by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Dawsonville, GA, USA
received her PhD from Glasgow University after completing undergraduate work
at Oxford University. She recently accepted a position to lecture at
Newcastle University in northeast England in the School of Literature,
Language and Linguistics. I met Jennifer, then a student at the University
of Glasgow, at a Burns conference hosted by Ross Roy and the University of
South Carolina in 2009 where she was one of the guest speakers. She is
author of The Correspondence of Samuel Thomson (1766-1816), a magical
book that has many pages on Robert Burns. (See Chapter 138 of Robert
Burns Lives! for a review of Dr. Orrs book.)
recently completed a trip to Georgia and South Carolina where she spoke at
the Burns Club of Atlanta, the University of Georgias Cobb House, Georgia
Southern University where she taught a class, and to the Irish Heritage
Association of Sun City in Bluffton, South Carolina. Her trip was made
possible by the Atlanta Irish Counsel Paul Gleeson and the Burns Club of
Atlanta. I tip my hat to them for sending this rising star in the field of
Irish and Scottish academics to us. Their money was well spent!
Jennie, as she
is called by family and friends, enjoyed her whirlwind trip and will write a
summary of her visit to be posted on Robert Burns Lives! in the near
future. There is an old Scottish saying that we offer to this talented Irish
lass: Haste ye back, Jennie.
Satire: Ulster Poetry of the Romantic Period
Dr. Jennifer Orr and Woody Woodruff, Vice President, Burns Club
(Photo courtesy of Burns Club member Keith Dunn)
Club of Atlanta, Weds 4 September
Dr. Orr addressing members of the Burns Club of
(Photo courtesy of Burns Club member Keith Dunn)
time Robert Burns achieved national celebrity in the early 1790s, he was
writing in the context of social optimism throughout Britain and Ireland.
Revolutionary radicals across Europe had aspirations to create a more equal
and fair society, inspired by the American and the French Revolutions. At
this time the poetry of Robert Burns was immensely popular in Ulster. Not
only did he write in the same Scots tongue that the rural people in the
north of Ireland spoke, he captured their Presbyterian customs and his
exposure of religious hypocrisy chimed with many of them who chaffed against
the grain of their particular congregation. Burnss popular lines captured a
general mood: Its comin yet for a that / when man to man, the warld
oer. / Shall brithers be for a that.
[2 Crambo Cave]
famous for its poets and it is no coincidence that many of them also held
strong political views. The desire among some Irishmen for political change
in the 1790s was central to the formation and development of the most
important group of poets that Ulster has ever known, the circle of Samuel
Thomson of Carngranny, near Templepatrick in County Antrim. This place
might have looked like a cluster of cottages under the eye of a friendly
landlord, but Templepatrick was a hotbed of United Irish radicalism. This
group desired to end the political and economic influence of England over
Ireland as well as the introduction of reform that would remove the
Established Church of England from its powerful position. It was hoped this
would discrimination against the Roman Catholic majority, on the one hand,
and the minority of Dissenting Protestants, mostly Presbyterians who made up
a sizeable population of the north of Ireland, A young schoolmaster poet,
Samuel Thomson, inspired by his love of literature and admiration for Robert
Burns, started a brotherhood of poets who met in his cottage at Crambo Cave
group were Scots-descended Presbyterian and United Irish patriots. For years
these guys were known as the Rhyming Weavers because many of them were
labourers or handloom weavers by day and talented poets in their spare time.
They often wrote in the native language that their grandparents had brought
from Scotland. But in 1992 the scholars discovered that many of these poets
had been United Irishmen and had contributed scores of poetry to the
republican movements Belfast newspaper, The Northern Star.
[3. Hope, McCracken and Orr]
Much of what we know about
the Thomson circle has been reconstructed from the poets correspondence
held in Trinity College Dublin, an edition of which I produced recently.
This has been one of the most enjoyable projects that I have ever
undertaken, piecing together eighteenth century letters and all of the
connections between the poets. It all starts to make sense. The rural poets
were intimately connected through radical Belfast, most of them being
associated with the Reform movement through various activities. Samuel
Thomson, a school master, tutored many of the most intelligent young men in
the county. His best friend Luke Mullan had a very famous republican
brother-in-law, James Hope (known as Jemmy).The influence of Hope, an Antrim
weaver, likely encouraged many of these men to join the United Irishmen.
