The O'Brennans of Castlecomer
by Patrick Walsh and serialised in the Kilkenny Journal Saturday January 14th 1961 – February 18th 1961
The term Ui Duach, known as Oda today, was first used after the sixth century from Duach, who was King or chieftain of Ossory. Heretofore the area was known as Airigid Ros, the plain of the Silver Wood. The first reference to Ui Duach does not appear in the Irish annals until about 850. The prefix Ui is understood to mean the area or territory of Duach. It is possible that Duach erected his cashel or ford on the mound in Threecastles demesne, formerly known as Castle Duach.
Brennan is known in the old records as Brenen, or the son of Cearbhall Mac Dunghal, and was, therefore, Brennan Mac Cearbhall. He was slain in 887 in a battle by the men of Decies. Cearbhall, father of Brennan, was a noted warrior and battled successfully against the Danes and upheld the dignity and honour of his house and clan during his lifetime.
The territory or area of North Kilkenny, with Jenkinstown as the base and a line running east from there included portions of Leix, Newtown in Slievemargagh and to Kileshin and south to Clogrennan and to the range of hills west of the Nore, formed by the patrimony of the Brennans of Ui Duach, variously known as Odagh, Idough, and Edough and later merged into the barony of Fassidinan.
This area included the historic Melisian settlement known as Airigid Ros, later known as Rathbeagh, where Hermon, the Milisian King, erected a palace after the Milisian intervention. Fassidinan, known as the “waste of the Dinan,” did not cover the whole of the former Brennan territory. There is a reference to Dermagh (Durrow in Yduach) and Clogrennan, which was the eastern boundary of Udach and formerly known as Brennan.
There is a reference on the door of Kileshin old church to the chief of Ui Duach Airigid Ros. In the 13th century, O’Heerin describes it as:
“Ui Deach of Ossory, the warm soil, the fair wide plain of the Nore not easily passable, the land of the plain, its protecting chief is O’Brennan.”
‘Comer, now Castlecomer, was the chief seat of the sept and the mound in the demesne of Castlecomer, later known as the garrison, was probably the principal residence of the O’Brennans. The term ‘Comer denotes a meeting of two rivers. After the Norman invasion the Brennans were forced to vacate the rich fertile plain of the Nore and were driven into the hills around Castlecomer, later known as Fassidinan, and here they maintained a sturdy independence until 1635, when a jury found that the O’Brennans held their lands manuforte (by the strong hand).
The fertile lands in the Nore valley had been seized by the Norman usurpers and raised to the status of the manor of Castle Odagh. Many raids and forays were made by the O’Brennans into their former territory, but occasionally the O’Brennans were on good terms with the officers of the Crown. During the reign of Henry VI, Thomas O’Brennan was released from the condition of an:
“Irishman and granted the freedom of an Englishman,”
and later the same King permitted Art O’Brennan and all his issue [children] to the benefit of English law, both statute and Common.
In 1227, Simon Purcell, Sheriff of Kilkenny, and twenty others were killed in an engagement with the O’Brennan, and a year later, descending from their fastness in Fassidinan, they laid waste to the lowlands with fire and sword and they also made war on the O’Mores of Laois and the Kavanaghs.
From an order made by Francil Lovill, Sheriff of Kilkenny about 1336, out of six areas into which the barony of Fassidinan and Idogh was divided – not into townlands as might be expected, but into the denominations of septs. Thus we find the Clann Mhic Connell, the Clann Awly, the Clann Mac Gilleneneave and the Clann Moriertagh. From this we learn of the clanns or septs into which the O’Brennans were divided at this period, and that the clann Moriertagh would seem to be the most important of the four.
From documentary evidence we can quote the names of the heads of the four septs and the division of the O’Brennan territory held by each sept.
