Father Brennan’s tragic death

Mid-Ulster Mail – Saturday 2 January 1909




A thrill of horror was felt on Tuesday morning in Cookstown when it became known that Rev Patrick Brennan, the popular Catholic Curate, had been found dead in the street during the night. It appears that the reverend gentleman left Cookstown by the 1.30pm train for Dungannon on Monday. He left Dungannon at 10.30pm and was seen off by Rev Fathers Grant, Beck, and O’Neill, who endeavoured to persuade him to stay over. But Father Brennan had duty at 8.00am and, though a blizzard was raging and the roads were six inches deep with half-melted snow, he resolutely set out on his bicycle for the homeward journey on an exposed road. It was such a night as would have deterred anyone from venturing out who could help it, but Father Brennan, who was a conscientious and self-denying pastor to his people, felt it was his duty to get home for morning Mass, and died in the attempt, when almost within speaking distance of Cookstown presbytery. No one seems to have met or seen him on the way but, at 5 o’clock on Tuesday morning, four men returning from their work on the night shift at Greenvale Spinning Mill, noticed a body lying at the side of Church Street. On examination they were horrified to find that it was the faithful priest, who was lying dead on the top of his bicycle, having struggled on for ten miles to within 150 yards of his home. They at once got assistance and the body was removed to the presbytery.

Apart altogether from the hold which deceased had on the affection of his own people, the fact of a strong man, at midnight, on a public road, having to fight the elements yard by yard to gain his home while hundreds of people were slumbering alongside who would eagerly have rendered assistance if they had known, and the crowning horror of his dying of exhaustion and exposure in the streets of the town with friends all round him, any of whom could have saved his life, has so gripped the imagination of all, that the sorrow for his death is universal.

Deceased was a native of Haggardstown, near Knockbridge, three miles from Dundalk, County Louth, and was a nephew of Rev P McCartney PP, of Forkhill. He commenced his education in St Mary’s College, Dundalk, afterwards passing through the Diocesan College in Armagh, and then passed on to St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, in 1886, where he had a distinguished collegiate career, and was ordained at midsummer 1892. His first mission was a temporary curacy in Stewartstown. He then was appointed curate in the parish of Clonoe, Tyrone, where he spent nine years and assisted Rev John Rock PP, in erecting a new church and schools. He afterwards came to Cookstown, where he spent almost seven years in missionary duty, and his zeal in promoting the building of the new presbytery is so well-known that it needs only be mentioned. He took an active interest in the night schools established by Canon Rice PP, and provided prizes out of his own pocket. His charity was proverbial and was not limited by sect. Indeed, one of his last acts was, when on the way to the station on the day of his death, to leave a message that a Protestant working-man (with whom he was on most friendly terms) should call at the presbytery for some medicine he had procured for him for an ailment. He also took great interest in facilitating parishioners to secure old-age pensions. In both Clonoe and Cookstown the deceased endeared himself to all, his zeal and indefatigable energy in the cause of religion earning for him universal esteem and admiration. His death has caused profound grief and mourning in both parishes, where his memory will be revered for many years as a great and good priest and a kind and generous friend to the poor and lowly.



A sworn inquiry was held by Mr John Malone, coroner.

Rev Father Grant deposed that deceased arrived at Dungannon at 2 o’clock and stayed all evening. He left at 10.30pm on witness’ bicycle to ride to Cookstown. He refused to stay all night or let them send a car, and made for home. He was in good health and spirits. It would take about two hours to come over in this weather.

Dr Charles HPD Graves deposed that about 5.00am he was called to see deceased, and found the body in Mr Edward J Malone’s. There were no marks of violence on the body. There were two little dents on the forehead, where he evidently lay against the step of the cycle, but they were quite trivial abrasions and could not account for his death. Witness carefully examined his head and there was no appearance of any wound or blow on it. Witness was of the opinion he died from syncope from exhaustion and exposure.

John Rogers, of Church Street, a mill worker, deposed that he was coming from the night turn in the mill about 5 o’clock and found the body on the street, about six feet from the kerbstone. There were no marks or tracks but his own. Witness saw in the snow where he walked forward, and the track of the bicycle wheel. The clothes were not disarranged. The head was resting on the machine. He appeared to have been dead two or three hours. Witness went to the Parochial House and knocked at a few doors as he went, and helped to remove the body to Mr EJ Malone’s house, just opposite. It was very wild weather at one o’clock that night.