He was one of relatively few United Irishmen to emerge from
two Rebellions (1798 and 1803) with his liberty and reputation intact. His
well-deserved status as a revolutionary of the highest calibre was
documented by historians of his own lifetime. One fellow rebel wrote of him,
there was no man did more for the United Irish cause than he did,
travelling north, south, east, and west across the island undercover, taking
messages between the various republican societies.
introduced his comrade James Orr of Ballycarry into the Thomson network.
Like the others Orr was a poet and was exiled for a time to America as a
Fifty Pounder this referred to the reward that was offered to anyone who
gave information leading to his capture. Orr spent time in Philadelphia
where he published in local newspapers and was enabled to come back under a
general amnesty in 1799, and offered himself to be a yeoman (part of
the loyalist militia) but his landlord would not admit him. Orr is lauded as
the most remarkable poet of the Thomson circle, composing many humanitarian
poems and challenging the social prejudices of his day.
These account for the most
radical poets. Others, like Samuel Thomson, the father of the poetic
circle, and his correspondent the Reverend James Glass perceived their roles
to be that of patriot poets rather than armed revolutionaries. They
published verse in the poetry corner of local newspapers, inspiring others
with radical sentiments and contributing to a general promotion of Irish
culture, giving a voice to the Irish sense of place as Burns had done for
So what inspired them? As
Presbyterian religious Dissenters, they too shared in the discrimination
leveled against the Roman Catholic majority. But Presbyterians held a
powerful position in Ulster there were many of them and they were
superbly well educated because of the importance of being able to read the
Bible. The desire for radical reform among these men was formed from a
mixture of religious commitment (which privileged the authority of the Bible
alone over the nation or even the king) and Enlightenment philosophical
values of the right to individual judgment, that all men are created equal
and of brotherhood. In their differing courses of action, the poets present
us with a complex and rarely studied combination of radical values and
sensitivities that cover the spectrum of eighteenth-century Presbyterian
[4 Irish Volunteers]
Thomson correspondence begins in 1791 amid an explosion of political and
cultural activity. Ireland still had an independent parliament at this
stage and was trying to reassert herself against the growing British
influence. Britain maintained effective control of the Irish parliament by
packing it full of landowning Anglo-Irish MPs, who were expected to vote
with the British Government. But the rise of the Patriot Party (led by Henry
Grattan) attempted to raise support for greater control for the Irish over
their own affairs. This included the setting up of the Irish Volunteer
movement. Drawn from the general public, this was a network of associations
that were formed at the time of the American Revolutionary War to meet the
need for defensive troops while the British army was deployed in the
[5 Northern Star]
Volunteers were inspired by the American Revolution, the events of the
French Revolution gave the reform movement a boost of momentum from
1789-1791. The Society of United Irishmen developed directly out of this
context. The spirit of reform in Belfast attracted a number of celebrity
international visitors including, from their own ranks in Dublin, the great
patriot Wolfe Tone (who argued for Catholic emancipation) and the former
slave and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano. Books sold by their thousands.
Shortly after the French Revolution, a member of the United Irishmen, Samuel
Neilson, founded the Northern Star newspaper which was aligned with the
Societys political and cultural aims. The profile of the Northern Star was
designed to extend far beyond radical Belfast into the rural regions,
converting the lower classes to the aims of the United Irish organization.
newspaper advertised the United Irishmens agenda of cultural improvement
which included the promotion of traditional native Irish music, as in the
Belfast Harp Festival in 1792. Many of Thomsons circle offered original
poetry and song to United Irish publications - The Northern Star newspaper
and United Irish song books like Paddys Resource . The Northern Star did
not just promote the work of the individual poet, it connected poets to one
another. As the leading poet of the coterie, Samuel Thomson corresponded
with other publishing poets through the Star offices, the newspaper
publicised his poems and volumes and he mixed in the company of prominent
Belfast radicals who worked for the paper.
