Note: This post was updated on March 10, 2021 to replace the photo of Ada Brett and Brenton Kerr.
If you’ve spent any time digging into the past, you’ll know that factual details about people and events are easily twisted and tangled. Before technology, tall tales could easily grow out of simple stories. Today, technology allows us to build online family trees through the simple act of accepting unverified hints. This is one of the modern ways we casually distort history.
I am afraid that I have been complicit in distorting history by sharing a theory on this blog that has not withstood scrutiny on certain points. I’m referring to the blog entry titled Connecting Brett Siblings. When that post was published in April 2018, we were heading back to Ireland for another crack at learning more about the Bretts. My hope was that the post would attract critical examination by others and thus allow me to reconsider certain parts of it. It did just that.
It’s now time to revise my theory and replace it with one premised on the lives of three Bretts named Patrick.
NOTE: To differentiate between Bretts with the same first name, there is a practice of describing each by appending a relevant location, occupation or distinguishing characteristic, and/or providing their years of birth and death. For example, in the case of Henry Brett who emigrated to Canada in 1850 and settled near Alliston, Ontario, we generally refer to him as Henry Brett of Rosemont or Henry of Rosemont. He might also be identified as Henry Brett (1792-1877). The need for this convention will become apparent as you read further.
Patrick of Streamstown
In the summer of 1932, newlyweds Ada Brett and Brenton Kerr arrived in Ballymote, County Sligo, on a pilgrimage of sorts. As the great-great-granddaughter of Catherine Cuffe and Henry Brett of Rosemont, Ada was curious about her Brett ancestors, where they had lived, and whether other descendants continued to inhabit the area.
Through well-placed inquiries, the Kerrs were introduced to Henry Brett of Streamstream who told them all he knew about the Bretts: that they had lived near Achonry for many hundreds of years; that family lore placed three Bretts with William the Conqueror, at least one of whom had received land in Ireland for his service; and that a Jaspar Brett had lived just opposite the cathedral at one time (in the 16th century) but his house had entirely disappeared. Henry also told Ada and Brenton about the tomb of a man named John Brett.
“In the graveyard was the tomb of John Brett, who had been of some importance in Tubercurry. This man had nine sons, one of whom was Patrick, the grandfather of this Henry, himself. Two or three of these nine sons emigrated, who, we conjectured, must have been Henry, my great great grandfather and his brothers, who came to Canada. Henry’s memory did not go much beyond this, and apparently there are no family records.”
As both Ada and Brenton kept journals of their trip, we have the above description from Ada. For his part, Brenton wrote the following about Henry:
“Soon the husband arrived from the fields: a man of 45-50, rather fair with greenish eyes. He welcomed us and we set to work to match ancestors. He is son to John Brett who married a cousin, Celia Brett. John Brett was son to Patrick, who married a Craven. Patrick was son to John Brett who had a big grave in the old Achonry burying-ground. John Brett had nine sons, three of whom had emigrated ‘to America.’ We thought it likely that Ada’s g-g-grandfather, ‘Henery’, had been one of the three.”
We know that Henry Brett of Streamstown was the son of John and Cecelia Brett and the grandson of Eliza Craven and Patrick Brett of Streamstown – sometimes referred to as Patrick Brett of Tawnavoultry. When Henry’s father John lost his first wife in 1864, he married his cousin Cecelia, the youngest daughter of his paternal uncle, Christopher Brett, a man who coincidentally had nine daughters and one son (Charles Brett of Achonry). Henry of Streamstown was the oldest child of this union.
We believe that “Uncle Patt” and “Uncle Christy” referenced in the George Brett letters are Patrick Brett of Streamstown and his brother Christopher. George the letter writer provides sufficient details about the two men and their families to support the hypothesis that his father, Jasper Brett, husband of Celia Mowbray and ancestor of the Essex County Bretts, was also their brother. I propose to call this sibling grouping the Achonry-Streamstown Bretts.
Since 2018, I have assumed that the anecdotal evidence supplied by both Ada Brett and Brenton Kerr – i.e. that Henry Brett of Streamstown’s grandfather Patrick was the son of John Brett who had nine sons – is accurate. In the absence of any new facts on that matter, I continue to believe in its possibility. However, when it comes to the large Brett vault in the graveyard at Achonry Cathedral and its connection to the Achonry-Streamstown Bretts, there is a story involving another man named Patrick that has to be considered.