1) The clann Moriertagh, of which Gil Patrick O’Brennan of Rathcally was the head, held the following townlands: Rathcally, Kilrobbin, als., Rath Tomyne, Ballenchomoe, Ballyhomyne, als., Newtowne and the Skeahanagh, Moyhowegh, Dromaghedogher, Knockane-Neshnagh and Dromgoly.
2) The clann McConill, of which Edmund O’Brennan of Kildergan als., Uskertey and Edmund O’Brennan of Smittestowne are listed as the heads of this sept, held the following lands: Kildergan als., Uskertey, Arderey, Cowlebane, Smittestowne.
3) The sept of the clann McGilleneaneave. also, or later, known as the Clann Mhic Elowe, of which Farr McDonoghoe, Croghtencly, was head, held the following lands: Croghtencly [Croghtenclogh], Aghevonky [Aghamucky], Monynenrow [Monenroe] and Clonyne [Cloneen], and the sept of the clann Awly, of which Moriertagh McDonaghouekilly was head. The lands of this sept were Kyledonaghouekilly [Donaguile?], Cruit [Crutt], Loyne, Kilnebolyskeahanagh.
The lands of the O’Brennans had long been coveted by the Norman usurpers and their descendants and on May 1, 1635, at an Inquisition held in Kilkenny, the Jury found :
“that the title to the territory of Ui Duach to be in the Crown and that the sept or tribe of the O’Brennans were mere Irish and had illegally entered and intruded on the said territory of Idough, which they held manuforte, without any right or title whatsoever.”
In 1630, the entire area of Ui Duach was granted by letters patent to one Francis Edgeworth. In 1636, a new assignment was made to Sir Charles Coote, appointed by Ormonde and Londonderry as their assignee and all united in selling Idough and Fassidinan, the O’Brennan property, to Sir C. Wandesforde for the sum of £20,000, probably a book transaction.
Wandesforde, in 1639, took out new letters patent under the commission for the remedy of defective titles which were later confirmed by Act of Parliament. Certain of the lands were not included in the transaction. Coolcullenduff and other lands were later acquired by the Earl of Ormonde, to whom a chiefry was paid, and some of the O’Brennans would seem to have accepted Ormonde as their landlord, but this is at variance with later transactions of the O’Brennans.
The O’Brennans were still a powerful force and could not be expected to quietly acquiesce to the theft of hereditary tribelands and the old policy of divide and conquer was to be tried. An agent was appointed by Wandesforde to treat with the O’Brennans with instructions:
“to deale with the O’Brennans and, as I have told him, I conceive it fitter for us to breake combynation among them in a discriminatory way, one by one, by winning them with fayre termes, than to mean the obstinacy by any violent course.”
Wandesforde’s agent, David Routh, was to be paid the sum of £200 to sow the seeds of discord among the Brennans, but was not successful, and later an official report stated:
“the agent of Edeogh returned without anything but empty words.”
Wandesforde, writing later, states he was willing to pay his share of the £200 to Routh:
“out of the first benefit I receive out of that land, he may for the present be satisfied that we have not quitt possession of it, neither indeed are we like to have, for the Brennans were never more violent in words than now.”
The Brennans were troublesome neighbours to Wandesforde, and his fat sheep often supplied the Brennans’ larder. On one occasion when some sheep were missing and the Lord of the Manor servants called to the residence of one of the Brennans, they were hospitably entertained with excellent mutton and, when leaving, the skin and head of a sheep, with the Wandesforde brand on it, was thrown over the shoulders of one of the visiting party.
Brennan was later arrested, conveyed to Dublin, charged with sheep stealing – a capital offence – and sentenced to death. Wandesforde, however, intervened and secured a pardon for Brennan. Shortly after, during the Confederate War, Brennan chivalrously escorted Wandesforde’s wife and family to the safety of the English garrison at Ballynakill.
