Friday, May 24, 2024

"Class-based snobbery and identity politics" – article by Dr Rakib Ehsan on the arts and heritage sector

You might need a subscription for this, but worth a read.

I know various people who are full-time within the sector across our islands and they have said similar things in conversation. "Luxury beliefs" have always reduced the working classes, or treated the working classes as totemic exotic pets – online here.

I have seen this in my own lifetime in the way that the white collar bureaucracies here in little Northern Ireland have behaved with Ulster-Scots. Generations ago it was the schools which purposefully eroded the Ulster-Scots speech of children; now it's the patronage of funders and departments that control the 'sector' and therefore filters what 'content' is permissible.

The full extract is "The arts and culture sector, along with other spheres of British life, is increasingly characterised by a toxic combination of old-fashioned class-based snobbery and contemporary US-inspired racial identity politics".

"Diversity through homogeneity" is a bizarre concept, one that Orwell would be proud of.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Asserting Liberty, before the Revolution: "English Liberties: or, the Free-born Subject's Inheritance" by Henry Care, 1680

"...The constitution of our English government (the best in the world) is no arbitrary Tyranny, like the Turkish Grand Seignior’s, or the French King’s, whose wills, or rather lusts, dispose of the lives and fortunes of their unhappy subjects: Nor an Oligarchy, where the great ones, like fish in the ocean, prey upon, and live by devouring the lesser at their pleasure: Nor yet a Democracy, or popular state; much less an Anarchy, where all confusedly are hail fellow well met: But a most excellent mixt, or qualified Monarchy, where the King is veiled with large prerogatives sufficient to support majesty, and restrained only from the power of doing himself and his people harm, which would be contrary to the very end of all government, and is properly rather weakness than power, the nobility adorned with privileges to be a screen to majesty, and a refreshing shade to their inferiors; and the commonalty too so guarded in their persons and properties by the sense of law, as renders them freemen, not slaves.

In France, and other nations, the meer will of the Prince is law; his word takes off any man’s head, imposes taxes, seizes any man’s estate, when, how, and as often as he lists; and if one be accused, or but so much as suspected of any crime, he may either presently execute him, or banish, or imprison him at pleasure; or if he will be so gracious as to proceed by form of their laws, if any two villains will but swear against the poor party, his life is gone. Nay, if there be no witnesses, yet he may be put to the rack, the tortures whereof make many an innocent person confess himself guilty, and then with teeming justice he is executed; or, if he prove so stout, as in torments to deny the fact, yet he comes off with disjointed bones, and such weakness as renders his life a burthen to him ever after...

This original happy frame of government is truly and properly called an Englishman's liberty..."


Henry Care has been described as "London's First Spin Doctor".  Born in 1646, maybe in London but probably somewhere in England, he was a prolific publisher and critic of the establishment and Stuart monarchy of King Charles II and his brother King James II - however he 'switched sides' towards the end and supported James.

Care published a summation of the liberties that English civilians should be aware of, entitled English Liberties: or, The Free-Born Subject's Inheritance, containing I. Magna Charta, The Petition of Right, The Habeas Corpus Act; and divers other most Useful Statutes: With Large Comments upon each of them.

It was published around 1680, reprinted by William Penn as The Excellent Priviledge of Liberty in 1687, and was an articulation of liberties which would only be legally fulfilled as a result of the Revolution of 1688. Care also had a hand in the production of the 1689 pamphlet Their Highness The Prince & Princess of Orange's Opinion about a General Liberty of Conscience (online here).

In these publications, Care is said to have set out "to conceptualise liberty as a birthright of all mankind, to separate religion and the state into two spheres ... was remarkable. John Locke made these selfsame points".

Care died on 8 August 1688, probably of kidney failure or liver disease caused by overwork and alcohol, not living long enough to see the Revolution begin in November of that year. He was buried at St Anne's Parish of Blackfriar's Church - even in death "his enemies vilified him for  assailing the Anglican Church and writing in defence of religious liberty". An epitaph said –

A true Dissenter here does lye indeed
He ne'er with any, or himself agreed

English Liberties was frequently republished in the British Colonies in America during the 1700s – Thomas Jefferson owned a copy. 

