John Brennan

John Brennan aka John McCartan

Born 17 August 1892
at Coopers House, Ballickmoyler, Co. Laois.
The son of Mark BRENNAN (1841-1902) and CATHARINE (Kate) LALOR (1859-1893)
He was and killed in action on 14 October 1918.

(Click on images to enlarge)
Badges of the Royal Irish Rifles (1881-1921)
John Brennan in Uniform

John Brennan in Uniform

After a lot of research by a lot of people, involving a lot of time, effort and energy which I am eternally grateful 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. In fact he changed his place of birth twice during the period of 1901 & 1911 according to the census of Ireland and the National Archives of Ireland. I have put together a brief summary below based on the information that was discovered and 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 McCartan

John Brennan 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 they indicated that his place of birth was according to the 1911 Census of Ireland Ballyminymore Glenavy, Co. Antrim Ireland and in the Forces War Records: he is shown as born in St. John's. Newfoundland. Canada.

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 was killed 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 have been his 2nd or 3rd tour to France. This would confirm the 3 chevron's on his lower right arm of his uniform. On his left arm you will see 2 vertical strips these indicated that he was wounded twice.

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.

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 overseas.

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 of Belfast.

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 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 his family and the South of Ireland. 

 I never met John but I did meet his brother Martin 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. We walked from Cooper Hill to Carlow and back one Saturday. He struck me as a very educated and well informed man. I wonder if Martin helped him 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). I would also like to mentionTerry Curran, and Michael Nugent. c.2017., who also provided a lot of information during the search for John. 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 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.

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 the research: Eileen Alan & Michael Boran who provided the photo of John in Uniform, Kevin Bulger, Mick Purcell, Brian McCleaf, Terry Curran and Michael Nugent. c.2017

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


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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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