Roaring Hugh Hanna

Controversial preacher and political agitator in nineteenth century Belfast

Uncompromising Presbyterian clergyman, anti-Catholic agitator and street orator, Hugh Hanna was born in Dromara, Co Down, around 1824.

On the death of his grandmother, he joined his parents in Belfast, where he was a teacher at Townsend Street National School from 1844. Licensed to preach in 1851, he was ordained the following year. Hanna helped establish the congregation of St Enoch’s at a vacated church in Berry Street, near Carlisle Circus, and remained there until his retirement from the ministry in 1891.

In the heated political atmosphere of the 1850s and 1860s, Hanna’s fiery street preaching inflamed public opinion. A public sermon in Corporation Square in September 1857 ended in a riot. In 1872 he stirred Protestant mobs in opposition to a nationalist demonstration and serious disturbances followed. However, Hanna also held office as a commissioner for National Education in 1880, and was chaplain to the garrison of Belfast.

Hugh Hanna’s religious and political activities continued to divide opinion. A biographer of 1890 describes ‘a mind that combined strong Protestant convictions after the Scottish pattern with a spirit of British patriotism.’ Ian Paisley writes that ‘Dr Hanna was in the great evangelical succession of Ulster Protestant protagonists.’ For another twentieth century author, Hanna was simply ‘notorious’.

Hugh Hanna died in 1892 and is buried at Balmoral cemetery. A statue was erected in his honour at Carlisle Circus in 1894, but was blown up in 1970.

Further Reading:
Dictionary of Ulster Biography (1993) by K Newmann; Hugh Hanna: Protestant champion and warrior against Romanism and Republicanism (1972) by David G Browne; Holy War in Belfast (1969) by Andrew Boyd; St Enoch’s Church, Belfast and Rev Dr Hanna (1890) by Nemo.

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