Finding Private Brennan

Anthony (Tony) Brennan was one of the very few Kilkenny men who served with the British army during the First or Great War, to have left us an account of his time in the trenches of northern France. He wrote this account many years after his period of service, which was subsequently lodged by his wife and family in the Imperial War Museum, London.

Anthony (Tony) Brennan was one of the very few Kilkenny men who served with the British army during the First or Great War, to have left us an account of his time in the trenches of northern France. He wrote this account many years after his period of service, which was subsequently lodged by his wife and family in the Imperial War Museum, London.

The Imperial War Museum does not have an up-to-date address or any contact details for this Brennan family. Can anyone in Kilkenny help us establish contact? We are particularly anxious to obtain a photograph of Tony and his family and also to know the date of his death which we understand occurred in England, where he had lived after the war.

We know quite a bit about Tony Brennan. His parents, John and Mary Brennan (née Byrne) lived at various places around the city, notably Flood St., and later at High Street (east side) where the widowed Mrs. Byrne was living in1901 Census. By this time her husband, John Brennan, a butcher, had died and she earned a living by taking in boarders and carrying on a newsagent’s business. With the help of the 1901 and 1911 censuses, surviving army records and his own memoir we know that John & Mary Brennan had the following children : Thomas ( served in the war, with the Australian Imperial Forces, died 1 Sept. 1920 in Brisbane Hospital of exhaustion) ; Josephine (b. 1891) who was known as Phina ; John Patrick (b. Flood St., in 1886), Leo Mary (b. 1888); Joseph, who served in the war, died in Egypt of wounds, 4 July 1915, while serving with the Austalian Imperial Forces, which tells us that he had emigrated like his elder brother Thomas before the war ; Helen Theresa (b. 1893) and Anthony (b. 1898). By the time of the 1911 Census Mrs. Brennan was listed as a ‘Boarding-house Keeper’ meaning that she took in lodgers and at this time a Pierce Brannigan of Queen’s County was living with the family. The house that the family lived in had eight rooms and was deemed to be a 2nd class house. Amongst the neighbours were the Stackpooles who also had sons at the Front, who were destined to die.

Tony Brennan was educated at the CBS in Kilkenny where he was classmates with J.J. Scott who served in the war. Subsequently Tony spent some time at Marino College, Clontarf. He enlisted in the Summer of 1915, while under age and he had departed for the Front from Richmond Barracks, Dublin by 27 July 1915 in a 300 man draft, destined for the 2nd battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment. He was then only 17 years and 2 months old.

Mrs. Brennan as her son’s sole guardian had sought to nullify his enlistment and had forwarded a copy of her son’s birth certificate to the military authorities. The matter was raised in the House of Commons where it was stated that the recruitment officer had falsified Tony’s age. Subsequently Mrs. Brennan had been assured that her son would not be sent to the Front until after his 19th birthday. When Mrs. Brennan learned that her son had been sent to the Front she again protested but the military authorities did nothing and the matter came out as a scandal which was taken up by the Daily Mail and by the Irish MP., P. O’ Brien who raised the matter with the Irish Chief Secretary, Mr. Tennant and others. On the face of it nothing was achieved. Tony Brennan served at the Front until he was seriously injured in early August in 1917. He was to spend most of the subsequent year in various hospitals recovering. He was finally discharged from the army in September 1918.

As far as we know he lived the rest of his life in England where he had gone to gain employment. He marred and it was his wife who presented her late husband’s story to the Imperial War Museum, London.

This account has now been transcribed and edited and is almost ready for publication. It will be accompanied by the letters of Lt. Christopher Prior-Wanxdesforde of Castlecomer and the diary of the Rev. Col. Edward Dowling who hailed originally from Slieverue where his parents had been teachers. The Rev. Edward Dowling died PP of Camross in the early 1960s.

Can anyone identify relatives of this family today. Somewhere there must be a photograph of Tony Brennan.