Archive for the 'History' Category

24th Dec 2018

William Drennan (1795-1873), a sketch

What St. Anne’s looked like in the early 19th century Engraving by John Thomson from George Benn’s 1823 History of Belfast

My four-times-great grandfather, William Drennan, was baptised as a foundling at St. Anne’s Parish Church (now Cathedral), Belfast, on 11 October 1795. How foundlings are given their names I don’t really know, but there was a William Drennan in the news around that time – a founder of the United Irishmen, son of a Presbyterian minister from Belfast, and coiner of the term “emerald isle”, who had been arrested for seditious libel in 1794 (and later acquitted). It seems odd that a foundling baptised in the Church of Ireland might be named after a leading dissenter, but who knows who chose the name and where their sympathies lay.

He married Ellen Meehan, or McMahon – transcripts vary. They had a son, David, baptised in St Annes in 1820. Another son, John, must have been born sometime before 1825 based on his marriage record. A daughter, my three-times-great grandmother Jane, was baptised at St Annes in 1826. A son, William, based on his marriage record, must have been born c. 1830-31. There may have been others, but I have found no record of them.

Jane must married my three-times-great grandfather William Magill by 1844, when their son James was born, but I have found no record of their marriage. John married Mary Ann Gaw at St Anne’s in 1846, and I finally find out William’s occupation: cotton spinner.

His wife Ellen must have died before 1849, as William, a widow, married his daughter-in-law’s sister Susan Gaw that year. His age is given as 44, although this is an underestimate – based on his baptism record, he was actually 54. He names his father as William Drennan, labourer, but it’s not unheard of for fatherless children to invent fathers for their marriage certificates. His occupation was again cotton-spinner, and his address was Lepper’s Row, Belfast. Lepper’s Row was later known as Lepper Street, off the New Lodge Road in north Belfast, built as housing for workers at the Lodge Cotton Mill, owned by the Lepper family.

William junior, also a cotton spinner, married Catherine McBurney in 1852. His address was New Lodge Road.

Lepper Street first appears in the Belfast Street Directories in 1858. It is off the New Lodge Road, and contains the Lodge Cotton Mill (Mssrs. Lepper, proprietors), and the Lodge Mill National School (closed at present). G. Faulkner, grocer and haberdasher, is at No. 70, and “The rest occupied by mill-workers”. The same applies in 1863, except the school is now open and run by a teacher called James Weir, and the grocer and haberdasher’s shop is at No. 76 and run by Agnes Faulkener.

In 1865 the occupants are named. Wm. Brennan (sic), cotton spinner, is at No. 91. In 1870 there is a William Drennan, fireman, at No. 83, and a William Drennan, spinner, at No. 95.

William died of paralysis at 83 Lepper Street, Belfast on 28 July 1873. His occupation was cotton spinner and his age is given as 60, again an underestimate – he was actually 78. He was married, so Susan was still alive. His daughter-in-law Catherine was present at his death.

Line of descent from William to me.

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28th Jul 2010

Summer art-fatigue, and the deeper history of Irish comics

I’m starting to notice a pattern. Salesmanship, I think, tires me out.  Summer convention season – I do a bunch of cons and comics shows and stuff, and that brain-tiredness that makes making art next to impossible catches up with me again. Which means that, for the second week running, there’s no Cattle Raid of Cooley. And you have no idea how many times I have written, deleted and rewritten this paragraph. I shall rest up, avoid incurring mental injury by trying to force it, and return stronger – hopefully before too much longer. Maybe even next Wednesday. Fingers crossed.

But I’ll leave you with something to be going on with. You’ll no doubt remember last year I offered the first part of The History of Irish Comics, tracing the earliest examples of the cartoonist’s art in Ireland to Henry Brocas and William O’Keefe at the turn of the 19th century. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been able to push it back even further. First, I discovered Michael Stoppelaer, a Dublin-born singer, actor, portrait-painter and caricaturist, who died in 1777. Flushed with the success of that discovery, I immediately went one better, leaping back another two hundred years!

The Image of Irelande

In 1578, a customs agent called John Derricke, based in Drogheda and working for Sir Henry Sidney, Elizabeth I’s Lord Deputy of Ireland, witnessed Sidney’s campaigns against the Irish and their “woodkarne” guerrilla raids against English settlements, and he wrote a book, The Image of Irelande, about them. The first part of the book is a long poem of indifferent quality about the barbarous Irish and their violent and incomprehensible ways, and how that justifies the English in their attempts to rule them. The second part is, for our purposes, the interesting bit: a sequence of twelve double-page woodcut illustrations, with accompanying verse narration and occasional dialogue, relating how, after a successful raid on a settlement and a party to celebrate, complete with braigeteóirí, professional farters (see above), the Irish woodkarne are defeated twice in battle by Sir Henry Sidney, whose army parades in triumph in Dublin before receiving the submission of Turlough Luineach Ó Néill, king of Tyrone, his former rebel ally Rory Óg Ó More reduced to living in the forest with the wolves.

You’ll sometimes come across one or other of Derricke’s woodcuts, our of context, in a history book, because they are a unique and invaluable visual resource for the dress and military tactics of the period – but they were created as a sequence, and that sequence carries a narrative. They are, by any definition, a comic strip, created in Ireland when Shakespeare was a spotty adolescent. Okay, it’s by an Englishman who doesn’t think much of the Irish, but you can’t have everything.

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06th Feb 2010

Rome lookalikes

A few things struck me on my trip to Rome a couple of weekends ago. There seemed to be a promotion on of the period when Jack Meadows out of The Bill was emperor…

Jack Meadows - the Emperor Vespasian

Also found sculptures of Robin Cook…

Robin Cook

Mrs Doyle out of Father Ted

Mrs Doyle

And even the Ood out of Doctor Who, wearing a shower cap.

The Ood - a minotaur

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31st Oct 2009

Historical possibilities – the Roman invasion of Britain

I posted about a year and a half ago that I thought the supposed image of Christ on the Hinton St. Mary mosaic looked more like the emperor Constantine, and last month got left a comment by Ciorst saying that archaeologists had been saying this for ages – Martin Henig said “this probably shows Christ, but a member of the family of Constantine, perhaps even Constantine himself who adopted the chi-rho as his emblem, remains an alternative possibility” in The Art of Roman Britain in 1995.  It seems that sometimes when I get an idea in my head, I’m on the right track, so, despite the redoubtable Jona Lendering’s warning that “‘amateur historian’ is just another word for ‘unqualified’“, I’m going to have another go at it.

In AD 43, the Romans launched their conquest of Britain. The most common interpretation has been that they sailed from Boulogne and landed at Richborough in Kent (for example: Sheppard Frere, Britannia p. 48), but in recent years there has been some dispute about this. The only surviving account of the invasion is in Cassius Dio’s Roman History (book 60, Chs 19-23), and Dio says they sailed west. As you’ll see from the map below, Boulogne to Richborough is more-or-less north.  So some (for example, John Manley in AD 43: a Reassessment) have suggested that perhaps they sailed from Boulogne to the Solent (the strait between the Isle of Wight and Southampton Water), which would be sailing west as Dio says. This theory has two added advantages as a theory: Dio says the invasion was launched in support of Verica, a deposed king who, based on his coin distribution, ruled in that part of the country, and Suetonius (Vespasian ch. 4) says the future emperor Vespasian conquered the Isle of Wight as part of the invasion campaign.

From Boulogne to Richborough and the Solent

From Boulogne to Richborough and the Solent

However, there are good reasons for thinking that Richborough was the landing point. Frere says “Excavations at Richborough have revealed an early Claudian defensive beach-head perimeter which is clearly the scene of the main and possibly the only landing” (Britannia p. 48), and Dio’s account describes the Romans as fairly quickly advancing to a fording-point of the Thames “near where it empties into the ocean”, establishing camp there and sending word to Claudius. If, as it seems, the objective of the first phase of the campaign was to secure a strategic crossing-point of the Thames near its estuary, it doesn’t make much sense to sail west to the Solent, and then have to march so far back east.

