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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