• A 1774 Rhode Island printing is online here on

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

The Break of Killyleagh as defined in Patterson's 'Glossary of words in use in the Counties of Antrim and Down" (1880)

When William Hugh Patterson says it's Ulster Scots, then it's Ulster Scots:


Friday, May 03, 2024

New publication - "The Break of Killyleagh, 28 April 1689" - coming soon

Having decided to "go further" by doing a lot of reading about the international impact of the Glorious Revolution on America, and which was published a few weeks ago (see previous post) – I also decided to "go deeper" by looking at the Glorious Revolution era in a very localised way through the story of The Break of Killyleagh which happened 335 years ago on 28 April 1689. Very much in the spirit of the story itself, I am self-publishing it, at 128 pages long, later this month. More info to follow on locations where it will be available.

This is from William Hugh Patterson's Glossary of Antrim and Down (1880):

It's a cracking story and I'm amazed it has been forgotten for so long. As always, there is so much local heritage to recover and put back into the hands, heads and hearts of the community.

Thursday, May 02, 2024

From 1688 Glorious Revolution to 1776 American Revolution: new article on "Liberty" now published online

As we head towards America 250 on 4 July 2026 (website here), I'm expecting that most of the commemorations and narratives will be - lazily - framed as being about forms of nationality, whereas in fact the story should be about liberty.

The people of the 13 British Colonies sought the full reinstatement of their legally-entitled liberties. London refused. Independence was a last resort in pursuit of those liberties. The American Revolution of 1776 was the natural outworking of the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

Some months ago my friend Dr Jonathan Mattison asked me to pull together the mountain of sources I had been reading on the subject over the past year or two (many of which have appeared here as individual posts) for a detailed article that went online last week in the Journal of Orange History, which is published by the Museum of Orange Heritage. It's on this link, from pages 17 - 49. It's just over 11,000 words, including the footnotes. 


It’s about as comprehensive as I could make it. As a collection of sources I hope it's of benefit to some people out there.

My final quote is from Michael Barone’s 2008 book –

“Americans were thus not rebelling against the Revolutionary settlement. They were seeking to preserve in their own states what they believed the Revolution of 1688-89 had established.”

Or, as Winston Churchill wrote in 1956 –

"The Declaration (of Independence) was in the main a restatement of the principles which had animated the Whig struggle against the later Stuarts and the English Revolution of 1688, and it now became the symbol and the rallying centre of the Patriot cause"

• Feel free to share with others you know who might be working on ‘America 250’ projects.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

United Irishman Rev. William Steele-Dickson - of Ballyhalbert and Portaferry - on the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution

Most people, of whatever background or perceived affiliation, whether in the past and the present, are being manipulated by those in power.

"... By the treaty of Limerick, on the faith of which the Roman Catholics of Ireland submitted to king William in 1691, they were to be secured in the enjoyment of rights and privileges, therein specified or alluded to. This treaty was signed by his majesty's commander of the army, and the lords Justices of Ireland; confirmed by the king and queen, under the great seal of England; solemnly ratified afterwards by an act of parliament; and continued inviolate for thirty six years. 
During this period, they enjoyed the privileges, and exercised the rights guaranteed to them; those of serving on juries, and voting for members of parliament, not excepted; nor did they incur the slightest imputation of disloyalty, or disaffection to government, from their bitterest enemies, though alarms of invasion were repeatedly spread, and a neighbouring nation convulsed by rebellion. 
Yet in the year 1727*, without fault or provocation on their part, the parliament chosen by them, in common with their protestant brethren, stripped them of every power and privilege of freemen, and in particular, left them incapable of joining in the election of another. Under all the incapacities which this and succeeding parliaments created, they continued till within these few years; and even now, the greatest and most opprobrious lie heavy upon them. 
Yet still it is remarkable, that, during these sixty-five years of worse than Egyptian slavery, in which insult and ignominy have frequently added to oppression, they have never forfeited by act or declaration, their character of unshaken loyalty to their king, and respectful obedience to government – that very government which reduced them to slavery, poverty, and wretchedness ..."

