The Bryan Family

Kilkenny Archaeological Society & Old Kilkenny Review

The best known family in the Jenkinstown area is the family of Bryan. Is this an Irish or Anglo-Irish family? The “Irish Builder” says “The family (i.e. the Bryans of Jenkinstown) was very probably a branch of that of O’Byrne, the name becoming finally anglicised to Bryan”. The Jenkinstown Bryans themselves, however, seem to have regarded themselves as Anglo-Irish. At Jenkinstown they kept a brass of Sir William Bryan (1395) of Seal, near Seven Oaks, in Kent from where the first Anglo-Irish Bryans came to Ireland. The first to come to Ireland was one Sir Francis Bryan who claimed descent from Sir Guys de Brienne. Sir Guy’s descendant Thomas Bryan was chief Justice of Common Pleas in 1462. His daughter Mary, who married Sir Henry Guilford, Controller of the Household of Henry VIII, was an immediate ancestor of Sir Francis Bryan. Sir Francis in turn was a prominent Courtier of Henry VIII. With the support of such powerful patronage when he came to Ireland he became Lord Marshall & Chief Justice of Ireland in 1540. At that time he was a widower. However he soon married Joan, widow of James IX, Earl of Ormond who was reputed to have been poisoned in London. He formed a powerful Ormond alliance through Joan who was to survive him and later marry her cousin Gerald Fitzgerald, 16th Earl of Desmond.

Almost immediately after sir Francis’s arrival in Kilkenny with Joan his wife, his name figures in the Calendar of Ormond Deeds. In 1549 an inquisition was held in Clonmel before Sir Francis Brane Knight of the Kings Priory Chamber, whom the King, has appointed to the 3rd place below his deputy of his Kingdom of Ireland in all his councils …etc., etc. So much for Sir Francis, the first Anglo-Irish Bryan to come to Kilkenny. The first Bryan to concern us in the Jenkinstown connection was Lewis or Ludovic (also called Leice, or Leuse Brin or Brianc) of Whiteswall and Damagh. This Lewis came into the ownership of Whiteswall and Bawnmore (Johnstown parish) through his marriage with Ellice White, only daughter and heir of Mr. White of Whiteswall and Bawnmore. At an inquisition in Kikenny dated 1557-8, Lewis Bryan is seized in his Demesne as of fee tenure of the town of Whiteswall with his appurtenances by demise of James De Butler late Earl of Ormond, and the manor of Damagh with its appurtenances by demise of Thomas De Butler, Earl of Ormond etc., etc. This suggests a friendship and possibly a relationship between Lewis Bryan and Sir Francis who had married Joan, a widow of James IX Earl of Ormond.

One of Lewis’s sons John, known as John FitzLewis, or John of Kilkenny, married Margaret Walshe. They are both buried in the Bryan vault in the old St. Mary’s cemetery where a mural monument records that he died in August 1607 and his wife in August 1610. There is also a shield charged with the arms of the Bryans of Jenkinstown impailing those of Walsh. It is John FitzLewis’s grandson, also called John of Kilkenny, who is directly concerned with the Jenkinstown connection. This John Bryan was closely connected with some of the well known Kilkenny families of that period. His father was Lewis while his mother was Douglas, daughter of Henry Shee, mayor of Kilkenny in 1610. One of his sisters married St. Ledger, while another married an Archer. His own wife was to be a Jenkinstown heiress – Ann Stanes. Ann married John Bryan, John of Kilkenny, who brought the Bryan name to Jenkinstown for the first time. It was about 1640 and tradition has it that it was a love match. John also became an Alderman and Sovereign of Kilkenny. They lived in a house situated nearer to River Dinan than that of later times that occupied the present site. They lived through troubled times. The Confederation war was followed by the Cromwellian conquest. During that time their house in Jenkinstown was made the repository of some precious articles for Catholic Divine Worship. The recorded list of these include the David Rothe silver monstrance as well as five chalices and several of elegant vestments. All these were kept in safe custody and after 200 years were presented to Most Rev. Dr. Walsh, Bishop of Ossory on the completion of the new St. Mary’s Cathedral. It was consecrated on October 4th 1857. (A description of monstrance and a full list can be seen in ‘Transactions of The Kilkenny Archaeological Society Vol. 1’, P 93)

Like so many others in those days they suffered for their religion. In the year 1663 John Bryan , Jenkinstown, amongst others, obtained the King’s Letter restoring them to their house and lands within the city and Liberties of Kilkenny as soon as they should obtain decrees of innocence in the Court of Claims. They were successful in this.

