Fr. Brennan’s story began from a reference in the Clonfert Diocesan Archives: ‘Father Brennan, a great classical scholar, was born in Neal. His mother’s name was Hara. He died in America some years ago’
Tracing his Origins
Efforts have been made, over a long period of time, to trace his origins, using various archival records, local research and personal interviews. Some sources of information conflict with each other, nevertheless, it is reasonable to feel sure that he came from Neale, Killimor. As will be seen there are still some anomalies that it was not possible to solve.
Brennan’s Field / Brennan’s Land
At this point in time his christian name was not even known. Down through the years certain areas in Neale were known as Brennan’s field / Brennan’s land. Pakie Grady, Neale, remembers mention of a Fr. Brennan whose mother was Hara. Local sources say that the Brennan house was situated in Jack and Denis Hara’s land but there is no trace of that particular house now.
Reverend Martin Coen, in an article under the heading “Gleanings” (Connacht Tribune 1976), says that Mortimer Brennan was born in 1827 in Rahmore (sic), Killimor, Co. Galway. Five of his six brothers went to America. One, Michael, settled in Ennistymon and his sister, Margaret, married Matt O’Hara, Neale, Killimor.
Photograph and Subsequent Enquiries
Subsequent enquiries led to the discovery of an old photograph of a Fr. Brennan, hanging over the mantelpiece, in Denis Hara’s house in Neale. Fr. Brennan was then the constant subject of conversation, leading to the discovery that a Fr. Mortimer Brennan, supposedly from Killimor, served in Kilchreest parish from 1855 to 1856, while the parish priest, Fr. Burke, was incapacitated. Help was then sought from the offices of the Galway Diocesan Archives. According to these records, Fr. Brennan was ordained by Bishop Fallon, Bishop of Kilfenora and Kilmacduagh, on 5/11/1854. He served in various parishes, including Gort, Kilchreest, Kilbeacanty, Lisdoonvarna, Kilfenora and Ennistymon between 1854 and 1868. There was no information of where he was born or where he received his education, but the records state that he matriculated on 25/8/1848 and studied in Maynooth.
The search then moved on to NUI, Maynooth. The date of his ordination was confirmed with the added information that Fr. Martin (Mort) Brennan entered Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, on 15/1/1848. (Mort is indicated in the Irish Catholic Directory as being a shortened version of Mortimer). The date 1/1/28 appears in Liber Matriculationum, the listing of students entering the college, and this date is likely to indicate the date of baptism. There is no personal information available on students such as place of birth or parents’ names. As the church records for Killimor parish did not commence until 1831, this source was not available for cross reference.
New York Newspaper
The next reference found was Fr. Brennan’s obituary which appeared in an old New York newspaper called Irish World and American Industrial Liberator, in 1893. Website extracts from the obituary say that Rev. Mortimer C. Brennan, born 1827, Co. Clare, died 28th October 1893 at St. Mary’s Hospital. At that time he was rector of St. Malachy’s Church, Brooklyn, New York. He formerly served at St. Agnes Church in Greenpoint, and also at St. Mary’s which he established in Roslyn, Long Island. He arrived in the United States in 1878 and is buried in the family plot in Waterbury, Connecticut. The obituary described him as an “ardent Irish patriot” who was in favour of Home Rule.
Clare County Library
Seeing that it was now thought that Fr. Brennan was born in Co. Clare, the next step was to contact Clare County Library. It was found that the library had no additional information at this point in time. However, the librarian said that “Surprisingly, if Martin (Mort) Brennan was from the diocese of Kilmacduagh, as Hamell’s Maynooth index states, there is no mention of him in Fahey’s listing of diocesan clergy in Chapter 33 of his History of the Diocese”.
Clare Heritage Centre
The next port of call was Clare Heritage Centre, where it was stated that the Brennan surname was quite strong in County Clare during the 19th century, with their Master Index of Baptisms recording over one hundred and ninety families of the name. Having carried out a search of all recorded families of Brennans, they failed to locate a record of a family of Brennans where the mother’s maiden name was Hara. It was also pointed out that out of a total of forty seven parishes in County Clare, there were thirty six parishes in which registers did not commence until 1828. Therefore, at this stage, it cannot be decided conclusively whether Fr. Brennan was born in Co. Galway or Co. Clare.
