A new book tells the almost forgotten story of Ballyroney man Samuel Neilson and his role in the United Irishmen.
‘The Belfast Jacobin - Samuel Neilson and the United Irishmen’ by Kenneth L. Dawson charts the life and legacy of Neilson, who was a founding member of the Society of United Irishmen.
Originally from Ballyroney, Neilson was born to a Presbyterian minister, Alexander, and his wife Agnes. Like many of his generation, he was influenced by events in the United States and France and sought to establish a political society of Irishmen of every religious persuasion.
It was Neilson who joined Wolfe Tone and Thomas Russell at the inaugural meeting of the United Irishmen in 1791, forming a radical front that would challenge the political realities of the day in increasingly strident ways.
As editor of the Northern Star, Neilson was a pivotal figure in radical politics and progressive thought throughout the 1790s, which culminated in the 1798 Rebellion.
A key player in the planning of the rebellion, Neilson was arrested on the word of informers. He was imprisoned in Scotland, deported to the Netherlands in 1802, and eventually made his way to the US. He died in New York, just shy of his 43rd birthday.
Dawson’s biography is a considerable addition to the study of the period and highlights the great significance of the United Irishmen. Due to be launched on September 5 in Belfast’s Linen Hall Library at 6.30pm, the book is available in paperback, RRP: £22.99.