• Extract above is from this sermon.

* In 1727 the Disenfranchising Act was passed by the Dublin government (Wikipedia here), barring Catholics - and other 'non-Conformists' such as Presbyterians and Quakers - from voting for the first parliament in the reign of King George II.  

• It is very interesting that Steele-Dickson, a Presbyterian minister who was imprisoned as a leading United Irishman, in this extract is not blaming King William III and the Glorious Revolution for the problems in Ireland. In fact, he seems to somewhat approve of the terms of the 1691 Treaty of Limerick.

• Maybe 'King Billy' was not the man he has been depicted as in recent decades, both by his fiercest advocates and his staunchest opponents.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

David Hume on William of Orange's 1688 'Declaration' - "... a full declaration of all the rights of the subject in a free parliament ..."

David Hume (1711-76) was a pupil of Francis Hutcheson of Saintfield (1694-1756), who, even though an Ulsterman, is known as The Father of the Scottish Enlightenment. Hume wrote these words in his landmark History of England (published 1754; online here) about William Prince of Orange's Declaration which was brought to England in 1688 and first read aloud in Newton Abbot, where a monument in the town centre commemorates the event (see previous post here) –

"... The Prince of Orange's declaration was dispersed over the kingdom, and met with universal approbation. All the grievances of the nation were there enumerated: The dispensing and suspending power; the court of ecclesiastical commission; the filling of all offices with catholics, and the raising of a Jesuit to be privy-counsellor; the open encouragement given to popery, by building every where churches, colleges, and seminaries for that sect; the displacing of judges, if they refused to give sentence according to orders received from court; the annulling of the charters of all the corporations, and the subjecting of elections to arbitrary will and pleasure; the treating of petitions, even the most modest, and from persons of the highest rank, as criminal and seditious; the committing of the whole authority of Ireland, civil and military, into the hands of papists; the assuming of an absolute power over the religion and laws of Scotland, and openly exacting in that kingdom an obedience without reserve; and the violent presumptions against the legitimacy of the prince of Wales.

In order to redress all these grievances, the prince said, that he intended to come over to England with an armed force, which might protect him from the king's evil counsellors: And that his sole aim was to have a legal and free parliament assembled, who might provide for the safety and liberty of the nation, as well as examine the proofs of the prince of Wales's legitimacy. No one, he added, could entertain such hard thoughts of him as to imagine, that he had formed any other design than to procure the full and lasting settlement of religion, liberty, and property. The force, which he meant to bring with him, was totally disproportioned to any views of conquest; and it were absurd to suspect, that so many persons of high rank, both in church and state, would have given him so many solemn invitations for such a pernicious purpose.

Though the English ministers, terrified with his enterprise, had pretended to redress some of the grievances complained of; there still remained the foundation of all grievances, that upon which they could in an instant be again erected, an arbitrary and despotic power in the crown. And for this usurpation there was no possible remedy, but by a full declaration of all the rights of the subject in a free parliament..."

Revolutionary words. Anyone caught spreading them was regarded as a rebel and traitor.

• More on Hutcheson to follow...

Monday, April 08, 2024

William Drennan and the Glorious Revolution of William of Orange - 1784 & 1795

Having been reminded that I have Drennans in my ancestry, it's been serendipitous to fall upon the following references in recent reading.

William Drennan (1754-1820) is best known today for his involvement with the Society of United Irishmen, but following his arrest in May 1793 he stepped back from direct participation. His Letters of Orellana (1784) were what brought him to public attention, published in the Belfast News-Letter. Letter VI, directed to King George III, contains rich references to William, Prince of Orange, his 1688 Glorious Revolution and 1689 Bill of Rights:

"... To reform the constitution is in this case to restore it. But little studious of names in a subject so deeply interesting, we are ready to call the attempt to renovate our constitution an innovation, if the same term be applied to those changes in our government which form the brightest pages in the annals of its history to Magna Charta, to the Bill of Rights, to that religious revolution distinguished, by the name of Reformation: and to what we shall ever deem a glorious innovation on the usage of the realm - the settlement of the illustrious House of Hanover on the throne of these kingdoms. 