Patrick of Boston
The large family vault in the graveyard at Achonry Cathedral was erected by John Brett of Tobercurry (also spelled Tubbercurry) in memory of his father, John Brett (1765-1844). We know this because of the inscription:
“Sacred to the memory of John Brett, late of Tubbercurry, who departed this life Sept. 6th 1844 aged 78. Also to the memory of Elen the beloved wife of John his son, departed this life Sept. 1st 1858 aged 43.”
John Brett of Tobercurry, the man who honoured his father and his wife with this large monument, was a merchant, banker and land agent for the Nolan, Irwin and Phibbs estates. He also held the lucrative leaseholds of the tolls and customs collected from local fairs and markets. Among other appointments, he served as a Poor Law Guardian as early as 1839 and throughout the Great Famine (granting relief to those in need), and he was named postmaster in Tobercurry in 1866. He was clearly a man of some influence. He was also known to follow the Roman Catholic faith.
The Landed Estates Database maintained by the National University of Ireland (Galway) provides the following description of John Brett of Tobercurry:
“The Brett family acted as land agents in the Tobercurry area dealing with land in the parishes of Achonry and Kilmacteige. John Brett, land agent, gave evidence before the Devon Commission on land holding in July 1844. From Griffith’s Valuation it would appear that John Brett leased property from the Wynne, Taaffe, Ormsby and Wingfield estates in the Baronies of Lyney and Corran. He was also leasing a house in the town of Tobercurry to the value of £16 15s from the Irwin estate. John and Henry Brett are recorded as owning over 1500 acres in county Sligo in the 1870s. In 1876 over 400 acres of the Brett estate was offered for sale in the Landed Estates Court including lands at Tullycusheenmore, barony of Leyny and houses in the town of Tobercurry. The family vault is in Achonry Graveyard where a John Brett was laid to rest in 1871.”
John’s older brother Henry Brett, mentioned above, was a civil engineer who initially worked as a surveyor before taking consecutive positions as county surveyor for Offaly, Mayo, Waterford and Wicklow. He is known to have assisted the tithe commissioners in the parish of Achonry, as well as Sir Richard Griffith in his valuation of Ireland. Referred to as Henry Brett C.E., he was the author of The Reclamation of the Waste Lands of Ireland, published in 1881.
The online Directory of Irish Architects 1720-1940 includes an extensive listing for Henry Brett C.E. In Dublin, he established a successful engineering firm in partnership with two of his sons. His house, called Rosemount – with a ‘u’ in contrast to Ontario’s Rosemont without a ‘u’ – was located in Booterstown, just south of Dublin. The significance of the name t has yet to be revealed.
Now, to get to the point. John Brett of Tobercurry and Henry Brett C.E. had a brother named Patrick. Following Patrick Brett of Boston’s death in April 1871, the Boston Pilot published an obituary that was reprinted in the Sligo Champion. In that obituary, the 54-year-old Patrick is described as “a truly good man” who “died fortified with the Sacraments of the Church, of which he was an exemplary member and practical follower of its teachings.” Resident in Boston for 17 years, he was also the secretary and stockholder to Waterbury Buckle Co. Of prime importance is this statement in the obituary:
“The deceased was a native of Tobercurry, County Sligo, at which place he has a brother living, who is a large landed proprietor, and another brother who is County Surveyor for Limerick.”
Henry Brett C.E. does not appear to have been the county surveyor for Limerick, but he was a county surveyor of some repute and several appointments. Despite what appears to be a factual error, Patrick’s obituary clearly places him within the Tobercurry line of the Brett family, which appears to have been Catholic. It is a point of some importance that the Brett lines I have researched have generally been adherents to the Church of Ireland, with a few followers of Methodism.
It is also worth noting that Patrick’s obituary identifies his siblings by name and does not even hint at potential half-brothers. By the time of this Patrick’s death in 1871, Patrick of Streamstown had been dead for at least 24 years. We know he died before May 1847 because he is identified as deceased on two of his daughters’ marriage registrations. Thus, the two Patricks cannot be considered one and the same.
If Henry Brett of Streamstown was correct and John Brett of the large vault was his great grandfather, how do we explain two sons named Patrick and the difference in religion? We might hypothesize that the John Brett memorialized by the vault had two wives and two sets of children born decades apart. We might also speculate that some members of the family changed churches over time. Since there’s no evidence to support either hypothesis, it raises questions about John Brett (1765-1844) and his progeny that are currently difficult to sort out.
