Hanna, Hugh (1821–92), presbyterian minister, was born 25 February 1821 near Dromara, Co. Down, eldest among three sons and two (possibly three) daughters of Peter Hanna, of Dromara farming stock, and his wife Ellen née Finiston, whose father had served in the Black Watch regiment during the Napoleonic wars. In the 1820s, leaving their children behind, his parents moved to Belfast, where his father established a business turing out horse–cars. Hanna did not join them until the mid 1830s. His education reflected the modest nature of his upbringing: it was patchy and always combined with paid employment. In the 1830s he is said to have attended Bullick's Academy, a privately run commercial college in Belfast. In the 1840s, seemingly with the intention of preparing for the presbyterian ministry, he took classes at Belfast Academical Institution. In 1847 he entered the general assembly's newly established Theological College and, after some absences, obtained his licence to preach in 1851. During this time he had worked, first as a woollen-draper's assistant in High St. and then, after 1844, as a teacher in the national school associated with Townsend St. presbyterian church, where he was a member. He resigned his teaching post in January 1852, only a month before being ordained to full-time ministry. On 25 August that same year, Hanna married Frances (‘Fanny’) Spence Rankin, daughter of James Rankin, of Belfast, a salesman. Together they had four daughters and two sons.
Hanna's first, and only, pastorate was in a congregation that had emerged out of the evangelistic efforts he and other Townsend St. members had conducted among the working people of north Belfast. In 1852 they began meeting in the old Berry St. church and quickly grew from 75 to over 750 families. By 1869 a new building was essential and in 1870 the foundation stone for St Enoch's church was laid on Carlisle Circus, on property purchased from the Belfast Charitable Society. Opened in 1872 at a cost of nearly £10,000, it seated over 2,000 people and had two galleries. With 800 families and 2,500 Sunday-school scholars, it was one of the largest congregations in Belfast.
Hanna's influence as the leader of such a large flock was not translated into advancement within the presbyterian church. Although he served as the presbyterian chaplain to the Belfast garrison (1869–91) and as moderator of the presbytery (1879) and synod (1870–71) of Belfast, he did not achieve any position of note within the denomination as a whole. This was most likely because of his penchant for public controversy. Letters to the newspapers, calls for action in presbytery, and public platform debates over issues such as public-house licensing laws, Sabbath observance and property rights, branded him a destablising force. It is no doubt for this reason, rather than for his open-air preaching, of which he did very little, that he acquired his famous sobriquet, ‘Roaring Hugh’; his aggressive manner in debate was noted by the Belfast News Letter early in his career (23, 26, 28 Sept. 1853).
Hanna's political views contributed to his reputation as an intolerant firebrand. He was part of a small group of presbyterian clergy, led by the Rev. Henry Cooke (qv), who were staunch defenders of the protestant interest and active supporters of the conservative cause. He hosted ‘anti-popery’ lectures in his church and joined the Orange Order (LOL 1121), serving briefly, in 1871, as the deputy grand chaplain for Belfast (County Grand Lodge). His determination to uphold the ‘right’ of protestants to preach in the open air sparked a series of violent sectarian riots (and a government inquiry) in Belfast in 1857. As the century progressed, and as the presbyterian community's political allegiances began to shift, Hanna became one of a group of prominent figures associated with two populist campaigns: opposition in the 1860s to the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland and subsequently to the introduction of home rule. In 1886, as one of the honorary secretaries of the Ulster Constitutional Club, he helped to found the Ulster Loyalist Anti-Repeal Union, a forerunner of what eventually became the Ulster Unionist Party.
Such activity has overshadowed his impressive contribution to education. Within St Enoch's he established an enormous network of Sunday schools and evening classes, including a training institute for teachers. As a former teacher, and later as a commissioner of national education (1880–92), he was a firm advocate of the national system, and set up six national schools in north and west Belfast.
Hanna received only two honours: a DD from the theological faculty of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (1885) and an LLD from Galesville University, Wisconsin (1888). In good health throughout his life, he died suddenly of a heart attack on 3 February 1892. Buried with much fanfare in Balmoral cemetery, Belfast, he was clearly held in high regard by surviving friends and colleagues. In 1892 the Orange Order approved the naming of LOL 1956 as the ‘Hanna Memorial’, and in 1894 a bronze statue depicting him in full ecclesiastical garb was erected in Carlisle Circus. Since then, Hanna's achievements have fallen on hard times. In March 1970 a bomb blast toppled his statue from its plinth; several high-profile attempts to re-erect it failed. After an arson attack in 1985, and with falling numbers, the decision was taken in 1992 to demolish St Enoch's and unite with the neighbouring Duncairn church in a new, much smaller, building on the site.