Student at Lincoln’s Inn

John Bryan in his last will, made after 1664 and proved in 1671 desired to be “interred in the monument of my ancestors at Kilkenny in Our Blessed Lady’s Church”. He died in 1671 and no doubt was buried there as requested. James Bryan, the eldest son and heir was for a time a student at Lincoln’s Inns. He was a Captain in King James’s army. He was to become an Alderman of Kilkenny by Chapter of James 11 in 1687. He became M. P. for Kilkenny city in 1687 together with John Rothe who was also Alderman and Mayor. This was in the Parliament of James 11 which met in May 1689 but was dissolved on the 28th July 1689. He had been on Ormond’s side before William landed in England but Ormond changed sides and went over to William in the English struggle. In the meanwhile back home in Kilkenny James Bryan “hath by Commission raised a troop of horse” for Ormond. Despite Bryans evident attachment to James and the Jacobite cause, Ormond, whom King William visited at Kilkenny, saw to it that he was not disturbed from his estate or home at Jenkinstown. James Bryan married Rose, younger daughter of Edward Rothe and Catherine Archdeacon his wife, Rose was Bishop David Rothe’s grand-niece. Her father was one of the four Commissioners who negotiated the surrender of Kilkenny to Cromwell in 1650. Rose’s brother was Lieutenant Gerald Rothe K.C.S.P. and Colonel of the Rothe Regiment in the Irish Brigade of the French service. The Rothes were still an important family. James and his wife Rose lived quietly at Jenkinstown during the Williamite invasion of Ireland. They retained their property and even acquired some extra through Rose’s inheritance in Kilkenny. In 1702 James acquired 1,250 acres at Aughatubrid and Clogh in the Castlecomer area. By 1704 they had acquired an unspecified amount of land, which coincided with the northern portion of Dunmore Manor.

James became High Sheriff for Co. Kilkenny. He was an executor to his cousin’s will, that of John Bryan, Whitewall and Bawnmore made in 1673. James Bryan and Rose Rothe had three children, Peter or Pierce born 1682, Henry and Catherine who died in Kilkenny in 1670. James died in 1714. His will was dated 9th February 1708 and proved 14th April 1714.

In Rothes’ Regiment

Due to the harsh anti-catholic Penal laws Peter or Pierce was obliged to leave Ireland in order to get a good education. He went to London and became a Barrister but returned to inherit Jenkinstown on his father’s death. About this time he married Jane Aylmer. They had four sons and three daughters – James his heir (born 1719) George (born 1720) Aylmer later a cadet in Rothe’s Regiment in the French army rising to become a Brigadier and Knight of St. Louis and Pierce. The girls were Alice, Rose and Mary who became second wife of William Wall, Coolnamuck her own cousin. (William Wall’s great grandmother was Catherine Bryan).

Pierce Bryan’s property already considerable was increased when inherited that of his kinsman James Bryan of Bawnmore when he died without issue in 1740. Thus a Bryan who had originally come from the Bawnmore branch to Jenkinstown, became owner of the Bawnmore property at that particular time. Pierce died in Kilkenny 30th March 1762 aged 80 years. James, Pierce’s eldest son succeeded him in Jenkinstown. At that time he was 40 years of age and a bachelor. He remained unmarried to the end of his life. He was quite an eccentric person and was known locally as Seamus O’Bryan. His main interest was in watching wild animals. Finn’s Leinster Journal april 22nd - 25th 1801 carried an advertisement inserted by him offering 50 guineas reward for information about large oak, ash and elm cut down and stolen in Jenkinstown and Gragara. He lived as a semi-recluse until 1805 when he died aged 86. Stories of his eccentries live on in Jenkinstown until the present day.