[6- Epistle to burns]
establishment of a new publication went beyond the political - in creating
the opportunity for up-and-coming poets to capture a new audience. Between
1792 and 1797 the newspaper published over twenty-five of Thomsons items,
earning himself the accolade of poet laureate of the newspaper. It was
here that he came into contact with Scottish poet Alex Kemp who had also met
Burns in the early 1790s. The two men set about introducing new verses that
they received from Burns into the Belfast News-Letter. Burns passed a
manuscript of Holy Willies Prayer to Kemp which he tried to get published
in the Belfast press in 1797 but was told it was not fit for publication.
Thomson travelled to see Burns in 1794, being received in the poets
Dumfries parlour and presented with a present of Robert Fergussons poems
and several manuscripts of Burnss poems to Clarinda, or the Edinburgh lady
Agnes McLehose. Inspired by Burnss willing collaboration, Sam Thomson and
Luke Mullan advertised their intention to produce a joint publication Poems
Upon Different Subjects, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, advertised in the
Star intentionally on the same day as the second volume of Burnss poems.
Thomson also sent a copy of his Epistle to Mr Robert Burns (1791) to the
Northern Star. By claiming the endorsement of a celebrity poet like Burns,
Thomson really had arrived on the Belfast poetic scene.
is only part of the poets story. An exciting recent discovery that I made
in Dublin was to find a number of unpublished poems that were seized by the
Government after the Northern Star press was ransacked by the army. One is
by Luke Mullan, the brother-in-law of United Irish leader Jemmy Hope. His
poem The Linnet, a Tale (1792) was published in the Northern Star next to
excerpts from The Rights of Man (1792) by Thomas Paine (1737-1809) and a
translation of the French Revolutionary song Ça Ira.
Mullans poem derives from a long radical tradition of bird imagery in which
the caged bird expresses its desire to roam freely in the landscape:
shoud we rest, tho ourselves are free
While eer a friend in slavery be found?
Ah! Think what sorrow waits sheer hopeless days
Thats in the cruel tyrants bastille pent,
While oer their trembling hearts despotism preys,
Tis there enthrond reigns ruthless Discontent!
original manuscript of The Linnet was preserved alongside a particularly
radical poem by Samuel Thomson called The Thoughtful Bard (1792) which is
a vernacular Scots tirade against corrupt political representation:
patriots! Up and tak her part,
Ld! can ye see it, wi untoucd hearts
Her harp unstrung flung ithe dirt
Tis like to melt her
I will up and mak the villains smart,
Wha thus insult her.
image of the harp unstrung clearly plays on the United Irish emblem of the
harp and its motto, It is new strung and shall be heard, a common feature
of Irish nationalist poetry that was first used here by the United Irishmen
and would echo down the centuries.
[7 Transatlantic radicals]
hardly surprising that Mullan and Thomsons poems ended up in Government
hands. The Government tried for years to shut down the Northern Star
attempting to arrest and prosecute the proprietors. When that failed, John
Rabb, the printer of the newspaper, was brought to trial in 1795 for
printing seditious material. Rabb knew he was being made a sacrificial
scapegoat in the cause of free speech. He broke bail and fled, boarding a
ship to South Carolina where he settled and appears to have established
himself with considerable success in the Charleston and Columbia public
print trade. He kept in contact with the Northern Star circle through its
typesetter Aeneas Lamont. Several of Lamonts poems can be found in the
pages of the Columbia Herald in 1795-6 at the time that the Jay Treaty was
debated with fervour. Lamont himself is a more rare example of a radical
import to Ulster, rather than exporting radicalism as an exile. He came to
Belfast from America sometime between 1787 and 1791, having worked with the
publisher Francis Childs on the American price-current, later the New York
Price Current. Lamonts subsequent reputation in Belfast was bolstered by
his public print activities in 1780s Mount Vernon, New York and, later,
Baltimore where he corresponded with Benjamin Franklin and George
characters move around the transnational stage, they absorbed its cultural
and political influences, allowing it to inform their writing and patriotic
activities. It is my hope that it will be possible to begin charting the
connections between the Ulster circle and the American publications to which
[8 Bards Farewell]
was both a prospect and a reality that faced many of the poets of Thomsons
circle. America as the epitome of liberty features frequently in a number of
gales propitious waft thee oer the wave,
Safe to Columbias blissful happy shore,
Where thou, unawd, erect no more slave,
Shall glad associate with fair freedoms corps.