At the same time in which we lay our grievances before our Sovereign and our Father, we call upon the shades of an Alfred, an Edward, and a William, to hover at this instant over your honoured head, and to pour down upon you: the inspiration of their just, generous, and extensive counsels. We call upon Him who first founded the constitution, and mixed the genius of so many nations into a rich tide of personal valour and public glory, upon Him, who carried on the glorious work, tempered monarchy with popular privilege, and made the greatest happiness of the greatest number the policy of the state; upon Him, who rescued this constitution from perdition, and wrote upon his flag those golden words, “I will maintain the liberties of the empire”.

We call upon you, illustrious Sovereign, in their great names, to vindicate your crown and to save your people. There are certain eras in the history of this nation when the elastic spirit of freedom struggles to throw off the incumbent weight which oppresses it, and which the lapse of time, or the abuses of the constitution had accumulated with slow and almost imperceptible additions. When a James, or a Charles, happens to mount the throne in these critical periods, they disobey or shut their eyes against the signal of Heaven  press the people with as still heavier hand, and force the tortured nation into convulsion. Yet the crimes of the prince become the immediate or remote means of general good, and tyrants themselves, the unwilling instruments of divine benevolence. But, blessed be God, he often condescends to signalize such momentous periods by sending as his messengers patriot kings, who unite with the nation in bringing about a bloodless revolution; and thus restoring the empire to its original grandeur. In such a period appeared the immortal WILLIAM, whose conquest was without a groan, and whose triumph was without a war.

That great and good monarch George the First, seconded in: the same manner the designs of Heaven, and rescued the crown once more from a race that polluted it  It is yours, royal Sir, to rise not only above the crowd of kings, but above even these our most illustrious monarchs, and to become our greatest deliverer. In your power is it placed, O King! to usher in a new order of things, to perfect the glories of the constitution, and to make the name of George the Third, luminous in the historic page to remotest generations..."


In 1795, in A Letter to His Excellency Earl Fitzwilliam, Lord Lieutenant Of Ireland (page 41, online here) Drennan also referred to the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and John Locke, and their influence upon the American Revolution of 1776:

"...You will be told , that the people in the North of Ireland are deeply infected with what are called French principles ... I do believe them most obstinately attached to the principles of Locke, as put in practice at the (Glorious) revolution... ... the very same principles of Locke were illustrated in the plains of America..."


In 1810, Drennan wrote a biography of renowned Whig Alexander Henry Haliday (see previous post here) again using vocabulary that is most often associated with the Glorious Revolution, which the Whig Club of Dublin which was founded in 1789 had avowed to 'support and maintain' (see previous post here).


It has been a surprise to me to find these connections, which I have stumbled into as an offshoot of reading about the links between 1688 and 1776, and of the forthcoming booklet about 'The Break of Killyleagh' of 1689. These uncovered histories don't slot neatly into our 2024 assumptions, or of how people like Drennan, Henry Grattan and Archibald Hamilton Rowan are usually portrayed in our times. But that isn't the issue – our present-day categories, and manipulated simplifications, are the issue.

These were intelligent, educated and committed people living and writing in complex times. Be wary of those today who too easily mesh the complex past with the agendas of the present.

Sunday, April 07, 2024

Liberty for Ireland: the 'Resolutions and Declarations' of the Whig Club of Dublin - 9 August 1789

"RESOLVED, that the great object of this Society is the Constitution of the Realm as settled by the Revolution in Great Britain and Ireland in 1688 - and re-established in Ireland 1782.
That we will support and maintain, as a principal object and fundamental part of that Constitution –
the 'Sacred Rights of the People...'

More on the Whigs. The National Library of Ireland has the Whig Club's 'Resolutions and Declarations' on their website here

This looks massively important, connecting 1688 with 1782 and 1789 - and eventually of course feeding in to 1798 and 1801. The emerging picture with the sources I've been posting about here is that narrow nationalism is an inadequate concept, and that these generations were more interested in an broader liberty, whatever that meant at that time. Why did Ireland's establishment class want to lay claim to 1688? Did they actually believe these words, or were they saying what their 'masters' in London wanted to hear? Were they trying to preserve their power? Was it just a stepping stone on a longer strategy? Were they responding to events in America? Were they adopting the vocabulary and philosophy which had worked for Samuel Adams & co in re-claiming the liberties of the 13 British Colonies, which had become the United States in 1776?

