Drew, Thomas (1800–70), evangelical clergyman, was born 26 October 1800 near St Mary's abbey, Limerick city, son of George Drew, baker and grocer, and his wife Sara (or Sarah), daughter of the Rev. Thomas Ryan, chancellor of the Church of Ireland diocese of Emly. He had at least one younger brother, George, and a younger sister, Sarah, but there may have been other siblings. Thomas entered TCD 8 June 1819. He graduated BA (1826), LLB (1841) and MA, BD, and DD (1842). In 1827 he was ordained deacon in the Church of Ireland, and priest in 1828. In 1829–33 he served as curate at Broughshane in the joint parish of Skerry and Racavan, Co. Antrim, and was a relentless opponent of catholic emancipation, campaigning for its repeal after 1829.
In 1833 Drew was appointed first incumbent of the new parish of Christ Church, College Square, Belfast, where he remained until 1859. In 1838 he laid the first stone of the Magdalene Asylum and chapel. By then his Sunday congregations had exceeded 1,000. His pamphlet The church in Belfast (1838) pointed out that for the 20,000 inhabitants at least nominally adhering to the established church, there were only three churches and four clergymen. His efforts would dramatically increase both of these figures within the duration of his ministry.
Low church by inclination, he was an ardent member of the Orange order, which he served as grand chaplain. He fiercely opposed high-church anglicanism, suspected by many zealous protestants of tractarian, at worst Roman, sympathies. This puritan stance brought him, at length, into conflict with the bishop of Down and Connor, Richard Mant (qv), who had initially funded the establishment of Christ Church and worked with Drew in the church extension campaign of the 1830s and 1840s. Mant espoused a protestant respectability (‘Puseyism and prelatism’) that Drew despised for its lack of public fervour and its fondness for elegant ecclesiastical architecture. Drew oversaw the building of about twenty churches in and around Belfast, low-church in style, intended as memorials to protestant martyrs. He also built the Huss School and the Luther School. His direct confrontation with Bishop Mant in February 1843 by means of a memorial of censure exposed not only an anglican clash of ideals regarding outward display but indicated support for Drew ranging from signatories in both houses of parliament through deputy county lieutenants and JPs to members of the working class. Mant refused to be intimidated and used his ecclesiastical privilege to abolish the Church Accommodation Society, which funded Drew's efforts.
In 1841, the year in which the first ‘modern’ census of Ireland confirmed that catholics comprised by far the largest denomination in the country, Drew had refused to accept the statistic, suspecting it was a pretext for granting more concessions to catholics. His demagoguery was violently at odds with the establishment preference for polite intellectual dismay at the error of Rome. Nevertheless he was politically a tory and was chaplain to two successive lord lieutenants, Earl de Grey (qv) and Lord Heytesbury (qv). His militant sectarianism compounded his parishioners’ alarm at the perceived threat both to the union and to their own prosperity by granting religious freedom in a labour market of equal access. Drew evangelised his own flock but influenced many outside it, drawing moral support from the methodists and presbyterians of Belfast, to whom his polemical preaching style appealed. He harangued his listeners of the semi-respectable classes, his vision of popery and social upheaval contributing to the evangelical rebellion which divided Irish anglicanism until at least the 1860s. Other than the militant evangelism in which, by the late 1850s, he was matched by ‘Roaring’ Hugh Hanna (qv) of St Enoch's presbyterian church, Carlisle Circus, Belfast, Drew promoted financial and social support for his congregations. He had established the ill-fated Church Accommodation Society in 1838 as a channel to attract business funds for church-building, dispensaries and relief centres for the poor, and Sunday school excursions for children. He preached in Dublin on behalf of the Protestant Orphan Society in the early 1840s and had an undeniably positive effect on the living conditions of his spiritual dependants.
Drew's religious passion increased with age. Mant's death in 1848 cleared the way for even greater public fervour on his part. In 1854 he formed the Christ Church Protestant Association to reassert the evangelical cause against the rise of Roman catholicism. His most notorious attack on popery was delivered in the charged climate of 12 July 1857, during commemorations at Christ Church of the battle of the Boyne. He railed against the religious intolerance of Rome, specifying the torture of protestants, illuminated with graphic emphasis on human gore, hair, and prisons paved with bones. Assured of an emotive response, his words drove the congregation onto the streets, where catholics were already on heightened alert. A sectarian riot lasting ten days was exacerbated by the divided loyalties of the local police force, some of whom helped the rioters instead of bringing them under control. The commission of inquiry that investigated the riot reported in 1858 that Drew's sermon, quoted as evidence, had a role in its outbreak.
Undeterred, Drew thrived in his later career, convinced of the manifest destiny of Britain to evangelise the world. Between 1859 and his death he was both rector of Loughinisland, Co. Down, and precentor of Down cathedral, Downpatrick. He died 22 October 1870 at 60 Upper Sackville (subsequently O'Connell) St., Dublin. Drew, who left a legacy of popular protestant fervour, evangelical sermons, and hymns, was buried with his wife and two eldest daughters at Seaforde, near Loughinisland, Co. Down. St Philip's church, Belfast, built in 1872, was his memorial. A potrait (1852) by Thomas Clement Thompson, RHA, is held in the Ulster Museum, Belfast.
He married (24 March 1829) Isabella (d. 12 May 1869), second among three daughters of John K. Dalton, a Dublin lawyer. They had twelve children: four sons (Thomas 1 and 2, Robert Henry, and Francis William) and eight daughters (Elizabeth, Mary Jane, Arminella Frances, Isabella, Frances Anna, Catherine (qv), Harriet Alice, and Juliana Belmore). Tragedy overshadowed their lives: all but three daughters, Juliana, Harriet, and Catherine (who became a renowned pioneer of female journalism), died young or in infancy, while only the second of their sons survived childhood. He became Sir Thomas Drew (qv), architect; after their father's death he shared the house at 60 Upper Sackville St. with his sister Catherine until her departure for London in 1871.