Dr William Drennan was born on 23rd May 1754, two years after the foundation of the Belfast Charitable Society. He later went on to be a famous obstetrician and was responsible for pioneering small pox inoculations in the Poor House. Drennan was also a poet, and social reformer and was the first to call Ireland ‘the emerald isle’ in his poem, ‘When Erin First Rose’. The son of a Belfast Presbyterian minister, Drennan argued for independence from Britain but urged the Irish to oppose sectarianism and division.
He studied in Scotland before returning to Belfast in 1778 to specialise in obstetrics. He began to attend political meetings and, like many Ulster Dissenters, sympathised with the rebelling colonists in America. In 1791 he co-founded the Society of United Irishmen with Wolfe Tone and others. Drennan was an active member until they took to a more militant approach.
Retiring to Belfast in 1807 he co-founded the Royal Belfast Academical Institute (Inst) which opened in 1814.
In his determined opposition to sectarianism, he requested that his coffin be borne to the Charitable Society’s New Burying Ground by ‘six poor Protestants and six poor Catholics’ and that they should each receive ‘a guinea piece for the carriage of me’.