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..."