Head-Constable Finn deposed that at ten minutes past five, the son of the last witness reported that Father Brennan was lying dead in Gortalowry on his bicycle. Witness went at once with Sergeant McCabe and Constable Heron, and on the way told Dr Graves. He found the body about two feet from the footpath at Flanagan’s new house, with his forehead on the step, his hat was between the wheels and the lamp was in front of the machine. Witness made a close examination of the ground and came to the conclusion that he simply dropped where he lay. There were no marks or tracks but his own and very few of them. Witness traced him back to the Drum Road, and he appeared to have walked up the whole way. The tracks were straight to within 20 yards of where the body was found, when the wheel tracks began to zig-zag till he fell. Dr Graves came immediately. There was not the slightest suspicion of foul play.

Coroner (who was deeply affected) – I am satisfied.



The remains were removed from the Presbytery on Wednesday evening and reverently deposited in the church adjacent, which was open all night for the devotions of the parishioners. On Thursday the funeral took place. Signs of mourning were visible all over the town, the shops being shuttered and blinds drawn. When the coffin was carried from the church at noon and the enormous congregation joined the large crowd outside, the congestion was so great that progress was difficult. After the hearse the clergy walked, and then the coffin, carried shoulder high by relays of members of the different societies, and followed by others, all wearing distinctive badges. In the procession to the graveside were the following – The Sodalities of the Children of Mary and the Children of the Holy Angels, the Confraternity of the Sacred Heart, the Confraternity of the Living Rosary, the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Society of St Vincent de Paul, the members of the Catholic Reading Rooms, of which deceased was President; and the William Orr Branch of the INF, of which deceased was an honorary member. There were also the members of Division No 19, AOH, and the members of Brian Oge GAAFC.

In the church of the Holy Trinity chanting of the Office for the Dead was commenced at 10.30am. His Eminence Cardinal Logue presided at the solemn ceremonies, and Rev PJ McArdle PP, Beragh, and Rev John Clarke CC, Drogheda, were the chanters. The clergymen in the choir included – Right Rev Monsignor PJ Byrne PP VG, Dungannon; Very Rev Thomas Canon Rice PP VF, Cookstown; Rev John McLaughlin CC, Cookstown; Very rev Thomas Canon McWilliams PP, Clonoe; Very Rev John Canon Quinn PP, Magherafelt; Very Rev James Canon Grimes PP, Portadown; Very Rev Dr Toner, Professor, Maynooth College; Very Rev J Corcoran SM, President, St Mary’s College, Dundalk; Rev M Clark OMI, Inchicore; Rev M Quinn, Adm, Armagh; Rev PJ McArdle PP, Beragh; Rev JP O’Callaghan PP, Kildress; Rev P Lawless SM, St Mary’s, Dundalk; Rev P McMullan PP, Coagh; Rev MJ Quinn, Adm, Dundalk; Rev James Loughran PP, Ardboe; Rev T Cassidy PP, Monasterboice; Rev Patrick Quinn PP, Moy; Rev J Dunne PP, Loughgall; Rev B Lavery PP, Tandragee; Rev B O’Connor PP, Lissan; Rev M McIlduff PP, Pomeroy; Rev P Quinn PP, Stewartstown; Rev F Donnelly PP, Ballinderry; Rev O McAleavey PP, Moneymore: Rev Hugh Taggart CC, Galbally; Rev Thomas J McParland CC, Kildress; Rev P Lyons CC STL, Dundalk; Rev E Clark CC, Dundalk; Rev J Duffy CC, Haggardstown; Rev P Brady CC, Lough; Rev J Clark CC, Drogheda; Rev T Rogers CC, Camlough; Rev M Quinn CC, Poyntzpass; Rev P Cush CC, Pomeroy; Rev F McNeice CC, Crossmaglen; Rev Thomas McBrien CC STL, Faughart; Rev T McDonnell CC, Portadown; Rev A McOscar CC, Clonoe; Rev J Ward CCBD, Armagh; Rev PJ Donnelly CC, Clonoe; Rev C Kerlin CC, Desertmartin; Rev Arthur Rogers (recently ordained); Rev E Mackin CC, Magherafelt; Rev H Callan CC, Ardee; Rev M Rafferty CC, Loup; Rev P Moore CC, Magherafelt; Rev M McGeown CC, Tullyallen; Rev James Mackin CC, Aughnagar; Rev John McBride CC, Stonebridge; Rev Arthur Toner CC, Moortown; Rev Thomas McCann CC, Ardboe; Rev J Beck CC, Dungannon; Rev F O’Neill, Professor, St Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon; Rev J O’Neill, Professor, St Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon; Rev John Grant CC, Dungannon; Rev Michael McCullagh CC, Kildress; Rev F Quinn CC, Loughgall; Rev F Ward CC, Caledon; Rev James O’Neill CC, Donaghmore; Rev C Short CC, Carrickmore; Rev P Collins CC, Stewartstown.