The Chair for this meeting was William Robert Fitzgerald (1749-1804), the brother of  Edward Fitzgerald (1763-1798), whose family crest became part of the flag of the new United Kingdom in 1801 (previous blog post here). The Secretary was Thomas Connolly (portrait here).

The 'logo' of The Whig Club: the Irish female harp, surmounted by the 5 pointed Irish crown (see previous post here)

Thursday, April 04, 2024

Family Tree - The Drennans and Hamills of Donaghadee and Millisle

• Above: Millisle Presbyterian Church, photos from The notes below are posted here in case anyone out there is searching. My thanks to Shirley Cochrane for her help with these.


Over the past few weeks we have had two family funerals, for an aunt and also an uncle. My aunt Eleanor Wilson's funeral service was at Millisle Presbyterian Church on 9 March. Her husband, Vincent, survives her - he was named for his grandfather. This has set me to thinking again about the family tree for that side of the family, my maternal side.

My late mother told me that there was a family Bible which had all of the details about the various generations - but, there was a story in it which outraged my great aunt Charlotte / Lottie Hamill (d. 28.05.2006), so she took it upon herself to burn it, decades ago. The oral tradition was that there were various skeletons in the closet - maybe Protestant/Catholic, maybe 'out of wedlock'.

Good research has clarified some of it. Everyone involved in this particular story was a Presbyterian, from the congregations of Millisle, Ballycopeland, and Ballyfrenis. I have generations of family involvement in all three congregations, of which only Millisle still exists today.


My maternal great-grandfather, Vincent Hamill, was born in Donaghadee, on 21 April 1888.
He was illegitimate.

His mother was 21 year old Agnes Hamill (24.05.1866 – 23.02.1942)
His biological father was a Robert Bryce from Millisle. They never married.

Family oral tradition was that a David Drennan (05.12.1875 - 14.10.1948) a 'sailor & clothier' from Donaghadee 'took pity' on Agnes, gave her a job in his tailor's shop and they married in 1896 when Vincent was 8 years old. David was just 21 and Agnes was 30. 

• Here are David and Agnes, with two new daughters of their own, five years later in the 1901 Census of Ireland.

• By the time of the 1911 Census of Ireland they had three new sons.

• Vincent had married Martha Ann Wallace, on 19 March 1909, and she was who my mother was named for. Here they are.

• David and Agnes were living at 9 Victoria Gardens in Donaghadee when they both died in the 1940s.

• Martha died 24.10.1954 and Vincent died nearly ten years later on 16.04.1964. Bizarrely, the dates on their gravestone, at Ballycopeland, are wrong. 


• David's parents were John Drennan (c. 1838–1886) and Margaret Robinson (c. 1840-1921).
• Agnes's parents were Peter Hamill and Charlotte Stewart.
• Agnes' brother Peter Hamill was a well-known publican/spirit merchant in Millisle, and may have owned either the 'First and Last' or the 'Masonic Arms' which was later the 'Woburn Arms'. He died 08.09.1948.
• Agnes' nephew, also called Peter Hamill, was a grocer in Donaghadee.

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Scottish settlement in Lecale, County Down - after 'The Break of Dromore', 1689

This is from an article by Downpatrick historian John William Hanna (d. 1879) entitled "The Anglo-Norman Families of Lecale: In the County of Down" in Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Volume 1 (1853).

"... At the period of the Revolution, in 1688, after the "Break of Dromore", Lecale was overrun by the regiment of Magenis, Lord Iveagh, who had his head-quarters at Downpatrick; when many of the adherents of King William, previous to the blockade of the ports, were taken prisoners, and others fled to England and the Isle of Man. Several petty skirmishes ensued; the Iveagh troops were defeated, and Iveagh's prisoners liberated by Captain Hunter, who, in turn, was overthrown by Major General Buchan. 

