Driscol, Denis (1762–1811), newspaper proprietor and radical, was born in Co. Cork. Little is known about his parentage and details of his early career are sparse, but he was born into a catholic family wealthy enough to provide him with an education on the continent. Having trained as a priest, possibly in Spain, Driscol returned to Cork. In July 1789 he lost his faith in catholicism and decided to conform to the Church of Ireland. The reasons for this conversion are unclear, but it is possible that he saw it as a way of improving his career prospects. He became a curate at the French Reformed church in Cork city, where he also established his newspaper, the Cork Gazette. As editor of the Gazette Driscol voiced a loyalist political philosophy, but when he lost his post as curate in August 1791 he eschewed his loyalist beliefs in favour of values influenced by the French revolution.
The personal transformation that he experienced from loyalist curate to Painite radical was reflected in the pages of the Cork Gazette and by the end of 1792 the paper was a promoter of radical reform and French revolutionary principles. Many of the ideas set out by Driscol in the Gazette were more advanced than those put forward by the United Irishmen. For instance, he advocated universal manhood suffrage, annual parliaments, abolition of property qualifications, and payment for MPs well before these became official policies of the United Irishmen in 1794. By this stage he had also become a deist and through his paper he made clear his opposition to tithes, abuses, and corruption within the Church of Ireland, and exhibited his personal hostility to catholic ‘priestcraft’. Driscol was close to other deists and radicals in Cork city at this time – Henry Sheares (qv), John Sheares (qv), and John Daly Burk (qv), all of whom became involved with the United Irishmen in Cork.
The widespread dissemination of the Cork Gazette in the south of Ireland coupled with its radical message at a time of war with revolutionary France perhaps made it inevitable that Driscol would fall foul of the law. An unsuccessful attempt was made to prosecute him in 1793, but in April 1794 he was convicted for seditious libel and was sentenced to two years' imprisonment. He was defended at his trial by the Sheares brothers and Thomas Addis Emmet (qv). The Cork Gazette continued to be published with the assistance of the United Irishman John Swiney (qv) while Driscol was in prison, and he returned to the editorship of his paper on his release. He continued to purvey his radical message, which resulted in the Cork Gazette's facing prosecution again in the autumn of 1797, when the government pursued its policy of repression against the United Irishmen and other radical newspapers such as the Northern Star. Driscol struck a deal with the attorney general to suspend the prosecution in return for closing the Cork Gazette and he was released on security of £1,000. After this he sank into poverty and in 1799 successfully applied to Dublin Castle for a passport to go to America.
On his arrival in America, Driscol initially settled in New York city, where he became an enthusiastic member of a deist philanthropic society, the Theophilanthropists. He became the editor of the magazine of the society, the Temple of Reason, published in New York (1800–01) until he moved it to Philadelphia (1801–3). The magazine promoted deism and defended President Thomas Jefferson against accusations of atheism, though its circulation and readership were small. Driscol became disillusioned with the petty squabbling among the deists of Philadelphia and moved on to Baltimore, where in September 1802 he established the American Patriot, a newspaper opposed to the federalists. Driscol sold the American Patriot to his printers in Baltimore in April 1803 and in early 1804 he settled in Georgia, where he owned and edited the Augusta Chronicle, a newspaper which asserted republican principles. This marked a retreat in his Painite political philosophy and he promoted representative republicanism as a more viable creed than simple democracy. He opened a bookshop in Georgia in May 1804 that was well stocked with political and deist writings and it is possible, in common with other radical immigrants who settled in the southern states, that he owned some slaves. He remained in Georgia until his death in March 1811 after a long illness, writing his final editorial in December 1810. He married, probably after his arrival in America, but the details of his wife are not known.