Revolutionary America was held by many as the event that sparked Ulster
Presbyterian political radicalism. Jemmy Hope recalled in his memoirs that
the sight of young Irish men forced by economic necessity to fight on the
side of the British had encouraged many to take the side of the colonists.
The speaker of Thomsons most outspokenly radical poem The Bards
Farewell! (1793) vows never to return to Ireland until her hills are
wreathd in Shamrock (l. 53) and rural Industry is left unmolested (l.
51). The poem refers to crippling import taxes applied in England to Irish
linen which were destroying the livelihoods of handloom weavers among
Thomsons own circle. Here,
Thomsons rhetoric reflects the position of the Patriot party within the
Irish Parliament who believed that Britain exercised its legislative veto at
Westminster to advance its own commercial interests at the expense of
as 1793, Thomson was using his poetic platform to urge a non-violent means
of remedying the oppression of Ireland. He urges the working class of
Ireland to cheat the vile Ascendancy by mass emigration to Americas
shores of peace and liberty (l. 38). He exhorts them not to remain in
voluntary fetters (l. 40), much like Robert Burnss lines, the coward
slave we pass him by / We dare be poor for a that.
In calling for proactive emigration Thomson articulates the common peoples
right to resist the state it was an act of secession - something integral
to Thomsons own Presbyterian religion. The Seceder Presbyterians took
their authority from Christ alonenot from the Stateand rejected any kind
of unbiblical creed, oath, or statement of faith devised by men.
freeborn souls, who feel and feel aright!
Come, cross with me, the wide, Atlantic main,
With Heavens aid well to the land of light,
And leave these ravagers th unpeopld plain. (ll.
[9 Battle of antrim]
Thomsons radicalism was essentially non-violent. He did not want to see a
bloody revolution and, unlike his friends Orr and Hope, he probably did not
take up arms in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Many of the United Irish poets
had to weigh up their Christian belief in mercy and the commandment that
thou shalt not kill against the righteous resistance of tyranny. In the
confessional poem A Prayer (1804), James Orr draws on the tradition of the
psalm, a staple of Presbyterian worship, to express the afflicting contrary
responsibilities that he felt as a rebel:
dare I ask thy bolts to throw?
Whose mandates Do not kill.
But while as man I have to fight,
As man, O may I feel! (ll. 17-20)
as a moral citizen required him to fight for the rights of countrymen, while
his Christian compassion required that he show mercy to his fellow man. Even
those who were against violence had to hope that the British state was in
any position to reform itself from within.
BRITAIN still to BRITAIN true,
Amang oursels united;
For never but by British hands
Must British wrongs be righted.
(Dumfries Volunteers, ll. 13-16)
Robert Burns in his song Does Haughty Gaul Invasion Threat known popularly
as The Dumfries Volunteers (1795). The song caused outrage among the
United Irishmen who took exception to its apparent retreat from a radical
position. According to his Irish audience, Burns the one-time radical was
now working happily as a British customs officer, snuggling up to the
British government in return for a handsome salary. After all, the
subscribers to Thomsons poetry included leading United Irishmen.
parody O Scotias Bard, my Muse, alas! (1795) was an impressive riposte
to what he perceived as Burnss abandonment of radical principles. He even
accuses him of buddying up with William Pitts Secretary of War Henry Dundas
Scotias Bard! My Muse alas!
For you in private blusters!
Youve dipt I th dish wi slee D[unda]s
An pricd the loaves and Fishes! (ll. 1-4)
reference to the biblical loaves and Fishes suggests that Burns has a
capitalist motivation to keep in with his Customs buddies. It is typical of
the exaggerated nettling that would characterise his many satires.
[10 Does haughty Gaul ]
parodies Burns almost word for word. Burns writes:
will not sing God Save the King,
Shall hang as high as the steeple,
But while we sing God Save the king,
Well neer forget THE PEOPLE!
I sing God Save the King,
And the Queen to keep him warm sir:
But may he high as Haman hing,
Who dares oppose REFORM Sir.
challenging Burns, Thomson reveals also the extent of his familiarity with
the Scottish poets earlier work; the stanza alludes to Burnss sexual
deflation of the British monarchy in A Dream (1786) where the poet refers
to George IIIs second son the Duke of York, who was a naval captain with a
reputation for love affairs. Burns satirises the duke using many
sexually-suggestive nautical images, describing how he has 'lately come
athwart her [...] large upon her quarter.'