In August 1689, Schomberg landed in Groomsport, when many of the inhabitants of the barony, who had been supporters of King James, abandoned the country for Connaught. Amid such scenes it is only natural to expect that the country would become desolate and greatly depopulated; and though, when peace was restored, many families returned to their former homes, yet numbers deserted it altogether.

To remedy this, several English and Scots, and some farmers from the Ards, were invited here, and had large tracts of land allotted to them. Of the English families the principal were Moore, Hunter, Swail, Porter, Jennings, Hunter, Neill. Nesbitt and Cochran; to which we may add the families of Seeds, Polly, Elsinor, (now changed to Nelson,) Coates, and Quaile, who were brought over from England, early in the 18th century, by the Hon. Justice Ward, and several of whose descendants are still very numerous in the parish of Ballyculter.

The second colony of the Scots were chiefly Martins, Henrys, Lowres,(now Lewis), Hoggs, Carsons, and Newells, whose descendants are also numerous in different parts of Lecale; and it is remarkable that, although the Scottish idiom never prevailed here,— owing, no doubt, to the English and Scots "mixing, intermarrying, and communicating with each other, in so many different ways" so as to become one people — yet they preserved intact some of their native customs, habits, modes of life and agriculture, up to a recent period, to such an extent, that by looking at the face of the country and observing its plantations, it could be told whether the proprietor was of Scotch or English descent, the Scotch principally planting ash trees, the English oak, elm, birch and beech.

From 1725 to 1758, Primate Boulter states, in his letters, there was a continuous series of bad harvests all over Ireland, but principally in Ulster; where provisions, particularly oatmeal, (which ho mentions as the staple subsistence of the inhabitants) rose to a high price; which, conjoined to uneasiness about the exactions of the tithe farmers, induced great numbers of the northern farmers to emigrate to America and the West Indies. The emigrants, it appears, were chiefly Presbyterians, and, it may be assumed, of Scottish origin; which circumstance contributed largely to the reduction of that class of colonists, and the increase of the old English and native population in Lecale..."

Monday, April 01, 2024

The Intertwining of Ulster and America in 1775 & 1776: The Bigwigs versus the Whigs

The 1776 Revolution was birthed in America but its umbilical cord reached back across the Atlantic. Crowned in 1760, King George III did a very good job of creating social upheaval, and common cause, among the populations of the 13 colonies in America, and also in Ireland. Much of the community opposition to the policies which he and his governments introduced were aimed at Parliament, and him personally, but not necessarily at the institution of the monarchy. This is a critical distinction, but one which few today are aware of.

The story of 1776 needs to be viewed from both sides of the ocean. Here are two examples from our side –

"The Presbyterians of the North, who in their hearts are Americans, are gaining strength every day; and, by letters written by designing men, whom I could name, from your side of the water, have been repeatedly pressed to engage Ireland to take an adverse part in the contest, telling them the balance of the cause and the decision of the quarrel was on this side St. George's channel. The subject would then have been pressed upon me with such advantage as I should have had difficulty in resisting."
— Lord Harcourt (Lord Lieutenant of Ireland; DIB entry here) to Lord North (Prime Minister, Wikipedia entry here), Oct. 11, 1775. 

"In Ireland, though those in office and the principal nobility and gentry declared against America, by far the majority of the Protestant inhabitants there, who are strenuous and declared Whigs, strongly leaned to the cause of the colonies."
— The Annual Register for 1776, London p. 39 (online here)

The people were 'whigs', not 'republicans' as some might think, or claim, nowadays. A limited monarchy, not anti-monarchy. Various voices pointed out that the reign of King George III had damaged the civil liberties of the people.

In Philadelphia, a son of Ulster emigrants, David Ramsay was the first to craft the narrative of the new nation. In 1789 he wrote the History of the American Revolution in which he described the Colonists in America having their liberties (which were legally founded in the Glorious Revolution of 1688), eroded –

“... they had enjoyed English revolutionary liberty for eighty years and in that time grown to the size and strength of a nation, the measures of the James's and Charles's in the seventeenth century, for curbing them by mutilating their charters and other arbitrary acts, were revived under George the third in an advanced period of the eighteenth...”