So what’s the solution? Dio says the invasion fleet sailed in three divisions, so perhaps one landed at Richborough, another at the Solent, and the third somewhere else. But Dio also seems to describe a unified campaign from the landing to the Thames.

The key is to realise that the point of departure for the invasion fleet is not specified. Dio doesn’t mention it. Suetonius (Claudius 17) says that Claudius sailed to Britain from Gesoriacum (Boulogne), but Claudius and his reinforcements came later, in a separate sailing. It doesn’t necessarily follow that the main invasion force sailed from the same place.

Strabo (Geography 4.5.2), writing about 7 BC, says that in his time there were only four commonly used points of departure for Britain: the mouths of the rivers Rhine, Seine, Loire and Garonne. He also mentions Itium, another name for Boulogne,1 from which  Julius Caesar sailed in 55 and 54 BC, although the implication is that it was no longer in common use. From the Loire and Garonne you would have to sail all the way around Britanny, probably to destinations in Cornwall.  From the Seine, the most obvious destination is the Solent. From the Rhine, Strabo says it was usual to sail along the coast before crossing from somewhere between the territories of the Menapii and the Morini, two Belgic population groups. Richborough seems a likely destination, sailing west.

Routes to Britain according to Strabo

Routes to Britain according to Strabo

We know from Suetonius (Vespasian ch. 4 again) that the legion Vespasian commanded was transferred from a posting in Germania to take part in the invasion.  According to L. J. F. Keppie’s Legions and Veterans: Roman Amy Papers 1971-2000 (p. 140) this legion, the II Augusta, was in Strasbourg, which is on the Rhine, and of the three other legions believed to have taken part, the XIV Gemina was in Mainz and the XX was in Xanten, both also on the Rhine.  The fourth, the IX Hispana, was further south-east in Pannonia.  It would seem sensible, if you wanted to gather these four legions in one place in preparation for a voyage to Britain, to do it via the Rhine.

I believe this theory is consistent with all the known facts and sources, but I haven’t seen it considered in print. Any and all more informed (and better qualified) comments welcome.

1 6 April 2010: Bill Thayer points out that Itium, aka Itius Portus, may not be Boulogne – see this page on his Lacus Curtius site and the linked articles. It may rather be Wissant, a little further north towards Calais.

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29th May 2008

"Image of Christ" revisited

I posted a piece last month ago about how the supposed image of Christ found in a mosaic floor at Hinton St. Mary actually looked rather more like the Colossus of Constantine. Interestingly enough, as I was browsing in Waterstones yesterday afternoon, I happened across The Romans for Dummies by Guy de la Bedoyere. The cover is a montage of lots of images – but the cover designer has placed the Colossus of Constantine right next to the Hinton St. Mary “Christ”! Perhaps I’m not the only one to have come to that conclusion…

The Romans for Dummies

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28th Apr 2008

Image of Christ?

A 4th century mosaic was discovered in the remains of a Roman villa at Hinton St. Mary in Dorset in 1963. At the centre is a portrait of a man superimposed on the Christian Chi-Rho symbol, and on the basis of that symbol it’s universally identified as a picture of Christ. Here’s what it looks like:

Doesn’t look much like the traditional image of Christ, does it? He’s clean-shaven and wearing a toga. The Romans may have co-opted Christianity, but they never claimed Christ was a Roman.

Here’s a photo of the statue known as the Collossus of Constantine – a portrait of the emperor who legalised Christianity, and is supposed to have had a vision instructing him to conquer in the sign of the Chi-Rho.

The same cleft chin. The same broad face and narrow mouth. The same eyes and eyebrows. The same haircut. That mosaic image isn’t Christ – it’s Constantine!

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