Likewise, Thomson satirises the King and Queen, pointing out their common
humanity, relegating the king to a shivering elderly man and the Queen as
his hot water bottle.
Particularly where the parody is poetically superior to Burnss original,
it seems that O Scotias Bard is testimony to Thomsons growing confidence
to challenge the work of even his greatest poetic inspirations.
[11 Epigram to a Rank Aristocrat]
By the mid-1790s Thomson had discovered
both the potency of radical rhetoric and his own ability to shift easily in
and out of a number of poetic voices. Epigram to a Rank Aristocrat (1797)
demonstrates his ability to adopt the voice of cannibalistic Jacobin in
order to satirise extremist views. This vicious satire on a landed
gentleman, describes him as pork to be cooked hissing with eggs in a pan;
/ Eat up by some red hot Republican clown / And go to form parts of the
MAN! (ll. 10-12). The speaker implies that the gentleman from a haughty
Aristocrat knave / [might] Be made a good Citizen True! (ll. 15-16)
suggesting that the only way to make a deserving patriot of a landowner is
for him to be eaten and ingested by a true citizen.
I suggest that Thomson may be setting
his own speaker up here. In allowing the speaker of poem free reign, he
reveals his own violence and corrupt nature, much like Burns in Holy
Willies Prayer (1785). This poem is clearly a response to the French
Terror of the mid-1790s where the government leader Robespierre had ascended
to power at the top of the Committee for Public Safety and was responsible
for the largescale guillotining of so-called political enemies. Within days
of executing two French bishops, The Northern Star reported that Robespierre
had ordered the arrests of fellow government ministers Camille Desmoulins
(1760-1794) and Georges Danton (1759-1794). The editor was clearly
incredulous, attempting an evasive explanation, So ignorant have we, in
these countries been, and so little do we know of the actual situation of
[12 Tom Paine]
Events in France were becoming harder to justify. For the
Presbyterian members of the United Irishmen, there was another disturbing
development in France and that was the gradual erosion of the Christian
religion. Many, at first, welcomed the downfall of the Catholic churchs
special status, but it soon appeared that Christianity in general was to be
replaced by the Cult of the Supreme Being a form of Deism that many
considered as bad as atheism. Republican France was going too far. While
living in France, Thomas Paine released his second major work the Age of
Reason. In contrast to his ecstatically-received Rights of Man,
the Age of Reason was received with horror by many Christian writers,
especially the Presbyterians of the United Irishmen. They believed that God
was central to their republican spirit and were offended by what they
interpreted as a dangerous drift toward atheism in Thomas Paines latest
years previously, Paines first work the Rights of Man (1792) was
received with delight:
notes, with patriotic joy,
Now halls of
Man, the universal friend,
soon, no Tyrants shall annoy,
Kings to Freedoms Laws must bend.
immortal as thy deathless Name,
all the universe control,
And evry Bard,
with hers proclaim thy Fame;
From shore to
shore, from Indus to the Pole.
This poem, by James Glass, could not be more different to
Samuel Thomsons Answer to Paines Age of Reason written in the
late 1790s after the publication of Paines controversial second text:
But what could
provoke you to write such a babble,
And print it,
to poison the minds of the rabble? [...]
trifle O had it in wind
your republican section behind,
Or een like a
bull-frog kept croaking within,
Twoud have savd your poor
soul from a world of sin.
Thomson accused Paine of setting morals at odds, causing
men to Bawl out Revolution, and down with the Gods! (ll. 29-30) and
exciting cross parties to blows (ll. 36). How things had changed since the
days of youthful optimism in the beginning of the French Revolution. As
Wordsworth had put it, Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive! Thomsons
speaker in his poem is so angry that he loses himself in abusive language,
Tis likely, perhaps, you esteem it a farce, / That theres any such thing
as a hole in your a---, but eventually he calms down and pities Thomas
Paine now in exile in America:
wasp of commotion, the football of fate,
driven from state unto state,
to join the political fray,
wars, guilt and gibbets to stay [
Thomson ends on a note of overwhelming sympathy for Paine as
a fellow misled radical; the Revolutionary settlement had not produced the
achievements expected and had failed to liberate Ireland.
with France heightened, the state of alert in Britain as a whole is
unmistakable. A French invasion was expected imminently. Even the rural
poets found that their activities were being watched by the Government.