And yet, despite the uncertainties, it is clear that Achonry Cathedral was both the spiritual and terrestrial nexus for most of the Bretts, regardless of religion. In A Sligo Miscellany, John C. McTernan describes the old graveyard at the church as “the last resting place of a number of the leading Protestant and Catholic families of Upper Leyney” and specifically names the Bretts of Achonry and Tubbercurry.1 We also have evidence that many Bretts lived near the church. From Ada Brett Kerr’s notes, we know that a Jasper Brett had lived opposite the cathedral at one time, but that his house had entirely disappeared. From Brenton Kerr’s journal we know that Henry Brett of Streamstown lived just past the village of Achonry, at the first right turn. We also have the 1920 letter from Henry Brett of Streamstown to Emily Ermina (Minnie) Brett, granddaughter of George Brett of Mono, in which he noted the following:
“… if you are of the same family as I am, your father must be from the parish of Achonry. He lived near the Achonry Church. His father’s name was George. They emigrated to Canada about 70 or 75 years ago. If your family is of this statement, your father and my father were cousins.”
This statement clearly connects George Brett of Mono, mentioned again below, to the village of Achonry and the vicinity of the church before the family’s emigration to Canada in 1850.
It remains unclear whether the large family vault in the graveyard at Achonry Cathedral, erected by John of Tobercurry in memory of his father, is also a monument to John Brett who had nine sons. However, it is clear that the monument served as an important family marker, not only in the 19th century when it was erected, but also into the 20th century when Henry Brett of Streamstown claimed it as a significant symbol of his family heritage.
Mention of Henry of Streamstown leads me to the third Patrick of this theory. You will recall that Ada Brett Kerr had speculated that her great-great-grandfather, Henry of Rosemont, may have been one of the emigrant sons of John Brett with nine sons. Although we can’t be certain that he wasn’t the son of a John Brett, we are reasonably certain, based on what we know about the Tobercurry Bretts, that he was not a son of this John Brett (1760-1844). The existence of another Patrick Brett helps to confirm this.
Patrick of Cloonarara
When Henry Brett of Rosemont died in 1877, his brother Patrick, seemingly a bachelor, penned a letter to Henry’s son, George, which has provided us with some of the sticky bits we’ve needed to glue parts of this family puzzle together. He signed the letter “Uncle Pat.k Brett.”
Writing from Cloonarara, the very place in which a Henry Brett and a George Brett appear as landholders in the 1827 Tithe Applotments, Patrick of Cloonarara says, “I be striving still to earn a little with the chain.” This is a reference to his work as a surveyor, as chains were then used as the standard of measurement. The recurrence of surveying as an occupation among Bretts is striking. Henry Brett C.E., mentioned above, began his career as a surveyor. So too did Henry of Rosemont’s brother, James Brett of Mono (see James of Middlesex & James of Mono for more on this line of the family). The family lore that was handed down by descendants of Henry of Rosemont, and shared by his great-great-granddaughter Ervilla Bernice Brett, stated that three brothers, all surveyors, came to Canada and settled in and around Mono Township. We believe that James, George and Henry Brett are the three brothers, but only James is known to have pursued surveying after emigrating to Canada.
Patrick’s letter also mentions the death of his brother George and provides the following details about George’s son Henry, who seems to have remained in Ireland on his father’s farm: “Brother George’s son Henry lives in his father’s place, has a large and helpless family to support, has taken a new employment for the last year. A relieving officer for Coolaney district.” These details connect brothers Patrick of Cloonarara and George of Mono.
Patrick’s letter also appears to establish a strong connection between the Rosemont-Cloonarara line and Jasper Brett of the Achonry-Streamstown line. Patrick writes: “I may say I have no real friend in Ireland but George Brett son to Jasper Brett a man whom your Father loved dearly.” Although we are not entirely sure, we believe that they were cousins, not brothers as I had originally thought.
