Dr William Drennan was the youngest son of Rev Thomas Drennan, minister of the First Presbyterian Church Belfast, and Anne Lennox. During this period Presbyterians were impacted by the Penal Codes, and as such many ‘sons of the manse’ attended university in Scotland. William Drennan 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 the Volunteer movement in the years before he founded the United Irishmen. Arrested in 1793, he moved away for the increasingly separatist organisation, at least publicly, but continued to pen nationalistic poetry. Following his retirement in 1807 he moved back to Belfast and was involved in the foundation of ‘Inst’.
On this day, 5th February 1820, Dr William Drennan passed away. 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.