As he died unmarried the property fell to his brother George’s second eldest son George Bryan. First a word about George Bryan senior. He lived in London having married Catherine Xavaria Byrne only child of Henry Byrne of Oporto in Spain and his wife, (also Catherine) a daughter of James Eustace, Yeomanstown, Co Kildare. (Xavaria spelled elsewhere Xaveria). It was George and Catherine’s London house in Devonshire Square that George later heir to Jenkinstown was born in 1770. for Catholic education he was obliged to go to the Continent. George went to Leige. Later his uncle Aylmer, Brigadier and Knight of St. Louis, brought him to Strasburg. There he was joined by his younger brother, Eustace who died in Metz in 1786 when George was 16 years of age. In 1787 George visited Munich and Vienna, but by Spring of 1792 he was in Paris and witnessed the massacre of the Tuileries. At that time he was 22 years of age and had as his fiancée Countess Louise de Rutaut, daughter of Count de Rutaut of Nancy. Louise was lady-in-waiting to Marie Antoinette and was imprisioned with her under the French Commune. George is said to have become a kind of Scarlet Pimpernel in his efforts to rescue both ladies. He failed, however, and came under the suspicion of the authorities and was imprisoned for 16 months. Even the Count de Rutaut was lucky to escape with his life in these dangerous days. On his release from prison George again turned to the Rutaut family. It is said that Louise in the meantime had been executed during the Reign of Terror, and accordingly he sought the hand of her sister, Countess Marie Louise Augustine. He was accepted and he married her secretly in Nancy in 1794. They escaped to London where on the 8th August 1795 he married her publicly at Maria de la Bone (known as Marlybone). George was very lucky in his choice of wife. A contemporary account says that she “from her highly polished education and kindness of heart defused happiness not only throughout her own immediate family but the respectable circle in which she moved and the whole neighbourhood in which she resides”.

Return to Ireland

Two years later and nine months after his father’s death in 1797 George bought a Commission in the British Dragoons. Later he was promote to the rank of Captain, but when it was realised he was a Catholic he was informed that he could not hold such a Commission. He promptly resigned and turned from London to Ireland, the land his father had always taught him to cherish. He purchased a house at 12 Henrietta Street, Dublin with his wife son and daughter he came to live there in 1802. What kind of Ireland did he come to? The Union had been effected two years previously, there was still great unease. The Veto question was a burning issue. The revived Catholic Committee was active in its efforts to obtain relief from certain penal restrictions still imposed on Catholics. Catholic Emancipation was being strenuously fought for. George Bryan entered wholeheartedly into these activities, especially that of the Catholic Committee.

Beside his work in the affairs of national importance he was also very active in the affairs of his parish and local community. He took a leading part in the purchase of land for a new St. Michan;s Church in North Anne Street (now Halston St.). He personally laboured hard to raise funds for this while subscribing generously himself. The church was completed in 1817 and was at that time the second largest church in Dublin. The local community expressed its gratitude to George Bryan for his work and financial assistance by having the Bryan coat arms emblazoned at the gallery stairs of the church where it stands to the present day.

In the meantime his Uncle James, the eccentric, had died in Jenkinstown in 1805. George became his heir. At this time he was rated one of the richest commoners in Ireland. Besides owning Jenkinstown he had received his mother’s share of the Byrne fortune in Oporto. She had been an only child and the Byrne fortune was considerable. To his already large holding he added 1689 acres at Ballyrafton at a cost of £3,042. George Bryan had often been in Jenkinstown before he inherited if from his Uncle James. He had taken part in theatricals in the Kilkenny Private Theatre established in 1802. His name appears with the Company from 1804 to 1810. Thomas Moore who also took in the Kilkenny theatricals was a frequent visitor to Jenkinstown. It was while staying there he was inspired to write “The Last Rose of Summer” one of his best known songs set to an adaptation of “The Grove of Blarney”. It was in connection with the Kilkenny theatricals that he met his future wife Bessy Dyke,

