.’

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Patrick Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English, The Romantic Period, 1789-1850 (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1980), Vol. 2; Bibliographical details incl. A Philosophical Essay on the moral and political state of Ireland in a letter to Earl Fitzwilliam [on Presbyterian and Catholic education] (1795), A Letter to Pitt [on the Union] (1799), and another to Charles Fox (1806). See also Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English (1980), Vol. 1, commentary: Glendalloch, written 1802, published in Fugitive Pieces (1815), pp.100-15; calls Drennan a Presbyterian liberal who requested that his coffin be born by six Protestants and six Catholics, yet the poem reveals total incomprehension of monachism [i.e., monastic culture], an obvious insensibility with regard to symbols, and a pervasive anti-clericalism; a harvest of observations offensive to Catholics; monks likened more often to crows than doves, ‘Who leads the black procession on? / St Kevin’s living skeleton’ (ibid, p.107) [61]. Further, Drennan, “The Wake of William Orr”, ‘There our murdered brother lies; / Wake him not with woman’s cries; / Mourn him the way that manhood ought / Sit in silent trance of thought ... Here we watch our brother sleep / Watch with us but do not weep: / Watch with us thr’ dead of night / / But expect the morning light.’ The poem appeared in The Press, Jan. 14 1798, and was rep. in The Harp of Erin, a Cork paper, 10 March 1798; it reappeared in Fugitive Pieces (1815), pp.78-81, with a curiously modified first line, ‘Here our brother worthy lies’, and reprinted thus in Glendalloch and Other Poems (1859). Edkin’s anthology contains his patriotic poem “To Ireland” (1801, p.48). A more substantial body of work, including “Erin” (called ‘the emerald of Europe’ [sic]), Gaelic translations, and “Glendalloch”, etc. [110, and n.] Also: ‘O country gain’d but to be lost! ... / Lost - by thy chosen children sold: / And conquered not by steel but gold.’ (Fugitive Pieces, 1815, p.144.) [135]. On emigration, ‘If to a foreign clime I go / What Henry feels will Emma know?’ (Fugitive Pieces, p.6.) [138].

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Chris Morash, The Hungry Voice (IAP 1989), selects: “And the Famine was Sore in the Land, 1847”, by John Swannick Drennan, 1809-93, medical doctor and son of the author of the UI manifesto, in William Drennan, Glendalloch and Other Poems by the late Dr Drennan, with Additional Verse by His Sons (Dublin: William Robertson 1859). p.110. Also William Drennan, Jnr., 1802-1895, lawyer, son of namesake, ‘1848’, in Glendalloch (1859), p.151.

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James J. Gaskin, Varieties of Irish History (1869), with 32pp. appendix from the Writings of Wm. Drennan, dated 1874), 4 chrom.; lacking map (Hyland 214; 220).

Belfast Public Library holds Glendalloch and other Poems (1859), as well as A Letter to Earl Fitzwilliam, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1795).

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Linen Hall Library (Belfast) holds Fugitive Pieces (1815); Letter to Lord Fitzwilliam, Lord Lieutentant (1795); Letters of Orellana to 7 Northern Counties for obtaining more equal representation in the Parliament of Ireland ([1785]); Glendalloch and Other Poems, with verses by his sons (Dublin 1859) [indicating the grounds of the confusion mentioned by O’Donoghue].

Ulster Univ. Library holds The Drennan Letters, ed. D. A. Chart (Deputy Keeper of the Records of N. Ireland; Royal Stationary Office 1931).

Ulster Univ. Library, Morris Collection, holds The Letters of William Drennan, being a selection of the correspondence ... between William Drennan, M.D., and his brother-in-law and sister, Samuel and Martha McTier during the years 1776-1819, ed. Chart (HMSO, 1931).

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Notes
William Drennan Jr
.: [a] son of Dr. Drennan, born in Dublin in 1802 and graduated from Trinity College in 1823. His famous ballad “The Battle of Beal-an-atha-buidh” was published in The Nation in 1843 without a name, but is included in the volume entitled Glendalloch and other Poems, published in 1850. (See Irish Literature, gen. ed. Justin McCarthy, Washington 1904 - which contains a copy of the poem (pp.928-29) -available online.)

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Robert Emmet: ‘Marianne Elliott writes that “the advanced thinkers of the day were regularly invited to Dr Emmet’s dinner parties, and on one of these occasions Dr William Drennan was flattered when parts of his radical Letters of Orellanea were recited by the twelve-year-old Robert Emmet. This had called for an end to religious discord and championed the right of extra-parliamentary agitation in favour of parliamentary reform.”’ (Quoted in Colm Tóibín, ‘Emmet and the historians [what the epaulets were for]’, in The Dublin Review, Autumn 2003, p.116.)

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Edna Longley takes a sentence from Drennan as the epigraph for The Living Stream ([Bloodaxe] 1994): ‘The Catholics may save themselves but it is the Protestants must save the nation’.

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