During the Confederate War, Brennans were to a man, on the Confederate side. They fought for their lands and were determined opponents of alien rule. During the Spring of 1642, a detachment of Confederate forces, under Captain Edward Brennan, Captain Bryant of Whiteshill and Captain Purcell, attacked the castle of Castlecomer, which was stoutly defended by the garrison, but was forced to capitulate after a lengthy siege.
The garrison were offered favourable terms, of which twenty five of them took advantage and decided to march to Ballylinan, where an English garrison was in occupation. An escort was to be provided and an oath was taken guaranteeing the safe return of the escort and from interference by the garrison at Ballylinan.
The escort was under Captain Dempsey, who, in turn, guaranteed the escort party protection from any Confederate forces en route to Ballylinan. Some distance from this village, Captain Dempsey’s party fell in with a detachment of the English garrison under the command of Captain Graham. The prisoners were handed over by Captain Dempsey who, when arrangements were completed, set out for Castlecomer.
They were almost immediately attacked by Graham’s party, aided by the former Castlecomer garrison, to whom an oath did not seem sacred. Graham’s attack on the Confederate party was unsuccessful. Captain Dempsey, while reconnoitring the area later in the evening, learned that a number of Capt. Graham’s party who had fallen out on the march to Ballylinan, were in a nearby house which was later surrounded, the soldiers captured, taken to Castlecomer and hanged.
The Brennans should, it would appear, quietly condone or acquiesce in the acquisition of their lands which had been so politely filched from them. As will been seen, “they became tories”-a term generally extended to many of the old Irish nobility and also to some of the anglo-Irish whose lands and property had been looted by the greedy usurpers. Stripped of all their possessions, some of the Brennans became “Tories” and proclaimed outlaws.
They raided the settlements of the adventurers and lived the life of the bold outlaw for some years. Rewards were offered in vain for the apprehension of those men. They had robbed, says an official statement, the Marquis of Ormonde’s good subjects of £12,000 and upwards.
“The Three Brennans,” as the most prominent of the outlaws were known, decided to leave Ireland for a while and reside in North Wales. En route, they were arrested. They were arrested as gentlemen of the period and carried swords, rode thoroughbred horses, and were accompanied by a small retinue.
In Chester, where they were captured, they were tried, charged with theft of the property, and sentenced to death. They made a dramatic escape from under the shadow of the gallows. Next year we find them in Ireland, where they carried out further raids and were accompanied by many others, mostly dispossessed gentlemen who were described as outlaws. Later they would seem to have been taken into favour and allowed the use of arms and horses.
The Battle of Boherkyle
After the confiscation of the Brennans’ land, an attempt was made by the Government officials to strengthen and consolidate their position in Uiduach. A detachment of troops were sent down from Dublin to occupy strategic positions in the area. The Brennans had been warned of the intention of the Government to send down troops and to defend the ancient clan lands.
They sent for their kinsmen – the Fitzpatricks of Upper Ossory. Later, through some misunderstanding, they did not come, and the Brennans decided to fight alone. Led by Darby Brennan of Cloneen, the first engagement took place at Boherkyle, north-east of Castlecomer. Outnumbered and assailed by superior forces, the Brennans fought bravely, but were forced to retreat, and kept up a running fight to the area now known as Webbeboro’.
The Brennans were totally defeated and about 1,500 of them were killed in the battle. The brunt of the fighting was borne by the Brennan (Reich), who were nearly all wiped out. Various dates are given concerning this event, but it is generally agreed that it took place after the middle of the 17th century.
During the last quarter of the 16th century the Leinster clans were invited to a banquet at Mullaghmast near Athy. They were given a safe conduct guarantee and it is believed, went unarmed, not believing treachery was intended against them. During the banquet, they were surrounded by soldiers and foully murdered. Not one escaped, and the flower of the Leinster nobility, to the number of 280, were brutally butchered. Two of the Brennans of Uideach were amongst those who were slain.
