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John Brennan
John McCartan


John Brennan aka John McCartan

Born on the 17 August 1892 at Coopers House, Ballickmoyler, Co. Laois., the son of Mark Brennan (1841-1902) and Catharine (Kate) Lalor (1859-1893).
He was Killed in action on the 14 October 1918.

(Click on images to enlarge)
Cap Badges of the Royal Irish Rifles (1881-1921)
John Brennan aka John McCartan photo taken c.1917

Born on the 17 August 1892 at Coopers House, Ballickmoyler, Co. Laois., the son of Mark Brennan (1841-1902) and Catharine (Kate) Lalor (1859-1893).

Rifleman No. 975 John McCartan was killed in action on the 14 October 1918., somewhere near Gulleghem, during the Battle of Courtrai (Kortrijk) in Belgium. This battle was part of the second phase of the northern Allied offensive against the German Hindenburg Line. He had just returned from England where he was recovering from previous injuryís. At the age of 26 years old John was already an experienced soldier having served 3 years fighting when he was killed.

Date of embarkation to France was 21 December 1915., according to the Medal Roll. We believe he carried out at least two active service tours to the battle front during his service.

In a photo we have of John we now suspect that this was taken while he was in England probably in 1917 because he is wearing three overseas service chevrons (12 months each) and there is also two vertical stripes on his lower left arm indicating that he was wounded twice. He was probably back in England recovering from his injures. We can also 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. So, he has already been to the battle front and then he returns sometime in 1918 only to be killed shortly after.

The 1st RIR wore a green and black vertically separated inverted triangle on their upper arm of their uniform. 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 the troops went abroad. The buttons on the tunic have not been 'blacked' again a procedure carried out by regular soldiers overseas.

John may therefore have been temporarily attached to the 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 my death I leave all my property and effects to my sister Christine Bulger of 74 Ignatius Rd. Drumcondra, Dublin".

(John's sister Christine Brennan had married a Joseph Bulger in Dublin 21 Aug 1904.)

Change of name

We have documentary evidence from parish records of John Brennanís birth; he was born on 17 Aug 1892, in Ballickmoyler. Co. Laois, the son of Mark Brennan and Kate (Catherine) Lalor. In various other documents that were discovered during the research he was also born in Co. Antrim Northern Ireland and St. John's. Newfoundland. Canada.

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 NI, and his birth place is listed as Antrim and he is a Farm Servant and he is aged 19 years. 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 of Belfast where his brother Martin was working.

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. Another theory is that he wanted to protect his family in the event he was captured by the enemy it would have been very difficult to trace his linkage back to his family.

The situation in southern Ireland during this period was proving very difficult and Irishmen 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 girlfriends name or a work colleague?

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 or make it difficult for people to find him.

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? Or, was it his girlfriends name? We will never know.

Martin Brennan died on 27th Feb 1963, in the City Hospital  Belfast. He was living in a bedsit at 1 Adela St, Antrim Rd, Belfast 15.  His death certificate states he was a widower. We don't know who Martin's wife was or when or where they got married. We also don't know where Martin worked in Belfast.

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, Michael Purcell and Michael Nugent. c.2017. The photo of John was provided by Eileen Boran-Rice my 2nd cousin.

1911 Census of Ireland:

United Kingdom Rifleman 975 Royal Irish Rifles 14/10/1918 IV. F. 35.

New British War Cemeteries:

Forces War Records
Victory Medal
Given the information we have available it is likely that J. McCartan was entitled to the Victory medal, also called the Inter Allied Victory Medal. This medal was awarded to all who received the 1914 Star or 1914-15 Star and, with certain exceptions, to those who received the British War Medal. It was never awarded alone. These three medals were sometimes irreverently referred to as Pip, Squeak and Wilfred.
The 1914Ė15 Star 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 1915.
British War Medal
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 November 1918.

The medal was automatically awarded 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 Britain, 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.

For​‌‌‌​‌‌ ​‌‌‌​‌​this​‌‌‌​‌​ ​‌‌‌​‌‌reason​‌​‌‌‌‌,​‌‌​​​​ ​‌‌​​‌‌people​‌‌​​‌‌ ​‌‌​​​​looking​‌‌‌​​‌ ​‌‌‌​​‌for​‌‌​‌‌​ ​‌‌‌‌​​a​‌‌‌​‌​ ​‌‌​​‌‌formal​‌​‌​‌‌ ​‌‌‌​‌‌record​‌​‌​‌​ ​‌‌​‌​​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.


My grateful thanks goes to the following people who helped me with this research: Eileen Alan & Michael Boran who provided the photo of John in Uniform, Kevin Bulger, Brian McCleaf, Terry Curran, Michael Purcell and Michael Nugent. c.2017. My thanks to everyone who helped.

I would love to hear from anyone who might have any more information on this man and his family please send to:

The information contained in these pages is provided solely for the purpose of sharing with others researching their ancestors in Ireland.

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