First Catholic Sheriff

George Bryan became a Major in the Kilkenny Militia, a rank by which he was familiarly known. He was also known as “Punch Bryan” or simply “Major Punch”. In 1830 he was appointed High Sheriff of County Kilkenny the first Roman Catholic to hold such an office since 1690. He was elected M. P. for Kilkenny county from 1837 to 1841 and again from 1841 to 1847. It is probable that “Punch” Bryan built or greatly extended the Jenkinstown mansion. It is unlikely his eccentric Uncle James did any work of that nature. He built Gragara House as a residence for his son. A racecourse and grandstand were also built. “Punch” had a son and a daughter. The daughter Mary Napolina married Colonel Sir Miley Doyle K.C.B., ( M .P. for Carlow), 1817. The son and heir, George was born in London on; 25th October 1796 after his parents arrived there safely in their escape from France. “Punch” Bryan is buried in the family vault at Old St. Mary’s, Kilkenny. An altar tomb bears the inscription “George Bryan of Jenkinstown, Co. Kilkenny, died 8th October 1843 aged 73 years.

His successor is better known as Colonel George Bryan. He had lived with his parents and sister in London, Dublin and Jenkinstown until his marriage in 1820. He married Margaret Talbot, second daughter of William Talbot and Mary O’Toole of Castle Talbot near Blackwater, Co. Wexford. Margaret Talbot, besides being no ordinary person herself was a member of no ordinary family. She had eight maternal (O’Toole) uncles – all officers in the French service. Some of her own brothers held important military posts on the Continent as well. Her elder and only sister Maria Theresa married John Talbot (no evident relative) of Warwick in 1814. He was to become the Earl of Shrewsbury of Alton Towers in 1827 inherited property, £40,000 and extended landed estates in Ireland.

The children of George Bryan and Margaret Talbot are listed in the Bellew family Missal kept at Barmeath Castle in Co. Louth. There were three sons and six daughters. Of the sons – James and Eustace died in infancy. Only George Leopold was to survive, later to become heir. The girls were Georgina born 1821, died at Jenkinstown 1827, Margaret Mary, born 1822, died in Italy where she was taken for health reasons. She is buried in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Oak, Bagnaia, where a white marble monument marks the tomb. The design shows an angel leaning sorrowfully upon a down-turned fire brand symbol of death. The inscription is in Latin “Margaret Mary Bryan, second daughter of George Bryan, Master of Jenkinstown, Kilkenny, Ireland, and Margaret Talbot, died in Bagnaia in Kalends on June 1824, aged two years, two months and three days”. The third daughter Juliana was born 1822-1823 and died in Italy in 1832 aged ten years.

Strange Cargo

Jemina Ann was born in 1824. She died at Ostend in 1830. She fell victim to a current epidemic and it was forbidden to remove such corpses from the place of death. A very interesting letter, kept at Barmeath Castle, tells how unknown to the Captain of a ship her remains were smuggled on his ship to Ireland labelled “Earthenware”. The letter to a member of the family in Ireland explains the scheme and requests that the “Earthenware” be met in Dublin and suitable cared for. The fifth daughter Octavia Catherine Mary was born in Rome in 1827. She is buried in St. Isidore’s, Rome. The inscription on the marble monument reads “Octavia Catherine Mary, daughter of George Bryan – Jenkinstown and Margaret Talbot. Born Rome 6th February 1827. Died 1st Day of December 1846. Requiescat in Pace”.

The sixth and youngest daughter was Augusta Margaret Gwendoline who was born in 1830. She was the only one of the six to survive to old age. She married Edward Joseph Bellew, 2nd Baron Bellew of Barmeath Castle, Co. Louth. Colonel George and his wife Margaret spent many years of their married life on the Continent. Margaret in her own right was a famous beauty and wit. She is said to have dined and danced with all the Crowned heads of Europe. She ws a friend of Madame Bonaparte and of Pope Pius IX. The Pope is said to have donated the special 17th century glass panel depicting the Last Supper to Jenkinstown Oratory. A very fine portrait of Pius IX is kept at Barmeath Castle. Margaret was also a friend of Leopold, King of the Belgians, who became godfather to her only surviving son, George Leopold Bryan.

It was not until 1843 that George and Margaret themselves inherited Jenkinstown. They never came to live at Gragara House built for them by Punch Bryan. When they did come to live at Jenkinstown they added to the mansion. In 1847 Margaret, wishing to emulate her sister’s seat at Alton Towers, superimposed heavy battlement of cut stone to the main structure. Part of this collapsed however, killing some of the workmen. George was a Colonel in the Kilkenny Militia, also high Sheriff of Kilkenny in 1846. His time as owner and master of Jenkinstown coincided with the worst years of the famine. He died in 1848 aged only 52 years.