Art McMurrough and Kilgorey
In 1395, Art McMurrough met the King’s deputy at a place described as Ballygorey, near Catherlagh on the side of Slieve Margy. Ballygorey has not been identified, and opinion favours the meeting place at Kilgorey, near Crettyard, noted meeting and camping place and on a very ancient highway which led to Tara. Representatives of most of the Leinster clans were present, including a Geoffry Brennan of Uideach.
In the articles relating to the confiscation and transfer of the Brennan lands to Wandesforde, there are many references to the mineral deposits in the area and probably smelted locally before the “assignment” of those lands to Wandesforde.
Here are extracts from the articles.
“Tighe Brennan owned Augmucky, Crotencugh, and the cole pitts called Drumlane Mac Alley,”
which yielded a very considerable profit to the said Tighe by the coles there and the iron works which the Earl of Londonderry made use of and wrought for iron works later.
“John Mc William Brennan owned the timber and the iron mines digged thereabout (area not stated).”
“John Mc Edmund Brennan, he owned Farrenrosse, Eighteragh and Killeshin, besides the timber grown thereon, and the coles and the iron on the premises.”
The Brennan Titles
The subject of the supposed titles to the Brennan property is confused and obscure. One Kilkenny historian states that “the head or chieftain of the Brennan clan bequeathed the title deeds of the Brennan property to the Wandesforde-Butler interest.”
The writer, however, does not state his authority. There is a second and even a third version concerning the ownership of those titles. Two ladies of one of the important Brennan families lived in Kiltown castle about 1810-1820. They were then old and infirm and, when the last one was dying, she gave what was stated to be the title deeds to the Brennans property to a family retainer named Peg Morrissey, who gave them later to a Father Brennan who came from Dublin.
This event took place about 1820, Peg Morrissey, the family retainer, who was entrusted with the title deeds, was grandmother of a James Byrne, who lived in Kiltown about 1880. The Brennan Castle in Kiltown stood in a field called the Closhan. Portion of it was still standing about 1880.
There is a further reference to the Brennan titles or deeds. There was a charge made against a Dr. John Brennan, who styled himself “The Prince of Uideach,” and his mother of alienating the Brennan property. Dr. Brennan was a son of Dermot Brennan, who was undoubtedly the principal of the Brennan clan during his lifetime.
The Brennan Families and their descendants
From the 16th century onwards, after the break-up of the clan system and the seizure of the Brennan lands, we find three or four of the principal families of which the Brennan (MacOwens) would seem to have been the most important of the Brennan clan. Reliable data concerning this line is available, and all the authorities seem to agree on this.
In an Inquisition held in Gowran in October, 1628, Dermot Brennan of Killdonaghkelly, being seized of lands in Killdonaghkelly and Shehanagh, died in the reign of the late Queen Elizabeth. Owen Brennan is his son and Dermot’s heir, of full age and married. This is the first recorded reference to an Owen Brennan.
There are tombstones in Castlecomer churchyard, some of them dating back to fifteenth century, including an Owen Brennan, who died in April, 1710, and his wife Barbara (nee Marshal) who died in 1721. There are other members of this family buried in the old Castlecomer churchyard, including a Darby, Patrick and John, the later sons of the above Owen, who died in 1710, and who was probably a son or grandson of the Owen who was cited in the Inquisition in Bowran.
Owen Brennan, the husband of Barbara Marshal, would seem to have been the founder of the Macowen Brennans, later known as McKeown. Despite penal disabilities and enactments, this family of Brennan would seem to have been large landowners, and would also seem to constitute the principal family of the senior line of the Brennan clan.
For a century after the death of Owen in 1710, this family were extensive landowners in Ballagh, Smithstown, Uskerty, Aughamucky and the adjoining townland. There were many distinguished member of this branch of the Brennan clan, the most prominent of whom would be the Most Rev. Dr. Brennan, Archbishop of Cashel.
