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The Brennan/Brannen Dynasty

Walter Brennan

Walter Brennan

The brennans of belfast

The Brennan family of Belfast

Brennan Crest

Sub hoc signo vinces - Under this sign you will conquer.  

Danny's Branch of the TREE

THE BRENNAN (Formally Brannen)


From an Irish surname derived from Ó Braonáin meaning "descendent of Braonán". Braonán is a given name meaning "sorrow"


This is the family history page of my husband Danny's paternal ancestors.


Hugh Brannen married Hester McNichol on the 16th July 1832 in Carlisle, Cumberland, England

They had four children: John, James, Margaret, Margaret

James Brannen married Catherine Lynch on the 21st August 1858 in St Mary and St Joseph's RC Church, Carlisle, Cumberland, England

They had ten children: Mary, Hester Maria, Hugh, James, John, Edward, Catherine Rosiland, Margaret, Margaret, John Valentine

Hugh married Elizabeth Kearns on the 20th January 1886 in St Peter's RC Church, Belfast

They had one child: Walter

Walter marrid Mary Ambrosine Mulholland on the 16th April 1907 in St Peter's RC Church, Belfast

They had ten children: Mabel, Hugh, Ambrose, Walter, John (Jack), Pauline Imelda, Vincent, Sara Patricia (Patsy), Una Kathleen and Mary.

Ambrose Brennan married Molly Marron in St Paul's RC Church, Belfast on the 26th December 1940

They had 4 children: Gerard Joseph, Margaret, Daniel Seamus and Paul

Daniel married Bridget Cassidy

They had 3 children

The story of the Brennan or Brannan dynasty begins with four brothers who moved to Carlisle, England in the early 19th century. They were David, Lewis, Hugh and Edward. The third brother, Hugh was born in 1809 and is the 4th paternal great grandfather of my children.

Overview of Hugh Brennan

He first appears in the 1841 Carlisle census and at the time he was working as a Dyer Foreman at Fergusson Brothers Holme Head Works.  The Ferguson Brothers were spinners, weavers, bleachers, printers and finishers who moved to Holme Head in 1828. Their factory closed in 1991 with the loss of 200 textile jobs. Some of the factory buildings have been redeveloped for housing.

Living with Hugh  were his wife Hester, sons John (aged 6), James (aged 3), baby daughter Margaret (aged 1), nephew Lewis (aged 3), sister-in-law Mary McNichol and brother David Brannen.

In December of 1841 the family suffered a terrible blow when Margaret not yet two years old was accidentally burned to death at the family home.  Her screams were heard by Robert Fergusson who immediately tried to rescue her but being so severely burned she died a few hours later of her injuries.  The story appeared in the local paper and Robert went on to become Mayor of Carlisle.

In October of 1842 Hester gave birth to another daughter also called Margaret.  Sadly within eight months of her birth tragedy struck again when her father Hugh died of Typhus fever at the age of 34 leaving behind his wife and young family.   This would have been a major blow not only emotionally but also financially as Hester would have been pretty much alone with three very young children. 

English St Carlisle

English Street, Carlisle

At some point before 1851 she and her children moved to Stubbs Buildings in English Street, Carlisle where she met John Clowney.  She and John had two children together Edward and Mary before he too sadly died.  Hester worked as a dressmaker and by 1865 she had met and married widower Nicholas Bell a Millwright from Maryport in Cumberland!

Hester and Hugh's oldest child John was an engine fitter and in 1857 he married a Geordie lass called Mary Bowman from Bedington.  They had 12 children together seven of whom where born in Darlington in Durham. Their second child Henry was born in Arbroath, Angus in Scotland where John worked for a while.   

John Brannen/Brennan 1911 census

Above is a copy of the 1911 census showing John Brennan (Brannen) his wife Mary and son Henry living at 14 Frank St, Benwell, Newcastle Upon Tyne.

James worked as cotton manufacturer's clerk in Carlisle and in Augst of 1858 he married Catherine Lynch from County Cavan, Ireland in St Mary's and St Joseph's RC Church, Carlisle.  Catherine was the daughter of farmer Peter Lynch and she worked as a cotton spinner probably  in the same factory as her husband.

