William Drennan, M.D.

Charles A. Read
The Cabinet of Irish Literature (edited by Charles A. Read)
Volume 2

Born 1754 — Died 1820

Dr. Drennan, poet and political writer, was born in Belfast in 1754. His father, who was a Presbyterian clergyman, sent William to study medicine in the University of Edinburgh, where he took his degree of M.D. in 1778, practised for some years in Belfast and Newry, and removed to Dublin in 1789.

Holding strong political sentiments, he became one of the ablest writers in favour of the United Irishmen movement, and his Letters of Orellana had much to do in getting Ulster to join the league.

In 1794 he and Mr. Rowan were put on trial for issuing the famous Address of the United Irishmen to the Volunteers of Ireland.Biographical entry for Curran defended Rowan, who however was fined in £500 and sentenced to two years' imprisonment; while Drennan, who was the real writer of the paper, had the good fortune to be acquitted.

He afterwards removed to Belfast, where he commenced the Belfast Magazine.

In 1815 he issued a little volume entitled Glendalough and other Poems, which is now very rare.

He died in February, 1820, leaving behind him two sons, who have both found time, amidst their professional pursuits, to write some graceful verses.

Drennan's songs and ballads are vigorous and graceful; his hymns also possess much beauty. Moore is said to have esteemed “When Erin First Rose” as among the most perfect of modern songs: from it Ireland received the title of the “Emerald Isle.”

His “Wake of William Orr” electrified the nation on its appearance, and did more hurt to the government than the loss of a battle.