William Drennan

William Drennan Poems

When Erin first rose from the dark swelling flood,
God bless'd the green island and saw it was good;
The em'rald of Europe, it sparkled and shone,

My Country! Shall I mourn, or Bless,
Thy tame and wretched happiness?

'Tis true! The vast atlantic tide

How solemn sad by Shannon's flood
The blush of morning sun appears!
To men who gave for us their blood,
Ah! what can woman give but tears?

Who took me from my mother's arms,
And, smiling at her soft alarms,
Showed me the world and Nature's charms?

O sweeter than the fragrant flower,
At evening's dewy close,
The will, united with the power,
To succour human woes!

Branch of the sweet and early rose,
That in the purest beauty grows,
So passing sweet to smell and sight,
On whom shalt thou bestow delight?

Oh, sweeter than the sweetest flower,
At ev'ning's dewy close,
The will, united with the power
To succour human woes!

William Drennan Biography

William Drennan (1754 – 1820), a physician, poet, educationalist and political radical, was one of the chief architects of the Society of United Irishmen. He is also known as the first to refer in print to Ireland as "the emerald isle" in his poem "When Erin first rose".


Born in Belfast in 1754, William was son to Reverend Thomas Drennan (1696-1768), minister of Belfast's First Presbyterian Church. Thomas Drennan was an educated man from the University of Glasgow and was ordained to the congregation of Holywood, county Down in 1731. Drennan was heavily influenced by his father, whose religious convictions served as the foundation for his own radical political ideas.


In 1769 he followed in his father's footsteps by enrolling in the University of Glasgow where he became interested in the study of philosophy. In 1772 he graduated in arts and then in 1773 he commenced the study of medicine at Edinburgh. After graduating in 1778 he set up practice in Belfast, specialising in obstetrics. He is credited with having been one of the earliest advocates of inoculation against smallpox, and of hand washing to prevent the spread of infection. Drennan also wrote much poetry, coining the phrase "Emerald Isle" and was the founder and editor of a literary periodical, "Belfast Magazine". He moved to Newry in 1783 but eventually moved to Dublin in 1789 where he quickly became involved in nationalist circles.

Society of the United Irishmen

Like many other Ulster Presbyterians, William was an early supporter of the American Colonies in the American Revolution and joined the Volunteers who had been formed to defend Ireland for Britain in the event of French invasion. The Volunteer movement soon became a powerful political force and a forum for Protestant nationalists to press for political reform in Ireland eventually assisting Henry Grattan to achieve home rule in 1782. However Drennan, like many other reformers, quickly became dismayed by the conservative and sectarian nature of the Irish parliament and in 1791 he co-founded the Society of United Irishmen with Wolfe Tone and Thomas Russell.

He wrote many political pamphlets for the United Irishmen and was arrested 1794 for seditious libel, a political charge that was a major factor in driving the United Irishmen underground and into becoming a radical revolutionary party. Although he was eventually acquitted, he gradually withdrew from the United Irishmen though he continued to campaign for Catholic emancipation.

Cultural activities

He settled in Belfast in 1807 after inheriting a large fortune and in 1810 was a co-founder of the non-denominational Royal Belfast Academical Institution. As a poet, he is best remembered for his poem The Wake of William Orr, written in memory of the executed United Irishman, who was widely regarded as a martyr at the time. Some of its most famous lines went;

" Here our murdered brother lies,

Wake him not with women's cries;

Mourn the way that manhood ought,

Sit in silent trance of thought.. "

He died in 1820 and showed his non-sectarian outlook was unchanged by stipulating that his coffin be carried by an equal number of Catholics and Protestants with clergy from different denominations in attendance.

The Best Poem Of William Drennan

When Erin First Rose

When Erin first rose from the dark swelling flood,
God bless'd the green island and saw it was good;
The em'rald of Europe, it sparkled and shone,
In the ring of the world the most precious stone.
In her sun, in her soil, in her station thrice blest,
With her back towards Britain, her face to the West,
Erin stands proudly insular, on her steep shore,
And strikes her high harp 'mid the ocean's deep roar.

But when its soft tones seem to mourn and to weep,
The dark chain of silence is thrown o'er the deep;
At the thought of the past the tears gush from her eyes,
And the pulse of her heart makes her white bosom rise.
O! sons of green Erin, lament o'er the time
When religion was war, and our country a crime,
When man in God's image inverted his plan,
And moulded his God in the image of man.

When the int'rest of state wrought the general woe,
The stranger a friend, and the native a foe;
While the mother rejoic'd o'er her children oppressed,
And clasp'd the invader more close to her breast.
When with pale for the body and pale for the soul,
Church and state joined in compact to conquer the whole;
And as Shannon was stained with Milesian blood,
Ey'd each other askance and pronounced it was good.

By the groans that ascend from your forefathers' grave
For their country thus left to the brute and the slave,
Drive the demon of bigotry home to his den,
And where Britain made brutes now let Erin make men.
Let my sons like the leaves of the shamrock unite,
A partition of sects from one footstalk of right,
Give each his full share of the earth and the sky,
Nor fatten the slave where the serpent would die.

Alas! for poor Erin that some are still seen,
Who would dye the grass red from their hatred to green;
Yet, oh! when you're up, and they're down, let them live,
Then yield them that mercy which they would not give.
Arm of Erin, be strong! but be gentle as brave;
And uplifted to strike, be still ready to save;
Let no feeling of vengeance presume to defile
The cause of, or men of, the Emerald Isle.

The cause it is good, and the men they are true,
And the Green shall outlive both the Orange and Blue.
And the triumphs of Erin her daughters shall share
With the full swelling chest, and the fair flowing hair.
Their bosoms heave high for the worthy and brave,
But no coward shall rest in that soft-swelling wave;
Men of Erin! awake, and make haste to be blest!
Rise! arch of the ocean, and queen of the West!

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