George Bryan succeeds

Colonel Bryan was succeeded by George Leopold Bryan, better known as Captain Bryan. In 1849, the year after he came to the ownership of Jenkinstown, he married Lady Elizabeth Georgina, daughter of Francis Nathaniel, 2nd Marquess of Conyngham, K. P. Their daughter Mary Margaret Frances was born in Jenkinstown, January 17th 1852 and was baptised by the parish priest of Conahy V. Rev. Patrick Byrne. Some time after this Lady Elizabeth left Jenkinstown and did not return. Mary was left as an only child with her father. I found a record of her thus, Lady Elizabeth Georgiana Conyngham (d. 1904), married George Finch-Hatton, 11th Earl of Winchilsea, they had no family. On ancestry.com Colonel Bryan’s wife, Lady Elizabeth is also recorded as dying in 1904. Neither site refer to other marriage, though her parents are recorded as same. Note by T Downey.

Captain George Bryan was a well known figure in sporting circles. He was one of the stewards of the Kilkenny Four Day Annual Races. He is said to have owned a Derby winner. (Couldn’t find any record. T. D.) He was master of the Kilkenny Hounds in succession to Sir John Power. He became M. P. for Kilkenny County for 1865-68, for 1868-74 and also for 1874-80. The Griffith land valuation was made during his lifetime. It is recorded there that he was landlord of 800 acres at Parksgrove, Aharney and Seskin South. He was landlord to 2,862 acres in the Jenkinstown area i.e. Coolcraheen, Dunmore, Shanganny,Gragara, Littlefield, Tullaglass, Springhill, kerwin’s Inch as well as Jenkinstown. He held 1250 acres in the Aughatubrid and Clough area – more than 4,612 acres in all. The land question bedevilled Ireland especially since the famine. Captain Bryan is reputed to have supported Tenants Rights struggleand to have reduced the rents of his tenants about 1870. At least it can be said he was a resident landlord and generally speaking was held in high esteem by the majority of his tenants.

In1870 Captain bryan was completing the building of the new mansion house in Jenkinstown. The original entrance to Jenkinstown House was via the “Tower Bridge” shown on the Down Survey Map c. 1653. The date on the bridge itself is 1647. At that time the road to Castlecomer crossed this bridge and continued close to the river dinan via Gragara and Lisnafunchion. In time a tower gate with a residence for a gentleman was erected on the north side of the Tower Bridge. Later it became a police residence and a private residence. In the early 1940’s it was taken down and transferred to the Callan Road entrance to St. Kieran’s College where it now stands bearing the College motto “Hiems Transit 1782” in cut stone crests on the front. After the new Dinan Bridge (Ballyragget Road) was built in 1792 a new entrance lodge and avenue were made as an approach from the Ballyragget road, while a third entrance was built at Gragara after the Gragara Bridge over the dinan was built in 1835. The new lodge on the Gragara side seems to be the building marked “school” on the ordinance Survey Map of 1842. It was originally a school built by the Bryans for the use of the children of their employees. Fortunately it still stands.

Gift to St. Mary’s Cathedral.

Captain Bryan or more probably his father donated a stain glass window to St. Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny. It was erected while the Cathedral was being built. It is on the left hand side aisle near the Sacred Heart Altar. In about 1879 it was blown in and destroyed during a very severe storm. A second one was erected after the storm in honour of the Sacred Heart. Mary bryan grew up to be very popular in her community. The accounts of her charity, kindness and concern for all and especially to young people live on even to this day. She was a frequent visitor to the school, probably that at Gragara, to help with the religious instruction of the children there. Mary was only 20 years of age when she died at Jenkinstown. She is buried in the sanctuary of the Oratory there. The brass plate reads “Mary Bryan, died 17th Nov. 1872, aged 20 years. Daughter of George L. Bryan Esq. interred in this chapel R.I.P.” George Leopold Bryan lived on for a further eight years. Hetoo, is buried in the sanctuary of the Oratory. The brass plate reads ”George L. Bryan, Esq. Died 29th june 1880. Aged 50 years. Interred in this chapel R.I.P.”