Alexander Kemp wrote to Thomson when he discovered that while he was in
Dublin during 1798, Government agents had questioned his neighbours about
the content of his writings and political opinions. Aeneas Lamonts
constant updates to Thomson sent news of the arrest and trial of his
Northern Star colleagues in Belfast on the eve of the 1798 rebellion. He
was to meet them when they were released. In order to be trusted with the
business of the prisoners, Lamont was obviously involved to a great extent
in United Irish circles. In 1796 Thomsons friend Jemmy Hope was given the
task of carrying messages to the Kilmainham prisoners [
] in Dublin
[including] five young men of Belfast
This group included the Northern Star editor Samuel Neilson and a
number of the poets friends. The fact that Hope was so closely involved in
the mission is perhaps the reason that Lamont wrote to Thomson to inform him
of the delay. You may remember that Thomsons best friend Luke Mullan was
Hopes brother-in-law, and Thomson appears to have been charged with
carrying Mullans news from the British Navy to his family in Ulster. Having
spent time in Scotland as a ploughman and, possibly, as an actor in a
traveling play, Mullan was very much reluctant to serve in the Navy,
referring to the ship as prison.
Mullan's entry into the navy is shrouded in strange
circumstances; it follows a literary pilgrimage to Scotland in 1794 where he
met with Robert Burns.
From here, Mullan travelled to Edinburgh. A two-year gap in
the correspondence then occurs during which time Mullan seems to have fled
Scotland in a hurry and had most of his possessions carried off or seized.
He reappears in Thomsons correspondence in 1796, at which point he has
taken a position, rather inexplicably, as a purser onboard a British naval
ship. Writing from Spithead and Gosport while in port onboard HMS Queen
Charlotte, he wrote many emotional fraternal letters to Samuel Thomson. The
subsequent coded discussion of politics and the careful references to the
progress of the United Irish revolutionary campaign with France reveal a man
whose sympathies lay anywhere but with the British navy in which he was
My wishes in
respect to my country, I assure you my dear friend, are as ardent for peace
as any of you; if peace is most to the general advantage but you know that
there are circumstances when the most cruel war is not more abhorable than
an inglorious state of peaceable slavery
[13- Picture of mess]
at best, a reluctant British serviceman. It has even been suggested that he
may have been a United Irish infiltrator within the navy. His journey
through Scotland, apparently under the false name of Beattie,
occurred during the time as the United Irish Society actively sought to
cultivate a sister organisation in Scotland. At the height of his activity
in the navy, Mullans brother-in-law Jemmy Hope was a leading Belfast United
Irish man, preparing with Henry Joy McCracken at that very moment for a
Furthermore, Mullan was at the centre of the greatest naval mutiny that the
British Navy has ever seen the Spithead Mutiny of 1797in which several
United Irish naval infiltrators helped to disable the British fleet for a
number of weeks. He mentions this cautiously in his letters to Thomson. The
Royal Navy was the bastion of British global power and its infiltration by
British and Irish insurgents was the singlemost terrifying revolutionary
event for the English in the 1790s. That Mullan may have been in the
employment of the United Irishmen, possibly passing news back to his
brother-in-law Jemmy Hope in Ireland, is an interesting point of
[16 & 17 Circle 1790s]
correspondence mentions nothing of the rebellion itself, and the lengthy
silence of his pen and the gap in his correspondence is ominous. You can
see how the circle becomes depleted by 1799 and the poets who remain tend to
be less radical and more middle class. Thomson was forced to watch his
circle disintegrate as the United Irish members Orr and Hope fled into
exile. We know that Luke Mullan survived to tell the tale of his adventures
with Burns he returned home at some point prior to 1800. He was lucky -
the naval ship he had served on in the 1790s blew up in the Mediterranean,
killing all 637 men onboard.
Nothing is known of the fate of James Glass other than that he was in poor
health and planned to emigrate to America in 1797.
And Alexander Kemp was preparing to leave Ireland for London in 1798 in the
hope of making his poetic career there.
