My book examines the life and work of William Drennan physician, poet and United Irish leader.

Drennan was acquitted of seditious libel in Dublin in 1794. He maintained a correspondence with his sister, Martha McTier (1742-1837)1 from 1776 until 18192. Brother and sister were accomplished writers and their letters contain fascinating details, insights, observations and commentary on their lives and times. Drennan was also a prolific writer of pamphlets, letters, prose and poetry. Some historians have provided us with analyses of Drennan’s political thought, yet despite the rich sources available, William Drennan until now has awaited a comprehensive biography. His interactions with his United Irish associates are considered in the light of the consensus amongst historians that after his trial he was chastened, had become disaffected and withdrew from the United Irish movement. This work contains significant new information which will demolish this consensus.

From the outset Drennan produced United Irish literary propaganda. After his trial he continued this work up to the eve of the 1798 rebellion. New evidence produced here suggests that he was Marcus, the author of some of the most seditious material published in Dublin in 1797 and 1798. A consensus that Drennan was an anti-Catholic bigot will also be shown to be without foundation. Throughout his life he championed political rights for Catholics. Drennan’s vicissitudes with Lord Castlereagh’s allies in the Presbyterian Synod over the Regium Donum (the government subvention the Presbyterian clergy) and Castlereagh’s attempts to oust the radicals from the Belfast Academical Institution were aspects of the deep divisions that arose within Presbyterianism in the aftermath of the rebellion. These divisions were fuelled by animosities which had their origins in differing attitudes to the United Irish rebellion. This book will shine a light on one of the great mysteries of Irish history. What happened to Presbyterian republicanism after 1798?

Fergus will be digging deeper into his new biography of William Drennan at First Presbyterian Church in Rosemary Street on the 24th March 2020 from 7.00pm – 8.00pm. Find out more and register for this free event here.

  1. See Martha McTier and William Drennan: ‘A Domestic History’ in Jean Agnew, The Drennan-McTier Letters, vol I, (Dublin, 1998), p. xix-li
  2. These have been published in three volumes, Jean Agnew [ed.], The Drennan-McTier Letters, vol I, II, III (Dublin, 1998-99), hereafter, Drennan-McTier. A selection of these letters was also published in D. A. Chart, The Drennan Letters, 1776-1819, (Belfast, 1931).
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