Casting a Light on the Emerald Isle

Red Barn Gallery exhibition traces the origins of Ireland's famous moniker through the poetry of William Drennan

Ireland is often referred to as 'the Emerald Isle', but have you ever wondered where the phrase originated? Author and historian Raymond O’Regan believes that he has the answer.

'I think its first mention is in the poem 'When Erin First Rose' by William Drennan, who was a physician and radical with close ties to the United Irishmen', explained O’Regan, at the launch of a new exhibition at the Red Barn Gallery, Belfast.

'Drennan was a man of science, politics, the arts and a keen observer of the political and social upheavals of the time. The exhibition features extracts from his writings and offers an insight into a turbulent time in Irish history.'

Much of the material is taken from the 1400 letters Drennan wrote to his sister Martha McTier and her husband Sam, which O'Regan plans to bring to life as a new theatrical work before the end of 2016.

'I’ve written a play, Quote Unquote, based on the correspondence between Drennan and his sister,' he said. 'It will be staged at the First Presbyterian Church on Rosemary Street later in the year.'

O'Regan is known for having authored the best-selling book Hidden Belfast: Benevolence, Blackguards and Balloon Heads, published by Mercier Press in 2010. He also lectures in Irish History at Queen's University and recently led tours uncovering the bygone days of the city's Folktown quarter.

The Red Barn Gallery meanwhile has announced it will imminently be moving its premises to the Conway Mill in West Belfast, taking on a new life where its photographic archives will be preserved. Further news on the project is expected to come soon.

The Emerald Isle exhibition runs just this week, from Monday, April 25 until Friday April 29 at the Red Barn Gallery, Belfast. The space is open 10am to 5pm daily.