Fascinatingly, in Ireland in a 1792 speech Wexford-born Henry Grattan, (that's him in the statue above), who was a member of the Church of Ireland, made very similar observations about how King George III had treated Catholics in Ireland –

"... they had that elective right near half a century after the Revolution (of 1688); they had it in the Parliament that sat in the reign of William; they had it in the Parliament that sat in the reign of Anne; they had it in the Parliament that sat in the reign of George I, and they had it in the Parliament that sat in the reign of George II. The first Parliament that sat in Ireland since the Revolution in which the Roman Catholics had not the elective franchise was the first of the present reign (of George III). It follows from this example that the elective franchise, so far from securing to them the right of sitting in Parliament, was not able to secure the right of voting at elections; they lost that right in the commencement of George II's reign after having possessed it for 37 years since the Revolution..." 

Grattan secured a new constitution for Ireland in 1782, the famous Wheatley painting which is associated with Grattan's Parliament of 16 April 1782 is above, although the painting actually depicts the Irish House of Commons in 1780. In his speech that day he made these interesting references to the Glorious Revolution, and to William Prince of Orange as 'Prince of Nassau' - which looks like he was offering something of a soft defence of William:

"... I am not afraid to turn back and look antiquity in the face. The Revolution (of 1688) that great event – whether you call it ancient or modern I know not – was tarnished with bigotry. The great deliverer – for such I must ever call the Prince of Nassau was blemished by oppression; he assented to – he was forced to assent to acts which deprived the Catholics of religious, and all the Irish of civil and commercial rights, though the Irish were the only subjects in these islands who had fought in his defence; but you have sought liberty on her own principles. See the Presbyterians of Bangor petition for the Catholics of the South! ..."

Seven years later and Grattan was a founding member of the Whig Club in Dublin in August 1789. Among their Resolutions and Declarations was this statement -

"... the great object of this Society is the constitution of the realm as settled by the revolution in Great Britain and Ireland in 1688 and re-established in Ireland in 1782..."

Most politicians choose their words carefully, and strategically. So maybe this was all just rhetoric on Grattan's part, and he did have a penchant for rewriting his speeches for publication. Conceptually, these are very similar to the ideas that Samuel Adams and others had campaigned for in Massachusetts. Perhaps Britain's loss of America had, at this stage at least, made them slightly more lenient in their relationship with Ireland.

Also in 1782, the same year as Grattan's Parliament, was the Great Convention in Dungannon. That's another huge thread to pull one day... 


About a century later, in his A History of England in the Eighteenth Century: Volume 4 (published in 1882, online here), historian WEH Lecky (who like Grattan also has a statue in Dublin) did a brilliant job at showing the complex interconnectedness. He put it like this:

"... Protestant Ireland [in 1776] was indeed far more earnestly enlisted on the side of the Americans than any other portion of the Empire. Emigrants from Ulster formed a great part of the American army, and the constitutional question of the independence of the Irish Parliament was closely connected with the American question. The movement of opinion, however, was confined to the Protestants. The Catholic gentry on this, as on all other questions of national danger, presented addresses to the King attesting in strong terms their loyalty..."

Friday, March 29, 2024

"Every Man is Born Free" 1644 / "All Men Are Created Equal" 1776. Really?

These two similar-looking quotes – firstly from Samuel Rutherford's 1644 Lex Rex, and secondly from the Declaration of Independence of 1776 – are in fact very different.The whole question of free will was a major debate for Erasmus and Martin Luther in the early years of the Protestant Reformation.

Luther masterfully argued that while free will was desirable, it was impossible, because our will is not truly free, but it is in fact warped and fallen, and subject to its own inherent distortedness. Only Christ, as the only perfect righteous human, was truly free. Luther published his case in On The Bondage of the Will (1525). Another way to look at this is the old adage by Thomas Cranmer "what the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies." What our heart loves directs our behaviour.

Here's an article about it, on the Lutheran website

Robert Sapolsky has recently published Determined: Life Without Free Will (Guardian review here).


Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Henry Joy, Belfast, 1792 – "America did not acquire her love of liberty in the new world, but carried it out from the old" - linking 1688 with 1776, and 1789.

