Photo of John
Brennan aka John McCartan c.1914
- Born on the 17 August 1892 at
Coopers House, Ballickmoyler, Co. Laois.
Brennan (1841-1902) and
Catherine (Kate) Lalor (1859-1893).
Killed in action on the 14 October
After a lot of research by
a lot of people, involving a lot of time, effort and energy we
have now discovered that John Brennan, for reasons we will
probably never find out, decided to change his name and his
place of birth, (that was changed twice) sometime between 1901 &
1911 according to the census of Ireland. I have put together a
brief summary based on the information that was discovered from
the research that has been carried out so far as you will see
when you read the following its quite in debt and revealing:
John Brennan changed his name to
John Brennan who was born on
17 Aug 1892, in Ballickmoyler. Co. Laois, the son of Mark Brennan
and his mother Kate (Catherine) Lalor. In various documents that
were discovered during the research he was also born in Co. Antrim
Ireland and St. John's. Newfoundland.
John Brennan aka Rifleman No.
975 John McCartan, served in France & Flanders with the 1st
Battalion Royal Irish Rifles (RIR) during the 1914-1918 World War.
He died in action on the 14 October 1918 aged 26 years old and is
buried in DADIZEELE New British Cemetery (Dadizele) (West
Vlaanderen Belgium). Date of embarkation to France was 21 December
1915., according to the Medal Roll. We believe this could be his
2nd or 3rd tour to France.
In the photo, we have of John
in uniform probably taken before he went to France, we can see on
his upper left arm a chevron on an armband indicating that he was
attached to 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. The 'H' probably
indicates that at the time of the photo he was on Home Service in
some capacity. He is wearing three overseas service chevrons (12
months each) and is wearing an inverted triangle of two different
colours. He is also wearing two vertical stripes on his lower left
arm indicating that he was wounded twice.
The 1st RIR wore a green and
black vertically separated inverted triangle. This view is enhanced by the fact that his cap still
retains the wire to give it shape, which was the first thing most
of the soldiers removed when troops went abroad. The buttons on the tunic have not
been 'blacked' again a procedure carried out by regular soldiers
John may therefore have been
attached to 3rd (Reserve) Battalion or 4th (Extra Reserve)
Battalion, both of which provided reinforcements for 1st and 2nd
Battalions. Both 3rd and 4th Rifles were based at Larkhill
Salisbury Wiltshire. England in 1918 and the likelihood is that
John was attached in some form of training capacity as he had
recent front line experience.
The reason the
connection was made is because a document which was found in the
National Archives tells us that on the 13 February 1917 he made a
hand written informal Will stating that in the event of his death
he left all his property and effects to his sister
Christine Bulger (nee Brennan)
of 74 Ignatius Rd. Drumcondra, Dublin.
We can assume that John
changed his name to John McCartan sometime between the 1901 census
and the 1911 census of Ireland. According to the 1901 census he is
recorded as John Brennan living with his father Mark Brennan aged 7
years (correct age was 9 years) in Ballickmoyler. Co. Laois. In the
1911 census he has moved to Ballyminymore Glenavy, Co. Antrim and
his birth place is listed as Antrim and he is a Farm Servant and he
is aged 19 years., and according to the Forces War Records website
his birth town is listed as St. John's. Newfoundland, Canada., and
he is recorded as residing in Carlow and his Nationality is British
and his Rank is Rifleman.
Glenavy is about 14 miles west
Why did soldiers
change their names?
There are several reasons why,
they could be trying to hide from marital problems, paternity
issues, the law, bankruptcy, former military service or a criminal
record. It is my belief that John was trying to hide his enlistment
from his immediate family so that they couldn't trace him after he
joined the British Army.
The situation in southern
Ireland during this period was proving very difficult and men
joining the British Army were considered to be traitors to their
own country because England was considered to be the enemy. There
was obviously some split with the family and he knew that his dad
Mark wouldn't agree with him leaving home and joining the British
Army, but who knows.
His mother died in 1893 when
John was less than 1 year old, nine years later in 1902 his father
Mark Brennan died. The eldest girl Hannah had to step in and take
the place of the mother and look after the youngest children. At
some point Johnís sisters Hannah, Christine and Anne decided to go
to Dublin probably to look for work. They must have taken John and
his brother Martin with them. Martin went on to Belfast sometime
later and probably took John with him.
Now why did he choose the name
McCartan? Could it have been a girl friends name or a work
This is a mystery we will probably never solve. The name
does not appear anywhere in our family tree. He obviously wanted to
disassociate himself altogether from the South.
His brother who
worked in Belfast all his life and when he came home to visit us in
the early 1960s I remember him having a very strong northern Irish
accent. I never met John but I did meet his brother Martin; we
walked from Cooper Hill to Carlow and back one Saturday. He struck
me as a very educated and well informed man. Did Martin come up
with the name McCartan? we will never know.
Martin Brennan died on 27th Feb 1963, in the City Hospital
Belfast. He was living at 1 Adela St, Antrim Rd, Belfast 15.
His death certificate states he was a widower. We don't know
what Martin's wife name was or when they got married.
This research was carried out
with grateful thanks by Kevin Bulger who found the link to John
through his Great Grandmother Christine Bulger (nee Brennan) with help from Terry Curran
and Michael Nugent. c.2017. The photo of John was provided
by Eileen Boran-Rice my 2nd cousin.
1911 Census of Ireland:
Kingdom Rifleman 975 Royal Irish Rifles 14/10/1918 IV. F. 35.
New British War Cemeteries:
Forces War Records:
information we have
available it is
likely that J
entitled to the
Victory medal, also
called the Inter
Medal. This medal
was awarded to all
who received the
1914 Star or
1914-15 Star and,
those who received
the British War
Medal. It was never
These three medals
referred to as Pip,
Squeak and Wilfred.
is a campaign medal of
the British Empire
which was awarded to
officers and men of
British and Imperial
forces who served in
any theatre of the
First World War against
the Central European
Powers during 1914 and
From the information
available to us, it is
very possible that J
McCartan was entitled
to the British War
Medal for service in
World War One. This
British Empire campaign
medal was issued for
services between 5th
August 1914 and 11th
The medal was
in the event of death
on active service
before the completion
of this period.
I have been
searching the Belfast Papers and the National Archives
to see if I could find any evidence where John changed
his name I then came across the following:
Finding proof of
a change of name
Itís always been possible in Great Britian, and
Ireland, to change
your name without having to register the change
with any official body. Itís still perfectly
legal for anyone over the age of 16 to start using
a new name at any time, as long as theyíre not
doing so for a fraudulent or illegal reason.
of a change
of name will often find that it simply
doesnít exist. Historically, many people
preferred not to draw attention to their change of
name. For example, when divorce was more
difficult, some people simply took their new
partnerís name to allow them to appear married, and
to make any children appear legitimate.
thanks goes to the following people who helped me
with the research:
Eileen Alan & Michael Boran who provided the photo
of John in Uniform, Kevin Bulger, Brian McCleaf,
Terry Curran and Michael Nugent. c.2017
Email me if you have any questions
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