Having left no direct heir George bryan appointed his nephew George Leopold Bellew to his property. George L. Bellew was third son of Edward joseph Bellew and Augusta Margaret Gwendoline Bryan of Barmeath Castle, she being George L. Bryan’s only surviving sister. At this time George L.Bellew was 23 years of age and unmarried. On taking over ownership he was required to take on the name bryan as well. This he did by Royal Licence in 1881. In 1911 he succeeded his brother to become the 4th Baron Bellew of Barmeath and was henceforth known as Lord bryan Bellew. Having undertaken a British Army career he spent very little time in Jenkinstown. Stewards and agents looked after his property and rent. Sometimes harsh treatment were meted out by these to the tenants. In spite of his long and frequent periods of absence, lord Bellew did much construction work towards the end of the nineteenth century. The present cut stone castellated structure, still standing on the mansion site, was built by him. It does not even appear on the Laurence photo. It is said to have provided a library, a Sitting room and a Bedroom. It was he, too, who built the single storey parish priest’s house at Conahy, the parish in which Jenkinstown is situated.

During this time Lord Bellew’s brother Richard had taken over and lived on the estate property at Mount Firoda, Castlecomer. At one stage he and his family came to live at Jenkinstown and many of his children were born there. Richard’s first wife was Ada Gilbey a person of great charity and neighbourliness. He married her in 1887 and they had four children, Edward Henry (B. 1889), Bryan Bertham (B. 1890), Gwendoline and Ada Kate. She died, however, in 1893. he married, secondly, Josephine Gwendoline Herbert. They had two sons George Rothe (B. 1899) and Patrick Herbert (B. 1905).

Marriage of Lord Bellew

Richard and his second wife left Jenkinstown and went to live in England. Once more the estate was cared for by agents and stewards in the continued absence of Lord George Bellew who was still touring in the Middle East. On a trip to Libya in 1927 he met and married Elaine Dodd, widow of Herbert Lloyd Dodd who had died in 1914. Elaine was daughter of John Leach, Queenstown, South Africa. It was then they returned to Jenkinstown to live there and restore what was for so long neglected. Lady Bellew proved herself an efficient if demanding manager and administrator.

Lord bellew died 15th June 1935 without issue. Since 1911 he had owned not only the Jenkinstown property but that of Barmeath Castle as well becoming 4th Baron Bellew. Both proerties were to pass to his younger brother Richard’s eldest son by his first marriage – Edward Henry Bellew. By this time Edward Henry was 46 years of age, married and engaged in his life’s work in London. He was not prepared to take up the irish property so he gave it to his younger brother Bryan Bertham Bellew. Edward retained the title 5th Baron Bellew, until his death in 1976. Bryan Bertham was at this time married and living in Troyswood, Kilkenny. He chose to live at Barmeath Castle, to retain the estate there and to sell Jenkinstown. The Land Commisssion purchased it and subsequently divided it amongst farmers re routing some internal roads and erecting boundary fences. Planting by the Forestry Division began in 1941. Due to this sale Elaine Lady Bellew was obliged to vacate Jenkinstown. She retired to live first at Kilcreene and later at Butler House, Kilkenny, on an annuity of £500 per year. In her new situation she became active in the public affairs of the city. She died 7th March, 1973 aged 88 years and is buried at St. Kieran’s Cemetery.

The vacated house at jenkinstown was first offered to the parish of Conahy. The offer was not taken up for the whole mansion. Only the Oratory and adjoining room were retained, the Oratory was opened for public worship. During the second World Waar the mansion was occupied by the Irish Armed forces. Afterwards the house was demolished and left as a ruin for a number of years. In recent times the Department of Forestry developed the portion retained by themas an amenity area for visitors. They have provided facilities for forest walks, picnics and the study of various trees. There is also an area set aside as a Garden of Remembrance on the site where Tom Moore was inspired to write “The Last Rose of Summer”. The Bryans who lived in Jenkinstown and were prominent in the area from 1640 to 1880 are almost forgotten. The Bellews who lived there from 1880 to 1935 are still remembered by a few older people.





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