James and Catherine had at least ten children together.  The couple's first child Mary was born on the 16th May 1859 at Carin Terrace Wetheral, Carlisle.  In August of 1860 Hesse Maria was born at home in Alfred Court, Wilburn Street, Carlisle.  Shortly after this the couple moved to Ireland because their second child Hugh was born on the 20th of April 1862 in Belfast, County Antrim. 

James worked for many years as a powerloom tenter in the local linen mill.  In Britain cotton dominated the textile industry throughout the 19th century but in Ireland the chief fabric was linen.  In Belfast during the mid nineteenth century there was a massive growth in the number of linen mills and along with ship building it became one of the chief employers in the city.  Like the cotton mills in Britain employees endured similar poor working conditions and low wages.  Many earned a penny or even less per hour. 

A powerloom tenter would tend a tenter frame which stretched the fabric in width removing wrinkles and drying the cloth after processes such as dyeing and finishing.  It was also the job of the tenter to maintain the machine used for this process.

tentering frame

Picture above illustrates the job of the Tenter

Despite working in an industry that demanded long working  hours with very low wages and poor conditions James and Catherine managed to provide for their children and went on to have seven more although two of them died in infancy.

Mary their eldest child was a shop assistant before marrying school teacher James McDonnell in 1888. They had six children five daughters and one son.

Their eldest son Hugh was a mechanic and in 1886 he married Lizzie Kearns who was working at the time as a vestmaker.  She was the daughter of Patrick Kearns and Sarah Rice both from County Antrim.  Like his grandfather Hugh died quite young.  He and Lizzie had just the one child whom they called Walter. 

Hessie Maria married architect, Justice of the Peace and City Councillor John Joseph McDonnell and they had eight children, 4 daughters and 4 sons. 

James and Catherine's fourth child James was a publican.  He married Margaret Collins in 1889 and they had seven children.

Their fifth child John born in 1866 died in infancy or early childhood.

Edward was born in 1870 and he was a carpenter to trade.  He married Elizabeth Gilmore and his younger sister Catherine Rosiland or Kathleen as she was also known married Elizabeth's brother John Gilmore.

Catherine Rosiland married Linen mill clerk John Gilmore in 1908. They had two sons.

There were two daughter's both called Margaret. The first was born in 1874 and died in infancy. The second Margaret was born in 1876 but I have no further information as yet about her.

James and Catherine's youngest child John Valentine Brennan was born in 1878. He was an architect and surveyor who ran his business from the Belfast Bank Buildings at 1,3 North Street.  He never married.

One of his projects was the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in Ballybofey, County Donegal:

Extract from The Derry Journal, June 29th, 1928 regarding the the official opening of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.

sketch glenfinch chapel jv brennan Our lady of perpetual succour

The picture on the left is an architectural drawing of the church by J. V Brennan in 1925 and right a photograph of the church as it is today.

     'Yesterday, the sacred edifice was crowded to the doors when Solemn High Mass commenced at noon. In the interior of the Church, and particularly within the spacious sanctuary, with its many coloured marbles, there was revealed a spectacle of beauty and chasteness - reflecting in conjunction with the general character of the construction - the greatest credit on the architect, Mr J V Brennan, MRIAI

Irish Architectural Archive. Biographical Index of Irish Architects

John Valentine Brennan

John Valentine Brennan

Architect and engineer, of Belfast and Dublin.   John Valentine Brennan born in Co. Down on 12 February 1878, son of James Brennan and his wife, Catherine.

His commissions were primarily ecclesiastical, consisting chiefly of work on Roman Catholic churches and parochial houses in the northern half of the island.  

He also designed a number of banks in Ulster, first, from 1917-1918, for the Belfast Bank, and subsequently for the National Bank.

He died in October, 1960. RIAI: elected member, 1918.

Addresses:(3) Belfast Bank Chambers, Belfast, 1899(4)-1931;  24 Suffolk Street, Dublin, 1932-1938; 9 Donegall Square South, Belfast, 1939; 1 Norfolk Gardens, Belfast, 1940.


Belfast census PRONI




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