There was a time when Belfast's 'thought leaders' – as demonstrated in the recent posts here about the Northern Whig Club – understood that the American Revolution of 1776 (which was for them within living memory) had been inspired by the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

However, when I mention this today, the reaction is usually one of shock and incredulity, and that's from people right across our present day political spectrum. Trapped within the reinforced binary of nationality, many find the larger concept of liberty hard to comprehend. 

In a 1794 volume dedicated to 'Alexander Henry Haliday, a lover of liberty' (who has been mentioned in these recent posts) is the following quote, from the author and newspaper man Henry Joy (1754-1835). In an article that was first printed in the Belfast News-Letter on 6 December 1792, Joy expressly connected 1688 with 1776, and also with the French Revolution of 1789:

“At a period when republics are exhibited as models of perfection, I am persuaded it is consistent with the spirit of a free press, to recommend the principles of the British Constitution…

America did not acquire her love of liberty in the new world, but carried it out from the old. In forming a Constitution for herself, she retained several of the finest branches of the British, lopping off with a careful hand what she deemed excressences that had formed round the parent stem …

It is the fashion of the hour, and as ridiculous as most fashions are, to depreciate the Revolution of 1688—and to despise the securities for our liberty, which that great transaction afforded. That Revolution expelled a Prince from the throne for attempting to govern without law. It preserved a spirit of freedom in these countries, which burst out again in America near ninety years afterwards; and travelling back, communicated its flame to Gallic slaves, converted in these latter days into free men, and become the hope of the world…”

• From Thoughts on the British Constitution, Henry Joy, dated 6 December 1792. Published in the 1794 compilation Belfast Politics, online here.

PS: 1792 was also the year that Henry Joy was one of the organisers of the Belfast Harp Festival, and 1794 was also the year that he visited Robert Burns in Dumfries.

PPS: Alexander Haliday's father, Rev Samuel Haliday, was a lifelong friend of Francis Hutcheson, the Saintfield-born 'Father of the Scottish Enlightenment'.

Even though these were 'New Light' Presbyterians, Patrick Griffin asserts that "New Lights did not seek to create an established Presbyterian church for Ulster. They contended that the very notion of an establishment, compelling individuals to act against dictates of conscience, contradicted the liberating rhetoric of the Glorious Revolution".

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

The Northern Whig Club, Belfast, 1790 – "steady friends of the Revolution", celebrating the Revolution of 1688

So here's another treasure trove to challenge present-day preconceptions. On page 348 of his Historical Collections Relative to the Town of Belfast (online hereHenry Joy (DIB entry here) reprinted an article from the Belfast News Letter, on how Belfast marked the second anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille in 1789, which they connected back to both the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the American Revolution of 1776.


July 14, 1791

"...The Inhabitants of Belfast and its neighbourhood the more strongly to mark their abhorrence of despotism their love of liberty and their attachment to their brethren of mankind dedicated this day to the commemoration of the greatest event in human annals commemoration of the greatest event in human annals.

In the striking serious and splendid manner which they adopted for celebrating the destruction of the BASTILE they were actuated by the same principle which in the last century taught them to rejoice in the dethronement of a despot James II by the Revolution of 1688 and attached them to the line now on the throne by the same principle that led them to deprecate an unjust war on their then fellow subjects in America that prompted them to take the lead in forming a Volunteer army that made them declare their sentiments in the most decided tone on the subject of restoring to imperial Ireland her independency as a Sovereign State and that determined them to assert the necessity of purifying the tainted parts of the Constitution by giving the People their due influence in the legislation of this kingdom..."


And, below, are just two of a number of newspaper reports from the British Newspaper Archive which show the Northern Whig Club celebrating the Glorious Revolution of 1688, even holding a meal in the Donegall Arms on the 4th November to mark William of Orange's birthday. They also commemorated 1776, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.

In this list of the club's original members from April 1790 there are quite a few who have only been remembered to popular history as having been United Irishmen. Even in this acclaimed book, no mention is made of these wider connections.

Yet again it seems that there are important, missing, chapters in our history. To change your reality you have to change your story. More to follow...