William Drennan

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Drennan, William, M.D., a United Irishman, poet and writer, was born in Belfast, 23rd May 1754. His father, Rev. Thomas Drennan, was a Presbyterian minister. William Drennan took his degree of M.D. at Edinburgh in 1778, and practised two or three years in Belfast, then for seven years at Newry, and ultimately removed to Dublin in 1789. Being impressed with a conviction of the necessity of Catholic Emancipation, and Parliamentary Reform, he originated the establishment of the Society of United Irishmen, and published a prospectus in June 1791.

Many of the most stirring addresses connected with the organization were drawn up by him, and his were the beautiful lyrics, "When Erin First Rose," "Wake of William Orr," "Wail of the Women after the Battle." In 1794 he was tried for sedition, but was acquitted. Though depressed by subsequent events, and by the Union, his spirit was not subdued, and his principles remained unchanged.

Relinquishing his practice about 1800, he returned to Belfast, where he joined head, pen, and purse in the foundation of the Belfast Academical Institution, and in conjunction with John Templeton, a botanist, and John Hancock, of Lisburn, commenced the Belfast Magazine. In 1815 he published a volume of Fugitive Pieces, and in 1817 a translation of the Electra of Sophocles.

He died in Belfast, 5th February 1820, aged 65, and was there buried. He first applied to Ireland the epithet, "Emerald Isle." Dr. Drummond says: "He wrote some hymns of such excellence as to cause a regret they were not [more numerous, and in some of the lighter kinds of poetry showed much of the playful wit and ingenuity of Goldsmith."


39. Biographical Dictionary, Imperial: Edited by John F. Waller. 3 vols. London, N.D.

254. Notes and Queries (2). London, 1850-'78.
O'Callaghan, John C., see No. 186.

331. United Irishmen, their Lives and Times: Robert R. Madden, M.D. 4 vols. London, 1858-'60.

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