At the conclusion of the Office, Solemn Requiem Mass was celebrated by Rev Francis O’Neill, Professor, St Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon; the deacon being Rev Thomas McCann CC, Ardboe; and the sub-deacon, Rev Thomas McParland CC, Kildress. Rev Hugh Taggart CC, Galbally, acted as Master of Ceremonies.

The church, which was draped in mourning, was crowded to its utmost capacity during the ceremonies, and there were many outward demonstrations of grief among the congregation. The Mass being finished, his Eminence Cardinal Logue pronounced the Final Benediction, and the coffin, on which was placed the late Father Brennan’s biretta and stole, was reverently borne on the shoulders of prominent members of the congregation to the Old Derryloran Catholic Churchyard, where it was deposited amid the undisguised manifestations of mourning. Rev John McLaughlin CC, Cookstown, read the prayers at the graveside.

Mr Thomas M Kettle, MP for East Tyrone, wired as follows to Mr WJ Harbison, President of the East Tyrone Executive of the United Irish League: “Profoundly distressed to read in today’s papers of Father Brennan’s death. Please convey expression of heartfelt sympathy.”

The chief mourners were – Mr James Brennan (brother), Mrs Casey (sister), Mr James Casey (brother-in-law), Miss Casey (niece), Mr Michael Casey (nephew), Messrs L Grant, J Brennan, and P Brennan (cousins), John Watters and Patrick Gavin (relatives).

The clergymen of other denominations present at the funeral were – Rev FM Moeran MA, rector, Derryloran; Rev J Entrican BA; Rev A Simms BA; Rev T Glass BA (Presbyterian ministers), Cookstown); Rev JR Clinton (Methodist minister), Cookstown; Rev JM Jennings AB, Protestant curate of the parish; Rev SJ Lyons, Cullybackey.

Amongst the general public present or represented were – Messrs John B Gunning-Moore DL; Hugh Adair JP; James H Staples DL; John Adair RDC; William Anderson JP; Stewart Devlin JP; William Adair Munnis, John Doris JP; Samuel Ellison Ekin JP; Dr Graves, Dr Gillespie, Dr Knight, JG Donaldson, SR Magill, WS Lamont VS; John Meikle VS; John Malone, solicitor and coroner; Thomas JS Harbison, solicitor; Henry Newton Raphael, solicitor; William James Venables, solicitor; James Mullan, solicitor; P Campbell, solicitor; Edward J Malone, solicitor; Richard Hamilton Twigg, solicitor; George J Raphael, J Allen, J Anderson, D Acheson, Andrew Rutledge BA; John Thompson BA; JD Anderson, William John Artt, J Burns, W Bell, Alfred McCauly Brennan, Thomas Beck, J Blackstock, R Bell, R Brown, George Ramsay, H Wright, J Boyle, James McCooke, H McCullagh, Richard Charles, William McCutcheon, B Crossett, F Devlin, John Wilson Fleming CPS; J Howard, J Dickson, Thomas Doey, J Devlin, Fred Devlin, J Doris, Constable Donegan, Charles Eastwood, J Flanagan, Henry N Frankton, James Forrest, Walter Foot, William Foley, Head-Constable Finn, William Stewart Glenn, T Gibson, Henry Little Glasgow, Joseph Geddes, Constable Heron, William Hull, T Harkness, H Hamilton, J Hamilton, Hugh W McAdoo, John D Hopper, J Howard jun; S Hogg, R Hamilton, WC Johnstone, T McKay, J Kerr, J Lavery, J Liddle, WJ Lavery, J Larmour, J McNaney, M McNally, J Mullan, J Mayne, B McNally, C McNally, J Gallagher, B McGurk, W McCord, HN McAdoo, P McKenna JP; A Morrison, CS McClelland, H McCullagh, W Millar, S McKinney, HA Mann JP; J McOscar, A McCollum, J Nelson, A O’Neill, J O’Neill, W Park, G Ramsay, AW Richardson, W Rice, J Rodgers, J Stewart, B Steenson, WJ Scott, J Todd, J Tierney, A McVey, WH Warnock, H Wright, WG Hamilton, J Doyle, W Forgrave.

The members of the Society of St Vincent de Paul who marched with the procession were – Henry McKeown, President; William John Harbison, VP; William Turner, Secretary; Thomas Sheehy, Treasurer; James Kilkeary, William Rice NT; Joseph McMahon, James Boyle, Joseph Hagan, Arthur O’Neill, Thomas Murray, M McAleer, John Kerr, P Turner, Patrick McCann, John Doris.