Of this family, also, was Col. John Brennan, born in 1804. He was a distinguished soldier and fought at the siege of Delhi. He joined the army as a private soldier. He was later commissioned and rose to the rank of Colonel. He had a family, all of whom emigrated after his death, which occurred at Massford House in 1886. Captain John Brennan, sometimes referred to as Darby Brennan, was an extensive landowner. Captain John Brennan, with his father, defended Castlecomer during the Cromwellian war.
The Parents of Captain John Brennan do not seem to have been recorded, but it seems certain that Captain Brennan must have fought in the army of James II. The Captain’s wife, Dermot’s Mother, was daughter of a dispossessed gentleman, Squire Quigley of Laois. It seems certain that the Captain was one of the Smithstown family of Brennans, and the names of Owen or John and Dermot, both named in the Inquisition in Gowran, would seem to indicate that the Dermot now under review was one of the principal members of the clan.
Dermot’s mother, of the Ballahide family of Quigley, whose father was an officer in the army of James II, was outlawed at an Inquisition held at Leighlinbridge in 1791. Dermot secured some property at Carlow, through the death of his mother, but lost this later. He also secured through the influence of his cousin, Creagh Butler, of a different religious denomination, a lease of Castlehill, Carlow, where he lived for some time. He endowed a site for a college in Carlow.
Dermot had, by his first wife, a son, John Arthur, and, by his second marriage with Dorothy Fitzpatrick of Ballyboden, John Charles, William, Garret, Mary and Elizabeth. Dermot’s eldest son, by his second marriage, was a doctor and later resided in Dublin and styled himself the Prince of Uideach. Dermot was involved in law-suits and lost his property in Carlow as a result. Dermot, who died in 1780, would seem to have been the most important member of the Brennan clan during his lifetime.
This seems to be borne out by the title adopted by his son, Dr. John Brennan. Dr. Brennan was apparently something of an athlete, as he was known as the wrestling doctor. He was also known as the Turpentine Doctor. Dr. John Brennan lived in Dublin and married a daughter of a Dr. John Daly. He had a son, John, who was a barrister-at-law.
Eliza married a John Bernard Clinch. She died about 1840 and had a son, James Bernard Clinch and a daughter who became Mrs. Phil Ryan of Ballyboden. Garret, or Gerald, died unmarried about 1950 and there are no records of Charles or William. Dorothy, Dermot’s second wife, married after death and, from this marriage there descended a family of Brennans who lived in Dublin.
Many of the members of this family held important Government positions and were in the legal and Medical professions. One of this family, Peter Brennan, a doctor of Laws, claimed the title of “Chieftainship of the O’Brennans.” Some of the Brennan MacOwens must have studied engineering and mechanics.
An Edmund Brennan was engaged by Denn, who was agent and manager of the Coal Mines at Clogh, to erect machinery to keep the pits clear of water. Includes was a watts wheel, which is believed to have been the first erected in Ireland. From this Edmund MacOwen are descended the Brennan MacOwens of Cloneen, Crutt and Laroo etc. Denn, who lived in Chatsworth, was very pleased with Edmund’s work and donated to him a farm at Cloneen, from which Edmund’s family were afterwards evicted.
Edmund, in his will dated the 30th of January, 1780, described himself as a farmer and engineer. He had four sons, Thomas, Pat, John and Darby, to whom he left substantial bequests. The descendants of Edmund later lived in Cloneen, Crutt and Laroo. Martin Brennan of Laroo, who died in 1922, gave his pedigree as follows:
“That he, Martin, was son of Edward who was born in Laroo, son of John, son of Thomas, son of Edmund who died in 1780,”
who was probably son of Patrick, who was son of Owen, who died in 1710 and whose memorial is in Castlecomer old churchyard, where most of the important Brennans have been buried for centuries. About 1790 James Brennan MacOwen owned the whole townland of Smithstown. He lost it later and got the position of hearth-money collector in ‘Comer. His brother, Darby owned Aghamucky, which he sold later. This Darby had two sons, William and Owen. William was known as Billy the Cloak. He later received the position of hearth-money collector and claimed the title, “Chief of the O’Brennans”.