Based on everything we know about Patrick of Cloonarara and his siblings, we are able to construct the Rosemont-Cloonarara line of the Brett family, in order of birth, as follows:
- James of Mono (1780-1862) – Married Elizabeth Brown. Emigrated to Canada in 1829. Identified as a “civil engineer of the old school.” Settled on Lot 6, Concession 6, Mono Township. (See James of Middlesex & James of Mono)
- Margaret (1784-1866) – Married Allen Shaw. Emigrated to Canada in 1829. Lived in the Gore of Toronto in Peel County. According to the 1851 census, she was caring for two of brother George’s daughters, Mary and Ellen Brett, shortly after they arrived from Ireland. (See James of Middlesex & James of Mono)
- George of Mono (1785- ) – Married Jane Jackson. Although there is some uncertainty about George’s own emigration, we know that some members of his family emigrated to Canada in 1850 on The Royalist with his brother Henry (below). The family settled first near Tullamore in Peel County and later on the 2nd and 3rd concessions of West Mono.
- Henry of Rosemont (1792-1877) – Married Catherine Cuffe. Emigrated to Canada in 1850 on The Royalist with his entire family. Associated with Rosemont and Alliston. Settled on Lot 1 of Concession 6 in Tosorontio Township.
- Patrick of Cloonarara (Abt. 1795-Abt. 1877) – Bachelor. Surveyor. Remained in Cloonarara, County Sligo. Close friend and likely cousin to George Brett the letter writer.
As the Tobercurry line of the Brett family includes both a Henry and a Patrick, it seems highly unlikely that John Brett (1760-1844), their father, was the patriarch of the Rosemont-Cloonarara Bretts, which also included a Henry (Ada Brett Kerr’s ancestor) and a Patrick (Henry of Streamstown’s ancestor).
This new theory based on three contemporaries named Patrick Brett upends the first theory I posed in Connecting Brett Siblings and establishes that there may be at least three sibling groups of relevance:
- The Achonry-Streamstown Bretts;
- The Rosemont-Cloonarara Bretts; and
- The Tobercurry Bretts.
All three branches had some recorded interaction with each other. For example, when Christopher Brett’s daughter Eliza married James Hammond at Achonry Cathedral in 1849, the witnesses to the marriage were George of Mono’s son Jasper and Patrick of Streamstown’s son George. This detail helps to establish a close connection between the Rosemont-Cloonarara and Achonry-Streamstown Bretts. It also helps to explain why George the letter writer mentions George of Mono’s family in his letter of 16 June 1875. He writes,
“Uncle George’s family are all living in that quarter. You may see some of them are your way. I believe they are comfortable.”
The use of the word “uncle” to refer to an elder close cousin is not uncommon. My literal interpretation of this reference originally led me to conclude that George was a brother to Jasper, but further research into the Rosemont-Cloonarara line, as noted above, points instead to a cousin relationship. That relationship is confirmed in Henry of Streamstown’s letter to Minnie Brett in 1920, as noted above, in which he alludes to the cousin relationship between Patrick of Streamstown and George of Mono. Referring to his father John and Minnie’s father Jasper, he writes, “your father and my father were cousins.”
The connection to the Tobercurry Bretts is possibly less cordial. In his letter of 23 September 1874, George Brett writes the following:
“John of Tobercurry is no more this three years. His son rob[b]ed me of £200 after his Father’s death. I believe I will never have any chance of it. Many has came to a loss as well as me by them.”
Two hundred pounds in 1874 would be worth over £22,000 today, which is quite a substantial sum.
In a letter to Jasper Golden dated 13 July 1876, Reverend John Hamilton gave a similar account of the family:
“As for Tubbercurry John Brett is dead. His sons turned out bankrupt – so a blast came on that family. & we wonder for John Brett after the death of his wife gave himself up to bad unclean living.”
In A Sligo Miscellany, John McTernan notes that John Brett of Tobercurry was survived by his sons, Henry, William, and John Junior, the last of which followed in his father’s footsteps as a Poor Law Guardian, land agent and civil bill officer (also known as a process server).2
It will come as no surprise that a point of confusion with respect to men named John Brett arises in the written record. This is because John of Tobercurry (1807-1871), his son John Junior, and Patrick of Streamstown’s son John (1822-1907) all worked as process servers and land agents for the Phibbs estate. In his letter of 23 Feb 1876, George the letter writer notes that Uncle Christy’s daughter Celia is married to Uncle Patt’s son, “John the marauder.” It’s not clear if this description is disparaging, referring as it does to raiding and plundering, or simply a colloquial term for the occupation.
