Northern Lights 2

This article is the second in a series of occasional articles intended to highlight our historic and deep connections with the Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism of counties Antrim and Down and the prominent and vital role played by people from Ulster in the building and maintenance of Unitarianism in the Dublin.

Rev. William Hamilton Drummond D.D.
When the Strand Street and Eustace Street congregations transferred to St Stephen’s Green in the 1863 and 1867 they brought with them many items that are still in the possession of our congregation today. One of these items is the large portrait that has hung over the fireplace downstairs in the church vestry keeping an eye on all proceedings in the room for almost 160 years. The portrait was presented to the sitter by the Strand Street Congregation in 1846.

On 31st January of that year The Freeman’s Journal reported that:-

‘The Unitarian body of this city met yesterday at their meeting house on Strand Street to present their pastor, the Rev. W.H. Drummond, D.D., with a portrait of himself for which he was required to sit by the laity of this denomination. An address was read on that occasion, with an answer from Dr. Drummond. In connexion with the presentation a soiree was held in the Northumberland Buildings, which was numerously and respectably attended, and the evening passed off very agreeably’.

At the time of the presentation Drummond was 68 years old and had been a minister to the Presbyterian / Unitarian congregation of Strand Street for over 30 years. In addition to his title of Unitarian Minister, accounts of Drummond’s life also describe him as a Biographer, Controversialist, Hymn Writer, Poet, Polemicist, Scholar and Theologian. He was also a well-known defender of animal rights, his arguments on their behalf being published as Humanity to Animals, the Christian's Duty (1830) and The Rights of Animals and Man's Obligation to Treat Them with Humanity (1838)
          William Hamilton Drummond was born in Larne, Co.Antrim in 1778 to Rose (née Hare) and William Drummond, a Royal Navy surgeon. He was educated at Belfast Academy and then Glasgow University but financial circumstances prevented him from completing his degree at Glasgow.
          Drummond returned to Ulster without graduating but continued studying for the Presbyterian ministry. He was sympathiser of the United Irishmen and a friend of some of the principals of that organisation. In later years he edited the memoirs of Archibald Hamilton Rowan. Although not a participant in the 1798 rebellion he narrowly escaped death when a gun was placed at his head and he was threatened with death for his known sympathies. He was licensed by the Presbytery of Antrim in April 1800 without having to subscribe to the Westminster Confession and in August of that year he was installed as a minister to Second congregation (now All Souls) Belfast. In 1815 Drummond accepted a call from Strand Street Presbyterian Meeting House, to come to Dublin to be the assistant minister to Rev.James Armstrong. (In 1841 James Armstrong’s son, George, would become Drummond’s assistant at Strand Street and afterwards at St.Stephen’s Green). At the time of Drummond’s arrival in Dublin there were six Presbyterian congregations in the city. Four of them were theologically Trinitarian and subscribed to the Westminster Confession and the other two, Strand Street and Eustace Street, were Unitarian / non-subscribing congregations. Drummond was a committed Unitarian and several of his discourses in support of Unitarianism were committed to print. Following a marathon public debate between two clergyman in 1827, Thomas Maguire a Roman Catholic and Richard Pope an Anglican, Drummond issued ‘The Doctrine of the Trinity founded neither on Scripture nor on Reason and Common Sense but on Tradition and the Infallible Church. The publication, which brought Drummond into conflict with leading Calvinists and Church of Ireland members, went to three editions and was widely read across Ireland and Britain. A year later he issued his ‘Unitarian Christianity the Religion of the Gospel and the New Reformation a Chimera’. Later publications included ‘Unitarianism no Feeble and Conceited Heresy Demonstrated in Two Letters to the Archbishop of Dublin’ and ‘Original Sin an Irrational and Unscriptural Fiction’.

In the 1840s Drummond was named as a defendant in a legal case that was taken to deprive the Strand Street congregation of receiving any benefit from the General Fund, a fund set up in 1710 to support Protestant Dissenters in Dublin. (We still receive a small annual payment from the residue of this fund). In an earlier case the Lord Chancellor, Edward Sugden, had found against the Eustace Street congregation. In response to Sugden’s judgement Drummond issued a public letter under the title ‘An Explanation and Defence of the Principles of Protestant Dissent’. Following a hard fought campaign the cases against the two Dublin congregations, and similar cases against congregations in Ulster and England, were eventually resolved by the passage of ‘The Dissenters Chapels Act 1844’ at Westminster.
          In addition to his reputation for writings on behalf of Unitarianism Drummond also acquired a reputation for his poetry and for his writings on antiquarian subjects. His knowledge of the Irish language was obviously proficient as he translated a collection of Irish poems into the English language. He was a founder member of the Belfast Literary Society and in Dublin he served as the librarian for The Royal Irish Academy.
          Drummond was married twice, first to Barbara Tomb, who died young, and second to Catherine Blackley. Two of his sons became Unitarian ministers of great reputation; Rev. Robert Blackley Drummond at St.Marks Edinburgh, and Rev.James Drummond who became an assistant minister at Cross Street, Manchester, to William Gaskell, husband of the novelist, Elizabeth Gaskell. James went on to become principal at the (unitarian) Manchester College. A grandson, Rev. William Hamilton Drummond (1863–1945), became the unitarian minister at All Souls Belfast and then the editor of The Inquirer. The names of both Williams, grandfather and grandson, are recorded on a memorial wall panel in All Souls. (photo). Drummond died on 16 October 1865 at his home at 27 Lr.Gardiner Street. He was buried in Mt.Jerome cemetery. The inscription on his gravestone reads:

Late Rector to the Congregation of
Protestant Dissenters Strand St. now Stephens Green
Serving a Ministry of 50 years. He was the sincere and zealous advocate of what he believed to be the truth and the uncompromising champion of the right of private judgment.
He was summoned home in the 88th year of his age October 16th 1865
"Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace good will to men"
This Tablet was erected by his widow CATHERINE.
She died at Greenisland, Belfast 22nd April 1878, aged 85 years
and is interred at Carnmoney.

Rory Delany                     - October 2021
Dublin Unitarian Church