Blennerhassett Family Tree
Genealogy one-name study - by Bill Jehan
   Introduction      Arts      Myths & Legends
 
Myth, Legend & Imagination
 
"don't believe all you read..."
 
 
 
Curious tales of family origin and history, passed orally down the generations, are to be found in most families and the Blennerhassetts are no certainly no exception. Such stories are always interesting and sometimes be historically valuable, often grounded (if somewhat loosely) in fact and providing a window into the past not be available any other way.
 
The listener or reader needs to be aware that such tales change slightly each time they are retold to a new generation; they alter, are embroidered, become confused, and elements of the original story are lost aand new detail is added. To appreciate this you need only listen to the same story as told by distant cousins. Also, two unrelated family legends may over time become merged into a single story.
 
A family such as this, embracing a wide social range, provides a great variety of oral history. Stories may be heard concerning family members working in farming or the professions; who were magistrates or served in the military; or who had contact with agrarian or nationalist movements in Ireland such as the United Irishmen, Whiteboys, Fenians, Moonlighters or IRA.
 
They may record effects of the terrible Irish famine of the 1840s, a move over the water from Ireland to England or emigration to more distant lands. Descendants in these new countries, who have long since lost any direct connection with the home of their ancestors, may retain a tradition that their ancestor came from a “big house” or “castle” in some remote part of Ireland; or that their ancestor was the daughter of Lady X or Colonel Y.

They may record what was once considered great scandal; an eldest son who changed his religion; an illegitimate child; a marriage taking place against the wishes of one or both families, the couple concerned being of differing religion, social status, or both, sometimes resulting in one of the pair being disinherited or disowned by their family.

Sadly, during the first half of the 20th century much of this oral tradition was lost as older generations passed on, their knowledge to a great extent going unrecorded, and we are fortunate when, in a few cases, the receivers of that tradition thought to put it on paper.
 
Suche tales, if verified, may find their way into accepted family history, but this page is concerned with a different class of story altogether, tales told about the Blennerhassett family that are pure fiction, with no basis in fact whatsoever. Often these are stories thought up long ago to fill a gap where real knowledge was lacking, as part of the entertainment that was family fireside tales, told by candlelight after too much poteen...
 
 
 

 
 
 
Origin
 
 
 
"...Mrs. Jefferies and Mr. Heaphy had a relation (for they were nearly related), a Kerryman of great landed property; Arthur Blennerhasset. I have been told in the legend or heraldry way, that Blenner was the original name; and that in one of the terrible conflicts to expel the Danes out of Ireland, the Irish party lost their colours, and were so dismayed, that flight was instantly meditated, when on a sudden, one of them looking toward the enemy saw a figure in full race returning, waving a standard: the cry was "It is Blenner! - our flag is safe! it is not taken, Blenner has it! Huzza!". From this circumstance, the family has the name of Blennerhasset..."
 
from "Recollections of the Life of John O'Keeffe: written by himself", by John O'Keeffe
2 vols., pub. by H.Colbourn, London 1826, vol.1 p.405 [O'KEEFFE]
 
 
  
 
 
variations of this tale are:
 
That the name was originally “Blenner”, that one of the family was candidate in an election and, on enquiries being made about who had won the election, the cry went up “...Blenner has it...” and afterwards the name stuck!!!
 
 
 
 
 
“...Father related that in the remote past the name was Blenner, but as a party of brothers of that name and their friends were returning from a general election in a rather convivial mood, at about midnight they were rather alarmed at a mysterious voice asking who had gained the day and on they replying Blenner the voice re-echoed Blenner has it. Hense the Name Blennerhassett. They did not see who it was that spoke...”:
 
 
 
“...In our youth in Kerry we often heard the 'story' of how the surname Blennerhassett originated. Two landlords took part in a race, and when the one named Blenner crossed the line ahead of his opponent, those at the finishing post took up the cry 'Blenner has it!'. A dreadful story, but it shows that our ancestors, where they hadn't knowledge, invented...”.
from the “Where's That” column of “The Irish Times”, 25-Jun-1992 
 
 
 

 
 
 
"...The Blennerhassetts are of German origin, the original name being 'Blennerhauser', meaning 'House of Blenner'..."
 
original... but no, the only close German connection is Sir Rowland Blennerhassett, 4th Baronet of Blennerville in Co.Kerry, who married 9-Jun-1870 at Munich to the historian Countess Charlotte Julia von Leyden of Bavaria
 
 
 

 
 
 

"...The Blennerhassetts are of Norman origin, came to England from Normandy with William the Conqueror in 1066..."

no, they are of native English celtic stock, taking their name from their Manor & Village of Blenerhayset in Co.Cumberland.

