On This Day 1754: Dr William Drennan- Physician, Poet & Patriot – was born

On 23 May 1754 Anne Drennan née Lennox gave birth to her youngest son, William Drennan. Anne was the wife of the Rev Thomas Drennan, minister of the First Presbyterian Church, Belfast, and William was born in its manse. William Drennan would grow up to become a renowned physician, poet and patriot. Due to the Penal Codes limiting access to third level education in Ireland, many Presbyterian ‘sons of the manse’, such as William, attended university in Scotland. He studied arts in Glasgow (1772) and completed his medical studies in Edinburgh (1778). Dr Drennan was heavily influenced by enlightenment ideas and thinking.

On his return to Ireland he practised in Belfast, Newry and Dublin. Dr Drennan was the originator of the concept of what would become the United Irishmen (1791) and he had been active in earlier Volunteer movement. Drennan was arrested in 1794 and was acquitted of the charges against him but subsequently he distanced himself (at least publicly) from the United Irishmen, but continued to write for the organisation under a pseudonym and authored nationalistic poetry. Following his retirement in 1807 he moved back to Belfast and was involved in the foundation of ‘Inst’.

Dr William Drennan passed away on 5  February 1820,  and his final journey through his native town took him past Inst and onto the ‘New Burying Ground’ (today Clifton Street Cemetery), in the shadow of the Poor House he had served during his days practising medicine in Belfast, including pioneering small pox inoculations. There he rests today under the headstone inscribed with an epitaph written by his son.

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