An incident reported by the Sligo Champion in 1880, possibly related to unpaid rents, tells us something about the challenges process servers faced, although we can’t be certain which John Brett is being referenced, 30-year-old John Junior or 58-year-old John, son of Patrick:
“Not within living memory was there witnessed such a scene of wild excitement as that witnessed in Tubbercurry on Monday evening last, when about 2000 men rushed into Town after an escort which was protecting Phibbs and his process-server. During the day, there was an unusual stir in the Town, owing to the fact that Charles Phibbs J.P. of Doobeg House, had set off that morning at the head of sixty police to assist Brett the district process-server, in serving processes on his estate. A move such as this had been expected for the past week. About ten days ago Brett attempted to serve the processes but failed. Since then crowds of men and women kept vigil on the hillsides all day long, looking out for the process-server. At length it leaked out that he had applied for a strong escort and that the landlord himself was to take the field in command.”3
Another incident which took place in 1884 involved John Brett Junior, then residing at Streamstown, as the target of a Fenian murder conspiracy. According to John McTernan, the twelve conspirators were ultimately acquitted owing to the lack of credible witnesses.4
It seems extremely likely that all of these Bretts, regardless of religious affiliation, were related. But it is far less clear whether John Brett (1765-1844), the man memorialized by the large family vault, is in fact the John Brett who had nine sons.
Ballyglass Outrage, 1806
An additional complexity for the Achonry-Streamstown Bretts is raised by a court transcript dated 6 December 1806. In that case, Thomas Brennan, a local “thresher” (the term used for rural insurgents) was indicted and convicted on a charge of breaking and entering into the home of George Brett and carrying away three guns, one pistol, and other goods and chattels. Injured during the attack and too frail to attend court, George Brett sent his sons – George, Christopher and William – who testified as witnesses to the “outrage.” The interesting thing about the transcript is related to the gun possession. In the Crown’s opening statement, the Solicitor General says,
“The prosecutors in this case are young men of the name of Brett. They reside in the house of their father, not very far from this town; they are persons of decent and orderly character, and in consequence of their distinguished loyalty upon all occasions, they had been entrusted with arms for the protection of their persons and property.—To seize those arms, became an object to the banditti of miscreants, who now infest this country and within this fortnight, upon the day laid in the indictment, the habitation of this peaceable and innocent family was assailed by a numerous assemblage of those ruffians, among whom the prisoners [sic] at the bar was particularly active.”
Through the recorded testimony, we learn that two of the guns belonged to Christopher, while the pistol belonged to a brother named Patrick who was not present at the time. The young men initially refused to hand over the guns, but complied when the thugs threatened to set fire to the house. No mention of a wife or women in the house was made.
Many Brett researchers have been intrigued by the Outrage transcript, but the family has yet to be identified. The appearance of a Christopher Brett is of special interest as there appears to be but one Christopher Brett in Achonry at that time. The 1827 Tithe Applotment for Achonry listed Christopher Brett as occupying land in Castlecarrow (also known as Ballyglass), near other Bretts named Robert, William and George. Not far distant from Ballyglass, Patrick was listed as holding land in Townivoltry (Tawnivoultry), sometimes referred to as Streamstown.
One would think that legal gun possession, even at that point in time, would have been linked to age. As the birth years generally attributed to Patrick of Streamstown and Christopher of Achonry are only approximations, is it possible that they were actually a decade older, born in the 1780s, instead of the 1790s? Is it possible that Patrick and Christopher had already achieved the age of majority and were, in fact, the sons of frail George Brett? It’s another theory that’s shrouded in mystery for now.
If you have any thoughts or information that would help us refine our knowledge about the Bretts, please share them in the comment section below.
1 John C. McTernan, A Sligo Miscellany: A Chronicle of People, Places & Events of Other Days (Dublin: Avena, 2000), 233.
2 McTernan, A Sligo Miscellany, 198.
3 Richard Brett, Historical Notices of the Families of Brett of Ireland (Dublin: St. Columba’s College, 2007), 35.
4 John C. McTernan, “The Tubbercurry ‘Conspirators,’” The Corran Herald, no. 43 (2010/2011), 72.
Letters & Journals
Ada Brett Kerr, The Irish Bretts, as transcribed in 2004 by her daughter Janet Morchain.
Brenton Kerr’s Journal, 1932.
Henry Brett to Emily Ermina (Minnie) Brett, 9 August 1920.
Patrick Brett to George Brett, 16 November 1877.
Early Bretts of Co. Sligo, Ireland: http://www3.sympatico.ca/wfmcgee/Brett/
Golden’s Ireland-America: https://dewdropin.weebly.com