The following members of the Irish National Foresters, of which Father Brennan was a member, were present – Thomas Mallon CR; Thomas Sheehy SCR; HF McNally, treasurer; Joseph Glackin, secretary; Dr Crossett, branch surgeon; W Turner, JJ Downey, J Stewart, M Corr, M Kelly, J Lappin, J Conlon, John Rickard, J Boyle, L Devlin, J Mayne, J Keogh, J Quinn, P Turner, A O’Neill, John McAtackney, P McCann, J Kilpatrick, John Bain, F McCahey, John Curran, J McCann, Arthur McCann, John Lawless, William Teague, John Stitt, M Brennan, James Teague, Gregory Mullan, Robert Malone, James Shields, Joseph Early, Joseph Conlon, Patrick Tyre, John Hagan, Barnard McCann, James Campbell, Joseph Connolly, Tom Rawe, and B McCann.

The following members of Division No.19, AOH (Cookstown) were present – Thomas McLarnon, President; D Quin VP; HC McNally, treasurer; T O’Connell and H McAnespie, secretaries; J Rush, P Bradley, James Loughran, James McGurk, S Martin, H McCanny, M Gilvarry, James Mallon, H McNicholl, P Gilvarry, James Muldoon, J McDonald, William McGearey, John Daly, John McKenna, Joseph Mullan, Thomas Mayne, James Higgins, John Gormley, M Martin, F McGeown, Patrick Kane, James Wilson, James Kelly, James Corr, P Carrigan, T Gilvarry, J Devlin, R Lawless, J Bannigan, James O’Neill, BJ Small, P Quin, P Mulgrew, J Gillespie MD; P Campbell, solicitor; A McManus, J Wilson, W Menagh, John Smart, J Doris.

The members of the Catholic Reading Rooms were – LE McNally, Joseph O’Neill, BJ Small, M McNally, John Kerr junior; James Stewart, Richard Kerr, F Donegan, B Peake, John O’Neill, Thomas O’Neill, Leo Mullan, M Quin junior; P Brady, P Kane, P McAnaney, P McLarnon, Joseph Bannigan, James Bannigan, James Boyle, H McNally, B McElhone, TM Coffey, A Campbell.

The funeral arrangements were in the charge of Mr James Mullan, Stewart Arms Hotel, Cookstown, who supplied the hearse and mourning carriages, and the coffin was supplied by Mr John McNally, Cookstown.



At the nine o’clock Mass in the Church of the Holy Trinity on New Year’s Day, Father Murtagh CC, Lissan, delivered a brief but exceedingly touching panegyric of Father Brennan. Father Murtagh, an old and intimate friend of the deceased, while labouring under evident emotions of grief, portrayed in eloquent and pathetic terms the many estimable qualities in the character of the deceased priest – his big, noble, generous heart, which outdistanced even charity itself; his genuine, intense sympathy with his people – a sharer in their joys and their sorrows. His genuineness was unquestioned and unquestionable. The people of Cookstown, irrespective of creed or class, have already shown their admiration of the deceased. Never before, perhaps, in this old town of Cookstown has there been witnessed a larger or more respectable and representative funeral cortege than that of yesterday. His Eminence Cardinal Logue said that in all his wide and varied experience he had seldom seen a more magnificent display of popular sympathy. In conclusion, Father Murtagh exhorted the people, in whose interests the deceased had sacrificed himself, not to forget him in their prayers – to pay an occasional visit to his grave, remembering the many visits he paid to the homes of the people of Cookstown, cheering them in their sorrows with the brightness of his own sunny disposition, but more especially by the graces of God which he brought along with him. May the Almighty God, whose faithful servant he has been, receive him into the mansions of eternal bliss.


On Tuesday night a special meeting of the William Orr Branch of the INF was held in the Foresters’ Hall, Loy. There was an extremely large attendance of members. Brother Thomas Mallon CR occupied the chair and in touching terms referred to the sad occurrence which had brought them together that night. In the course of his remarks he paid a high tribute to the many virtues of the late Father Brennan, his piety, lovable disposition, and great charity. Referring to the deceased as an honorary member of the society, Br Mallon said they all knew how he (Father Brennan) had their interests at heart, and how he had assisted and aided them by every means in his power. Several other brothers having spoken in terms of sorrow at the death of their beloved priest, and having expressed sympathy with his relatives, the following resolution was passed unanimously – “That we, the members of the William Orr Branch of the Irish National Foresters’ Benefit Society, Cookstown, in special meeting assembled, do hereby tender to our respected parish priest, Very Rev Thomas Canon Rice PP VF, and the relatives of the late lamented Father Brennan – a zealous priest, an honorary member of our society, and true Irishman – our sincere and heartfelt sympathy in the terrible affliction that has befallen them and the parish of Derryloran; and we deeply deplore his loss to the Irish Church, this organisation, and his native land.”

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