Fifty years ago there were three families bearing the name Brennan McKeown. They are now extinct on the male side and the last to bear the name was Mr. W. Brennan, Castlecomer, who died some time ago. He was an engineer at the Deerpark Colliery and was the last of a long line of engineers and mechanics who had been associated with coal mining in the Castlecomer area. There were at least eight generations of engineers who bore the name Brennan-McKeown.
Brennan-Darby would seem to be related to the Brennan-McKeowns. There are some references to Darby Brennan with the suffix McKeown. A Darby Brennan lived in Aughamucky, where Kealys lived. Later, after the death of Dermot Brennan in 1780, his relatives held some of the family land owned of held on lease by Dermot. James Brennan lived in Smithstown House and Darby, who owned lands in Aughamucky and lived in Kealys’, lost all their properties. This branch of the Brennan clan was very wealthy and had lived in Smithstown for centuries.
The last of the Brennans to live in Smithstown House was a Denis of one of the Brennan families of Smithstown, who lived for some time in Mahora. Denis later sold Smithstown House and was succeeded there by Foleys.
One of the Brennans held a very important Government position abroad. He was a Daniel Brennan and was Governor in Piedmont. He was a descendant of one of the Brennans who left Ireland after the wars of the previous century. After the death of Daniel Brennan, a Fr. John Brennan, accompanied by Dermot and Laurence Brennan, went to Piedmont on a family mission.
The Brennans lived in Smithstown Castle on the garrison mound. It was the home of Capt. John Brennan, who fought during the Confederate war and defended ‘Comer against Cromwell. The Captain was killed in the fighting. A William Brennan of this family lived in Ardera Castle, and Owen, also of this family, lived in Killeshin.
An important unit of the Brennan clan lived south of Castlecomer and were known as the Brennan Geoffry’s. This sept owned the lands of Rathcally, Kilmadogue and probably some of the lands owned by Dermot Brennan. The first recorded member of this family is a Geoffry. He lived in Knocknadogue. He was involved in many lawsuits, due to the complicated tenure of his lands, and this led to much litigation later.
This Geoffry married a daughter of Shaun Brennan (Cool). This Shaun Brennan had seven sons, all of whom emigrated. Geoffry also had seven sons, Jim, Bill, Jack (a teacher), Dan, Larry, Andy and Cornelius (stone-cutter), who was buried in Dysart. Andy settled in Cruttenclough.
Geoffrey’s eldest son, James, who was known as Jim-Geoffrey, contested a lawsuit concerning his property, which he lost, but was awarded the sum of £60 per annum as compensation. William Brennan of this family, known as Big Billy, lived in Rathcally about 1880. Of this family of Geoffry is the Brennan (Eileen) and the Brennan (Dan). Dan Brennan, son of Geoffry, had a business in Kilkenny, where his descendants are still living. There is nothing on record concerning the rest of this family.
Brennans of Edenhall
The founder of the family was a Nicholas, who was son of John, son of Gerald, who was son of Garret, son of John, son of Gerald or Garret. Nicholas lived in Knocknadogue and was a large landowner. He died in 1799. His daughter, Mary, married Robert Sherman, a merchant of Kilkenny city, and of this marriage was a son, the Rev. Nicholas Sherman, the noted historian.
Nicholas lived in Knocknadogue and owned 700 acres of land and had on lease another 700 in the Uskerty-Coolbawn area. He married an Elizabeth Cullinan and was father of John, James, Garret, Eleanor, Judith, Bridget and Mary. Nicholas died in 1799 and is buried in Dysart. John, his son, married a Miss Kathleen Maher and later went to live in Edenhall, Ballyragget. The descendants of Garret are still living in Edenhall, and the head of the family is styled the O’Brenan.