Discover of Doument
On 10th March 2011, further correspondence arrived from NUI, Maynooth. The existence of a document was discovered, described as Petition, Renunciation Order etc. in relation to Application for Letter of Administration of the Goods, Chattels and Credits which were of Mortimor C. Brennan late of the city of Brooklyn Deceased. The document was dated 29th November 1893 and contains family names, their connection with Fr. Brennan, and references to Kilimore. This document was described as a public document in the public domain and is not in any way connected with Maynooth College. This record shows that Fr. Brennan died intestate and that his nephew, Bernard A. O’Hara, applied to take out Letters of Administration on behalf of the family.
Killimor Marriage Register
The Killimor marriage register was consulted and it showed that Margaret Brennan married Mathias (Mathew) Hara on 24th June 1841, the sponsors being Michael and Bridget Brennan. Further consultation of the baptismal register showed the baptisms of nine children of this union.
Possible Hara Connection
From a conversation with Rosaleen Glynn-O’Rourke (a niece of Denis Hara), it was learned that Denis’s father’s name was Bernard Hara and that his grandfather was Johnny Hara. Could this Johnny Hara, the child who, according to Killimor baptismal records, was baptised on 14/03/1842, be the son of Mathew Hara and Margaret Brennan? The census records for 1911 and 1901 would seem to concur with Rosaleen O’Rourke’s information. If that is so, it is reasonable to assume that John was the grandfather of Denis and also that Bernard Hara, born in August 1857, and who as Bernard A. O’Hara, took out the letters of administration for Fr. Brennan’s estate, was the grand uncle of that family. It would seem likely, given that Fr. Brennan’s photograph, is in Denis Hara’s house. That could mean that Fr. Mortimer C. Brennan was a great grand uncle to Denis and his siblings.
Reputation as a Scholar
Fr. Brennan’s reputation as a scholar, as mentioned in the Clonfert Diocesan Archives, seems to be borne out by references in his obituary to his being the author of ‘some polemical works which were published in his native land’. He was described as being of a studious and retiring nature whose health was undermined by persistent and hard work leading to his death at sixty six years of age.
Involvement in Disputes
Fr. Coen states that Fr.Brennan “got involved in a noted dispute in October 1865, in Kilfenora when Bishop Fallon sent Fr. John Kemmy to replace him. Fr. Brennan refused to go to Ennistymon and was supported by the people in his revolt”. Some clergy mediated eventually and Fr. Brennan moved to Ennisytmon where he lived with his brother, Michael, at Woodbine Lodge. Other official records indicate that during his tenure in Kilfenora and Kilmacduagh, there was a very acrimonious dispute over the union of that diocese with the diocese of Galway. In September 1866, Fr. Brennan wrote a letter to Dr. John MacEvilly, bishop of Galway, outlining his stance on the situation and assuring Dr. MacEvilly of his support.
Folklore Surrounding Fr. Brennan
Another interesting paragraph from Fr. Coen’s article reads: “The late Canon Michael Corcoran preserved some folklore about Fr. Brennan in Kilchreest. There was a row with the Persses over access to the cemetery. When Fr. Brennan headed a funeral procession to the cemetery, he found the gates locked. He read his breviary and, the story went, the gates opened miraculously”.
Ministry Between 1868 and 1878
No records of his ministry between 1868 and 1878, (the year he went to the United States – for reasons unknown) could be located. He spent the next fifteen years serving as pastor in various areas in Brooklyn. His writings, supposedly published in Ireland, could not be found.
Letter to Bishop MacEvilly
The only document available was a copy of the letter he wrote to the bishop while he was in Ennistymon, in 1866.
Fr. Mortimer C. Brennan still remains somewhat of an enigma as can be seen from the trawl of records and interviews. However, the fact remains that he had very strong connections with Killimor and connections with Tynagh and areas in Co. Clare.
The last page of Fr. Mortimer C. Brennan’s letter to Bishop MacEvilly.