Whether the poets fought and were exiled, or stayed at home and hid from the
consequences of the rebellion, they were equally traumatised by their
[18 House burning]
Historical records demonstrate the particularly devastating
consequences of insurrection for Thomsons home town of Templepatrick. It
also refers to the harbouring of rebel fugitives in his neighbourhood of
Lyle Hill. The repercussions of the failed rebellion changed the political
landscape of Templepatrick entirely. The army burned Thomsons village to
the ground in retaliation for their rebel activities. One historian claimed
Ordnance Survey Memoirs record that They
received such a warning, in the deaths of many of the inhabitants and in the
burning of their village, that they have not since meddled in politics.
A worse fate befell the Reverend James Porter, to whom
Thomson had dedicated a poem in 1797. Porter was a gifted astronomy lecturer
and Thomson paid tribute to his Scientific eye, exploring space,/
Pursuing far the philosophic race, / From Mercurys disk to utmost Saturns
ring He had also authored a satire Billy Bluff and the Squire
(1796) which lampooned his landlord Lord Londonderry. Londonderry got his
revenge in 1798 making Porter one of highest profile United Irish martyrs in
the north of Ireland,. He was hanged in front of his own Presbyterian
meeting house on 14 June 1798.
While the defeat of the Irish rebels at Antrim by
no means quelled the movement altogether, the poets were not silenced. Hope
regrouped with the Dublin United Irishmen, working towards a second
rebellion,. This was Robert Emmets ill-fated Rebellion of 1803 in which
the leaders were executed. Once again, Hope amazingly survived to tell the
tale. Others condemned their former radicalism, having become utterly
disillusioned. Others were angered by the failure of the French to do as
they promised and come to Irelands aid.
By 1799, many moderates were convinced that a French invasion
would have done more harm than good, as one wrote in the Belfast News
When the French Revolution
commenced in 1789, there were few honest men that did not wish it success
[...] HOW HAVE OUR HOPES BEEN REALIZED? RELIGION is laughed at [
more printing presses put down in a week, than were silenced in England or
Ireland for one hundred years. [
] Wherever they [the French] go you find
them confounding the true principles of freedom with the false, exciting the
poor against the rich, and ruining both [...] by the never-failing
consequences that fall to every country they enter [
following week, Palemon of Antrim contributed a poem in honour of Lord
Bridport, commander of the British fleet, quoting Burnss The Dumfries
Volunteers in a purely loyalist context: Rejoice Britannia, if the
fleets engage, / Then haughty Gaul will feel great Bridports rage.
[19 Napoelon and Pitt]
Even in the
most resistant county of Ulster, the general mood appeared now in favour of
the defence of Britain and Ireland against a common French enemy.
Even Thomsons disgust with Napoleons imperialism is evident from
his poem Lilt to a Frog (1799).The frog had evidently come to represent
the aggressive Frenchman in the British popular press. The poem compares the
French peoples relationship with the Bourbon monarchy with the biblical
Israels demands for a king:
like the Jews,
Without a king
Sent one, which
in a day
Or less, they
wishd in hell!
The poets counsel, Go to hell and seek redress, / Or
live just as you are implies that French republicans, who deposed one
king only to gain an Emperor in Napoleon, have got exactly what they
deserve. Invoking the biblical history of the Israelites, the fable is
further evidence that Thomsons political radicalism lies much deeper in his
Dissenting Presbyterian republicanism than in his contact with French
Enlightenment thought, but it demonstrates also that he retains a measure of
ambivalence toward the British state. Condemning monarchy had obvious
implications for the monarchical government of Britain. Thomson obviously
agreed with the Americans it is better to live without a king altogether.
Union period, there was plenty of opportunity for formrs radicals to prove
their loyalty to the crown by joining the voices calling for a parliamentary
Union between Ireland and Britain as Lord Byron called it the union of
the shark with his prey. Instead, Thomson a number of Belfast reformists
who published in Belfasts nineteenth century anti-Union journals. Thomson
felt that the rebellion of 1798 had handed the British Government exactly
what it wanted the excuse to force the union. Yet as a United Irish
brother bard, he could not condemn the armed activity of his brother bards
like James Orr. Orr himself was highly critical of his own rebel army at
the Battle of antrim, describing in his poem Donegore Hill the mass
desertion that took place. He points to the oath sworn by the United
Irishmen, that ilk loun will swear to, never swithrin, but reflects that a mans honour, if hastily sworn, is tested
and found wanting in the face of battle.
