- (Click on images
|Cap Badges of the Royal Irish Rifles
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
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,
sister Christine Brennan had married a Joseph Bulger in Dublin 21
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.
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
*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:
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 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.
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 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: