The Bryans of Kilkenny

The question has frequently been raised, whence the first Bryans of Kilkenny stepped forth upon the stage of Irish History. We express our heartfelt appreciation to Mr. Dennis Walsh for elucidation of the essential facts. It was
known that the earliest Bryans to preceed Sir Francis Bryan in Ireland had arrived relatively late to the Emerald shores. The earliest reference (12??) to a representative of the de Brienne family in England is Guy de Brienne VI of
Brienne-le-Chateau, Champagne, France, styled Sir Guy de Bryen I of England, who settled in South Wales on the Bay of Carmarthen. According to the compilationof David C. McMurtry and Michael L. Kallan, Sir Francis Bryan et
Compagne[sic]: Avant et Apres Son Temps (Lexington, KY: Mil-Mac Publishers, 1994) pp. 26- : "Guy de Brienne (IV), who may properly be called in the English records of this family, Guy de Brien (I), was probably born in France in about 1200. He is known to have been a contemporary of Henry de Tracy (1202-1274). He was reared for a military career, which was befitting to his status of being a "lackland knight adventurer," or a knight without inherited lands or title. He was the first of the de Brienne lineage to be identified by name in the records of England. The primary seat of residence of the early de Brien/Bryan family in the British Isles appears to have been in southern Wales according to Burke (1883). They are connected for 5 generations to Pembrokeshire and Devonshire. "This family is especially associated with that of Tor Brian, a place named for the Brienne (Brien) family. Torrebriene, as it is alternately called, is a geographic place name in Devon in southwest England. According to Abstracts of English Records (1929), "Torbryan" was a "parish, rural deanery o Moreton, archdeaconry of Totnes and diocese of Exeter." Also connected with this site is "Talacharn" or Talagharne Castle. "'How?' and 'Why?' Guy de Brien ventured to and settled in England and Wales cannot be stated at this time with any certainty. It is known that at about this time there were other Norman baronial families that settled in this territory that was often hotly contested over by these newcomers, who fought with the Welsh inhabitants. King William Rufus, son of William ‘the Conqueror,’ set in motion during his reign (1087-1100) a 'System of Lord Marcher's Conquest.’ In this feudal system of government, the King considered himself the owner of all the land and gave authority to any ‘adventurer knight,' who had the 'enterprise' to seize any ‘obnoxious district' in the King's name and possess it as a fiefdom of his own. As speculated, this willingness to resettle and claim the region by force of arms and with the consent of the monarch was one way that landless younger sons could retain their accustomed life style. The district surrounding the manor or castle of 'Talacharn' was probably acquired in just this manner "Nichols (1892) provides the following additional information: ‘A Norman Lord Marcher of an inferior grade, De Brian by name, afterward took it [Talacham (Talagharn) Castle up as his stronghold, and seems to have become an established resident of the place.’ "This Guy de Brienne, Sometimes called ‘Guydo de Brian,’ was married in about 1221/2, to Johanne/Jane de la Pole, the daughter of William de la Pole. She is referred to in certain Latin documents as ‘D'na Johanna de Pola,’ the daughter of 'Dn's Willm's de Pola' as found in The Genealogist of 1920. The first mention of 'Guy de Brion’ [subsequent scribal miscopy for Brien?] – in the court records is found in 1248/9. As stated in The Calendar of Charter Rolls (1247-1258), on '15 December, in the 32nd year of Henry III,' a grant was made to:

'Guy de Brion [sic] and his heirs of a yearly fair of his manor of Talacharn on the vigil the feast and the morrow of St. Michael.’
"This would mean that he was given permission by the crown to hold a fair and market that generally occurred from the 28th through the. 30th of every September, a lucrative venture that coincided with the Autumn harvest."
"Guy de Brienne/Brien is reported to have fought in the wars between England and France that occurred between 1244 and 1266, during the reign of.King Henry III. This is documented by a record in The Close Rolls (1256-1300), Volume 10, which states that in 1258/1259, ’during the 42nd year of the reign of Henry III,' a mandate was issued to ‘Guidoni Briano’ for service to the king. It is not clear at this time whether this mandate refers to this Guy or to his son. A nobleman, who had been knighted, would be subject to service for the King.

"Sir Guy de Brian was referred to in the Calendar of the Charter Rolls (1257-1300), according to the pronunciation of the time, ‘Wydo de Brian'… From the Visitation of County Devon it is found that his arms were:
'Or three piles azure’…

"The exact dates of the birth, marriage, and death of Guy de Brien (I) are unknown at this time… "In the Visitation of County Devon mention is also made of a 'Maud de Briane,’ who is noted to have served as the Abbess of Tarrant on 26 June, 1280. She is believed to have been a daughter of this Guy de Brien…

"Guy de Brienne (V), also known in records of the time as Guy de Brien (II), was probably bom about 1221, in southern Wales to Sir Guy de Brienne (I) and his wife, Jane de la Pole. This Guy de Brienne was sometimes styled as ‘Guy de Brian, baron of Talacharn’ (Talagharn) in Wales…"

This historic data sets the stage for the entrance of the first Knight de Bryan into Ireland. He would have been a cadet brother of Guy de Brien II, and possibly of the Abbess of Tarrant, Maud de Briane, the second generation of the English line.

Two generations prior, Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke, called "Strongbow" had led the Cambro-Norman invasion of Ireland in 1170 as support troops of Ri Diarmaid mac Mhurchadha, King of Leinster. Under his son-in-law, Sir William Marshall, the incipient government he established continued to bear the name of "Strongbow," although the Cambro-Norman knights had declared Henry II "Lord of Ireland" in 1171. Throughout the 1200’s the Cambro-Normans continued the expansion of their lands and a number of the cadet sons of Norman families in England sought their fortunes over the Irish Sea. By the fourteenth century the charm of Irish civilization and the beauty of her women had so enchanted the French-speaking settlers that many became hibernicis ipsis hiberrnior, "more Irish than the Irish themselves." Walsh confirms: " In one history of Kilkenny it states that ‘The Bryans were also relatively late comers.’ Although no time frame is given here it probably refers to their 13th century arrival in the county.’" Research has yet to reveal which of the cadet sons of Sir Guy de Bryan I of England first settled in Ireland but by the generation of Sir Francis Bryan, the family was well established in the barony of Galmoy in northwestern Kilkenny. Walsh notes: "There was a John Bryan who around the year 1640 owned well over 5,000 acres of the civil parish of Erke in the northwestern tip of County Kilkenny, barony of Galmoy." He adds: "In the book, Kilkenny History and Society, it states that after the confiscation of Catholic lands in County Kilkenny, ‘James Bryan was restored to almost all of the land formerly in possession of the Galmoy branch of his family (2,712 acres).’ In consideration of a marriage portion to him upon his marriage to Jane Loftus, daughter of Sir Thomas Loftus of Queen's county, James' father, John Bryan, had settled upon his wife the manors of Bawnemore, Muntoge, Coolgan, Garrymogue, Rathoisin and two-thirds of Brecanagh. After Jane's death, these lands were passed to their eldest son and heir (James), and then to his heirs male. The remaining Galmoy properties were to pass after John's death to his younger sons. All the Galmoy properties were forfeited under Cromwell; after the Restoration, a Loftus relation intervened with the king on James' behalf. In a letter to the duke of Ormond recommending Bryan's restoration, the king noted that: "Thomas Loftus has proved the innocency of himself, his father and grandfather, and the innocence and minority of the said James Brian during the late rebellion and that the said James was a Protestant and the said Jane dead." The king, by his order and royal mandate, had ordered the restoration of John Bryan to his Galmoy lands on 4 October 1660. John Bryan was not restored; his son James was regranted those
lands that were his as his mother's heir, as well as to those that had belonged to his father." Walsh further quotes: "John Bryan was allowed to remain on his former property, but he did so as a rent paying tenant; while the Galmoy properties remained in the Bryan family, their enjoyment and disposal were no longer in John's control. The will of John Bryan (dated 1 December 1673) is a moving document. Bryan had six children by his first wife Jane Loftus, and five by his second wife (who survived her husband), Ursula Walsh. The will opens in standard fashion with instructions for his burial, the naming of executors, and various bequests; taken in its entirety, the will is a deathbed plea to his eldest son to provide for his step-mother, brothers and sister, and step-brothers and step-sisters. James is requested to honour an earlier promise that he would make certain monetary bequests to his siblings, and allow his step-mother to enjoy those lands that were held by the father and upon the same terms. The will also reveals both John's resentment of his current landless status, and some fear that his wishes may not be honoured: 'I charge and require that my said son James Bryan not to molest or hinder her (Ursula Bryan) in the enjoyment thereof during her life, nor trouble or prejudice her or her children in anything, having given him an estate and having released unto him the great powers I had to charge him, though I received nothing of his portion, and having given unto him and paid for him and in the worst of times spent in providing and recovering the estate far more than the value thereof, and he performing my will therein I forgive him of all things wherein he offended me and I pray God to bless him and all my children'…The Bryan estate in Galmoy passed to James' Protestant son and heir Pierse in 1696 and upon the death without issue of Pierse's son James, (High Sheriff of Kilkenny in 1732), the properties came into the possession of a cousin, Pierse Bryan of Jenkinstown, Kilkenny." The evidence of the Jenkinstown Bryans as major landholders is further corroborated in an 1878 record of George Leopold Bryan of Jenkinstown House, County Kilkenny, owning 12,981 acres of land."

The records that have come to light only refer to the line of primogeniture in matters of land transference. We must presume that all other Cambro-Norman Bryans in Kilkenny and subsequently in Wexford are derivative of this parent stock. Caution is urged in researching this Bryan line, for a common Anglicization of both O’Brien and O’Byrne has periennially been "Bryan/t." It cannot therefore be taken for granted that a North American Byan found not to descend from William Smith Bryan will be a descendant of the Kilkenny Bryans.

Chev. Charles Bryant-Abraham, Ph.D.
The Knight de Bryan
Secretary General of the Imperial House of Sellassie