Another important member of the Brennan clan was a Lawrence Brennan, who lived in Ballagh. His residence was one of Mulhall’s fields. He was a large landowner and a descendant of the Smithstown Brennans. He married an Elizabeth Bergin of Donooughmore and had a large family. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Edward, who married a local lady, named Betty Butler, who claimed descent from the Mountgarrett family of Butler.
This family was represented by a John Brennan (Edward), who was a great grandson of Lawrence Brennan. This Edward Brennan married about 1885-1890 and from this marriage are descended the Brennan (Edwards), the Brennan (Ned) and the Brennan (Delaney). One of Lawrence Brennan’s daughters married Edward Brennan (Arnot).
The Brennans in Modern Times
After the second or third generation of the past century, the Brennans seemed to decline in status. The descendants of the former important families are no longer large landowners. Many of them are holding important official positions and are living abroad. The important Brennan families who owned Smithstown, Aughamucky, etc. had left those areas. The family of Dermot, who would appear to be the last of the important Brennans, have now disappeared from the lands which their ancestors had held for over 1,000 years.
During the years 1847-’50, at least 1,500 Brennans left the Castlecomer area. They mostly went to America and Canada, where their descendants flourish. To-day, on the Castlecomer plateau and in the area generally, the Brennans are more numerous than ever, and their pseudonyms are used to identify the various families. In each case it was used as a suffix and comes after the name Brennan. The principal pseudonyms are Arnos, Delaney, Lagg, Banse, Jeff, Durrick, Edward, Ned, Jackey, Eileen, Sleeven, Red, Cooper, Darby, Roe, Dann, Kavanagh.
The former important residences of the Brennans, the principal one of which seems to have been the elevation known as the Garrison mound opposite Castlecomer old Church, Ardera Castle, Kiltown Castle and Clorinka Castle. On the hill over Coolbawn, there was an outpost or fortified stronghold of the Brennan territory.
The writer asks the indulgence of the reader for the choppy and abrupt reference to the Brennan families and to the important members of the Brennan family and the brevity of detail. For obvious reasons, a detailed article could not be written, as a very large volume would be required to deal in detail with the Brennans of Udagh, who can claim to be one of Kilkenny’s oldest families, and are of the same family tree of Dunphys, the Kellys, the Carrolls, and Fitzpatricks, formerly McGiolla Padraighs, all of whom are of ancient lineage.
Many of the various Brennan families in North Kilkenny may feel aggrieved at not being included in this article. There is no other data available concerning any of the other Brennan families or family units.
The article is a modest attempt to illustrate some of the momentous events in the Brennan clan and to preserve the established traditions of a tenacious people who still flourish in the area formerly occupied by their distinguished forbears.
Extracts from many sources are included in this article, and a mass of data had to be carefully sifted. Errors, however, are unavoidable. The writer would gratefully accept any family traditions, legends etc., concerning the Brennans, and, with the permission of the Editor, could be included in a future article, or at least preserved for posterity.
Most Rev. Dr. John Brennan Archbishop of Cashel
Most Rev. Dr. John Brennan, Archbishop of Cashel, was a Brennan of Uiduach. His grace was born in Kilkenny City, probably about 1625. He and Oliver Plunkett, then a youth of 16 years, were among the five Irish students who accompanied Father Scarampo to Rome after he had completed his mission from the Pope to the Confederates.
The Archbishop then a young man, studied in the Irish College; was raised to the priesthood and was afterwards Professor of Philosophy. He later filled the chair of Theology in the same college in 1666. He was later appointed “agent” of the Irish clergy in succession to Oliver Plunkett, who was appointed Archbishop of Armagh in 1669. During his stay in Rome, he was noted for his learning and piety.
In June, 1670, the Irish Bishops petitioned the Holy See for the appointment of Dr. Brennan to the vacant diocese of Waterford and Lismore. The petition was granted.
