Martha and Samuel McTier

Husband and wife heavily involved in the United Irishmen

Martha ‘Matty’ McTier was a sister of the United Irishman William Drennan. When her brother moved to Edinburgh in 1776, she became his dedicated correspondent for more than 40 years. The Drennan-McTier letters now survive virtually intact, and were published in 1999. They provide a fascinating insight into late eighteenth and early nineteenth century politics, society and art, the United Irishmen and the growth of Belfast.

Martha married Samuel McTier, a widower with an 11 year old daughter, in 1773. McTier was a chandler by trade, but in 1781 became bankrupt through a combination of bad luck and poor judgment. In 1785, he worked as the ballast master to the new Harbour Commission in Belfast, and later as a notary public. He was kind, good-natured, honest and reliable, and a popular, convivial man who enjoyed a good election riot. Martha was intelligent, resilient, resourceful and direct. She loved gambling, but always managed to quit before she lost too much. They had a happy marriage.

In 1791, Samuel was appointed President of the First Belfast Society of United Irishmen, and their home became a centre for United Irish activity. Neither of the Drennan siblings were involved in the 1798 rebellion directly, although the family made friends of many United Irish leaders. There were rumours, however, that Martha was writing for the Northern Star.

Samuel McTier died suddenly in 1795, but left no will, and his widow was forced to live in reduced circumstances. Martha herself died in 1837.

Further reading:
The Drennan-McTier Letters 1776-1820, 3 vols (1999) edited by Jean Agnew. Some of their papers are also in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.

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