Drew, Sir Thomas (1838–1910), architect and antiquary, was born 18 September 1838 at Victoria Place, Belfast, into the large family of the Rev. Dr Thomas Drew (qv), son of a Limerick grocer, and Isabella Drew (née Dalton; 1802–69), daughter of a Dublin attorney. A sister, Catherine Drew (qv), was a prominent London journalist and an early champion of women's rights. Dr Drew, an evangelical preacher, served between 1833 and 1859 as rector of Christ Church (the Free Church), Durham St., Belfast, a parish situated at the interface of protestant and catholic artisan neighbourhoods. On 12 July 1857 the clergyman, who was also grand chaplain to the Orange order, delivered an inflammatory address which led to a week of rioting in the town. He later served in the rural parish of Seaforde, Co. Down, and as precentor of Down cathedral.
Thomas jnr was educated in Belfast and in 1854 articled to the Antrim county surveyor and architect Charles Lanyon (qv). Drew is said to have been particularly influenced by Lanyon's talented partner William Henry Lynn (qv). In 1859 he acted for the firm as clerk of works on the construction of Killashee, a country house near Naas, Co. Kildare; in the mid 1880s he was called back to rebuild it after a major fire. In 1861 he formed a brief partnership in Belfast with Thomas Turner, who, like Lanyon, had been a pupil of the board of works architect Jacob Owen. However, in 1862 Drew moved to Dublin to join the practice of William George Murray (c.1822–1871) as principal assistant, a post which he held until 1867. He married (1871) Murray's sister, Adelaide Anne (‘Ada’) (c.1840–1913). Their father, the architect William Murray senior (1785–1849), was a cousin, pupil, and associate of Francis Johnston (qv), and had succeeded him in a number of public works posts. As with Johnston, Drew and his wife were to remain childless. Drew assisted W. G. Murray with prominent commercial buildings in Dublin and Belfast, notably the Union Bank (now National Irish Bank) in College Green (1864–6) which he later extended, in 1873–6. This was in the High Victorian Gothic style, introduced to Dublin in the 1850s, as Drew himself later observed, in the ground-breaking Ruskin-inspired buildings of Deane & Woodward.
After leaving Murray's office, Drew set up in private practice at 60 Upper Sackville St. Among the largely taciturn Irish architectural fraternity of the Victorian era, Drew soon stood out as a fluent speaker and writer, with a passionate interest in antiquities and a skill with measured drawings and watercolours. He had a shrewd eye for emerging architectural trends, though unlike Deane and Woodward, he was at heart an eclectic. The Dublin Builder (later retitled the Irish Builder), to which he contributed many articles, had marked him out in 1862 as a ‘rising young architect’. He was to serve for a time as its editor, assisted by his sister Catherine. In 1863 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI), which awarded him its Fitzgerald medal in 1866 for a set of measured drawings of the Portlester chapel in St Audoen's church, Dublin. He later joined the Royal Institute of British Architects. Drew was also prominent in the Masonic order. One of his first independent commissions was for an infill shop and office building at 6 St Stephens Green, for the merchant Robert Smyth, which he designed in a polychromatic Ruskinian style. He subsequently operated his practice from these offices between 1873 and 1888 before moving to 22 Clare St., where he remained until his death. Other prominent works in the centre of Dublin included the neo-baroque Ulster Bank on College Green, 1888–91 (interiors demolished, 1975) and the Tudor-revival Graduates Memorial Building in TCD (1899–1902). In the inner suburbs he designed Rathmines town hall (1890–97), perhaps his best building, with a neo-renaissance Dumfries sandstone façade and a copper-clad campanile. Old red sandstone was also a feature of St Kevin's church (C. of I.), South Circular Road (1886–9, later converted to apartments). Drew was a joint entrant, assisted by his friend William Mansfield Mitchell, in the 1883 competition for a National Library and Museum on Kildare St., to be located on either side of the eighteenth-century Leinster House. Their shortlisted, but ultimately unsuccessful, Palladian design was intended to pay homage to its designer, being entered under the pseudonym ‘Ricardo Castello 1745’.
In the early 1900s Drew worked on a number of public buildings in Dublin, including the Four Courts, where he constructed a neo-baroque law library (burned 1922); the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, where he oversaw the restoration of the chapel ceiling; and the Fusiliers’ Arch, at the corner of St Stephens Green, where he assisted J. Howard Pentland of the board of works. In the 1890s he was employed on extensions to two district asylums, Maryborough (Portlaoise) and Kilkenny, where he added a pair of towers.
Apart from Dublin, the greatest concentration of Drew buildings is in north-east Ulster, where he served as diocesan architect for Down, Dromore, and Connor from 1865. In Belfast he designed the churches of St Stephen's, Millfield (1869), St Andrew's, Hope St. (1870), and St Jude's, Ballynafeigh (1873). In 1896 he was appointed to design the diocese's third cathedral, St Anne's, Belfast. The rapidly expanding town had been made a city in 1888. His first proposal, for a thirteenth-century Gothic building, was set aside on the advice of his old master, W. H. Lynn. In 1898 he came up with a cheaper Romanesque alternative, which could be built in sections as funds permitted. Only the nave, consecrated in 1904, was built in his lifetime and in accordance with his masterplan, the remaining sections being simplified as a succession of architects advanced the project through to the 1980s (with a modern stainless steel spire added over the crossing in 2007). Drew also worked at different times on the two Dublin cathedrals and on Waterford and Derry cathedrals. His domestic architecture in Dublin covered a broad range, from artisan dwellings to merchants’ villas. His country house work included a major extension to Lough Rynn, Co. Leitrim (1885–90), originally designed by his wife's father. The work was neo-Tudor, like his reconstruction of Rathrobin, King's Co. (Offaly) (c.1890, burned 1921), but the latter was unusual in that the walls were constructed of unrendered mass concrete.
In his later years he served as president of a number of institutions: the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (1889–1901), the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland (1894–7), the Royal Hibernian Academy (1900–10) and the Royal Society of Ulster Architects (1901–3). During his unprecedented twelve years at the head of the RIAI he delivered annual lectures, which it published. In the photographic portrait of him in the institute's collection he presents a striking figure, stocky and bald with a bushy beard and exuding self-confidence. He was awarded a knighthood in Queen Victoria's birthday honours of 1900. A year later, as the elder statesman of the Irish profession, he was one of five architects invited to submit designs for the Queen Victoria memorial in London. In 1902 he was one of six architects asked to submit portfolios in the preliminary competition for Liverpool cathedral, and in 1905 he was awarded an honorary LLD by the University of Dublin. Shortly before his death he was appointed professor of architecture at the NUI.
From 1879 onwards he lived in Gortnadrew, one half of a pair of semi-detached houses of his own design, on Alma Road in Monkstown, Co. Dublin. For many years he served as a commissioner of the local township of Blackrock. He died on 13 March 1910, a month after an unsuccessful operation for appendicitis, and was buried in Deansgrange cemetery. He is commemorated in a memorial brass in Christ Church cathedral, Dublin. His wife survived him by three years and in her will bequeathed back to the RIAI the loving cup presented to her husband in commemoration of his knighthood, and to the Belfast Art Gallery (latterly Ulster Museum) a portrait (1852) of his father Thomas. A portrait of Sir Thomas by Walter Osborne (qv) is held in the NGI.