Dr. Brennan returned to Ireland immediately, after his consecration, which we may assume took place in Rome, and was back in Ireland in 1672. He was closely associated with Oliver Plunkett – both were now in Ireland with a price on their heads.
In 1673 there was an outburst of persecution, and Bishop Brennan went to Armagh; but later both Bishops had to seek refuge in hiding and suffered great hardships. In 1677, Dr. Brennan was elevated to the Archbishopric of the See of Cashel. Dr. Brennan took part in the discussions which preceded the Treaty of Limerick, and, after the articles of the Treaty were shamefully violated, he continued to serve his flock; but his place of residence was strictly secret.
He died in Shanrahan, Tipperary, in 1692, and is buried in Tubrid, near Geoffry Keating, the historian. A seal, believed to be that of the Most Rev. Dr. Brennan, was found in a bog near Castlecomer. It bore the coat of arms. The motto was “sub hoc signo vinces.”
According to Burke, these are the arms which were registered and accepted in 1789 by the Ulster King of Arms to John Brennan of Malogo in Spain, son of Edward Brennan, Moneenroe, who was great-grandson of Patrick Brennan of Cloneen. The pedigree of John Brennan of Malogo was sworn to by Joseph Brennan of Crutt in the same year. This pedigree is still preserved, which proves the relationship of the Most Rev. Dr. Brennan with one of the principal lines of the Brennans Uidugh.
In November, 1958, the priests at Clogh received a letter from a doctor in Ontario, Canada. In his letter, the doctor says his great grandmother, a Mary Brennan, was born in or near Clogh in 1817. She married a John Delaney and, in the 1840s, emigrated with her husband and family to Canada.
There are at present 60 families of Brennan living in Clogh parish, 41 of them being in Moneenroe district. They are slightly on the decrease. A few years ago, more than 50 families of Brennan lived in Moneenroe alone; some of them have moved to other parishes and a few have died out altogether.
Between the years 1847 and 1920, Brennans to the number of 440 were baptised in Castlecomer Church, and to show that the race is not dying out, 193 were baptised between 1920 and 1957. Notice that the average is well maintained.
They easily surpass in numbers all other names. The next best would be the Ryans, with 180 and 76 respectively. They, too, are well maintaining their average.
In order to distinguish one family from another, most of the Brennans are referred to locally by only their nicknames, of which there are some 150 in the district. Among the nicknames of the Brennans generally are:
- or Duch,
- Fear (Far),
- Reerk or Reigh,
- Red Martin,
- Sean Og,
Details of baptisms above, were supplied by courtesy, from the parish registers.
Eight Parish Priests were Brennans
A correspondent writes :-
Mr. Patrick Walsh’s very interesting article on the O’Brennans of Castlecomer (first of two parts) invites some additions.
About 25 years ago – though only for a few months, until one died, - eight of the 37 Parish Priests of Ossory were named Brennan. Father William Brennan, Glenmore, has long been the last survivor of the eight (R.I.P).
A Kilkenny city-man has an anecdote that, cycling down High Street once, four people whom he knew well enough to exchange salutes with between roadway and pavement, were all named Brennan. He dismounted and shook hands with the fourth.
The names “Garett” and “Gerald” seem to rank as equivalent. The Eden Hall family, in particular, are stated by Mr. Walsh to have an O’Brenan (Garrett) ancestor.
The Irish for Gerald, Gearoid, probably comes from the latin form of Geraldus, which stresses the second syllable, and has come into English as Garrett. There may, however, have been an Irish Saint whose name was treated as the same as the Continental Saint Gerald, just as Diarmud and Donal are linked with the Prophets, Jeremiagh and Daniel, with no actual connection.
The Brennan (Geoffry) branch represent another mingling of Norman and O’Brionain blood. Even when the first syllable alone is used, the spelling Geoff is preferable to the (in English) more phonetic “EFF”.