Thomson came to a discovery similar to that of Wordsworths
disillusioned radical; that is, the recognition that much of human destiny
relies on the actions of a single person, such as a Robespierre who
distorted liberty into terror, or a Napoleon who transformed that terror
into tyranny. To accept the Romantic idea of the individual destiny would,
in Thomsons case, be expressed in explicitly Christian terms, rather than
the humanist, egoistic terms of Wordsworth:
Would individuals but REFORM THEMSELVES,
And represent them, each the virtuous man
REFORM of parliaments would come of will
And vile dissension from the land would fly.
Ye powers, that order from confusion bring,
Give health and peace to meditate my
Preserve my friends and thro the Summer months,
Ill sing exulting from the brow of Life.
Jennifer Orr and the "renowned Burns Cottage
cup" that is presented to each speaker
(Photo courtesy of Burns Club member Keith Dunn)
A Mans a Man for a that (1795) in
Poems and Songs,
Myrtle Hill, Millennial Expectancy in Late 18th-Century
Ulster, in Protestant millennialism, evangelicalism
and Irish society, 1790-2005,
eds. Gribben and Holmes,
eds., (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006;
hereafter Protestant millennialism),
The author of the following poem, sent a
copy of it to Mr Burns some time ago, who was not only pleased with
the compliments it contains, but expressed his admiration of his
talents and genius, and requested Mr Thomson to accept a present of
Books as a token of esteem from his Scotch friend. (NS,
18-21 April 1792.)
L[uke] M[ullan], Craigarogan, The
Linnet, a Tale, NS 4-7 Apr. 1792.
S. Thomson, The Thoughtful Bard,
Rebellion Papers 620/19/77. I am grateful to Professor Colin Walker
for drawing my attention to the existence of this poem.
Thuente, Harp Re-Strung, 3.
Lyle [Samuel Thomson], Lines addressed to Mr. William McNeil, on
his embarkation with his Family to America, NS, 28 Sep. 1
Myrtle Hill, Millenial Expectancy in Late 18th-Century
trade in the eighteenth century can be viewed as the main branch of
Irish foreign trade or as the most indispensable factor in the
countrys economic development, (L. M. Cullen, Anglo-Irish Trade
1600-1800, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1968), 205.
A Mans a Man for a that (1795), in Poems and Songs,
Orr, A Prayer written on the unfortunate
eve of 7th June 1798, Poems, 26.
They included Henry Joy McCracken, John Hughes, Samuel Neilson,
James Orr, John Rabb, William Simms, Thomas Storey, Bartholomew
Teeling and William Tennent, (Thomson,
Gray, Burns and his Visitors from Ulster, 331.
Dundas was a much maligned figure in radical circles, being Pitts
chief advisor in respect of the war with Revolutionary France and a
key opponent of the abolition of the Slave Trade. He was also
responsible for the arrest of United Irishman Thomas Muir, (Hugh
The slave trade : the history of the Atlantic slave trade, 1440-1870,
(London: Phoenix, 2006), 549.)
Dream (1786), in
Poems and Songs,
NS, 10-14 Apr.,
Feb., 1792, p. 4.
Answer to Paines Age of Reason
(1799), Thomson, New Poems, pp. 164-165,
R.R Madden, The United Irishmen, 246.
Mullan-Thomson, 4 Feb. 1797 in
J.Creighton-Thomas Beatty[Luke Mullan],
26 Sep. 1794, in Correspondence, 49.
Mullan wrote to Thomson on 15 May 1797 to inform him in vague
language that the mutiny was all happily settled. (Correspondence,
140 men and officers of the HMS Queen
Charlotte survived, all of whom were on shore, (BNL, 8 April
James Glass-Samuel Thomson, 20 Dec. 1796,
in Correspondence, 101.
Kemp-Thomson, 17 Dec. 1797,
Correspondence, 114. Thomson dedicated a sequence of sonnets to
Kemp in his New Poems (1799), describing him as a particular
friend of the poet, now in London, (New Poems, 234).
Belfast News-Letter, 7 May 1799.
BNL, 21 May 1799 (my emphasis).
Orr, Donegore Hill (1804), in