 
 
 

 
 
 

"...The Blennerhassetts were illegitimate offspring of King Charles I..."

I like this one - they did marry into families of Plantagenet royal descent, so carry some blue blood, but it is not Stuart... !!

 
 
 

 
 
 
Spelling
 
 
 
"...The spelling of the name changed from ending with a single ‘t’ to ending with ‘tt’ because it was thought that thirteen letters in a name was unlucky…"
 
 
 

 
 
 
Hassett
 
 
 

"...Some families changed their name from to Hassett during the American War of Independence, as the name Blennerhassett sounded too English..."

a daft idea this, because:
- Most American colonists at that time, revolutionary or empire loyalist, had British names - the American revolution was, after all, a civil war.
- Hassett was no less an English or Irish name than Blennerhassett.
- In 1776 there were few or none of the name Blennerhassett yet settled in North America, the earliest recorded being Harman & Margaret Blennerhassett who sailed to New York in 1796 
 
 
 

 
 
 
"...originally the Hassetts were Blennerhassetts but due to a major family feud in Ireland re Land and Mineral rights in County Kerry/Cork, they dropped the Blenner part and remained as Hassetts..."
 
This is interesting, but doubtful. At all periods branches of the Blennerhassett family have been addressed by the short form of the name, for convenience of speech, also using it themselves, while on documents both versions of the name can appear at random for the same individuals; at different times and places a few branches adopted the short form "Hassett" as their full surname for all purposes, but there is no direct connection between those branches. Needs more investigation.
 
 
 

 
 
 
Going to Ireland
 
 
 

...The Cumberland Blennerhassetts worked for the British Government, were requested to go to Ireland, which request they first refused, until the request became an order..."

No, they were a Cumberland family of Gentleman farmers, one of whom became an “Undertaker” or “Planter” in Kerry following a grant of land by Sir Edward Denny, of Dennyvale & Tralee, who had been tasked by Queen Elizabeth I with distributing the forfeited Munster estates of the Earl of Desmond as “The Plantation of Munster”.
 
 
 

 
 
 
"...The genealogy of the name however relates that the first of the name to land in Ireland was one Colonel John [Blennerhassett] who landed with Cromwell's forces about 1664 (I think) and after the subjugation of that land Cromwell allotted the spoils of confiscated lands to his officers..."
 
There may have been a Col. John Blennerhassett serving with Cromwell's forces in Ireland <investigate this>, but the Blennerhassetts had arrived in Ireland during the previous century, c1590 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
NOTE: On the opposing Royalist/Stuart/Jacobean side in the civil war were Capt. Arthur Blennerhassett, another Arthur Blennerhassett and Phillip Blennerhassett who are each listed among the "Forty-Nine Officers" (a.k.a. "The '49 Lots") who served King Charles I in Ireland in 1649. These officers were later given 1st priority in land distribution (acts of 1661-65?).
 
 
 

 
 
 
"...The Ballyseedy estate was originally allotted to a man named Brown, whom Blennerhassett cajoled into an exchange for the property allotted himself, by telling Brown that Ballyseedy was only fit to grow willows..."
 
how peculiar...  Browne (or Brown) were English settlers in Co.Kerry, but of later date than Blennerhassett
 
 
 

 
 
 
Dancing with Royalty...
 
 
 
"...The story handed down was that there was a very beautiful Blennerhassett girl and that she caught the eye of and danced with the then Prince of Wales..."
contributed by Julie Bryan, New Zealand
 
 
 

 
 
 
Daniel O'Connell, "The Liberator"
 
 
 

"...Daniel O'Connell's grandmother was a Blennerhassett..."

no, she was not, but O'Connell's wife's grandmother was indeed a Blennerhassett. 
 
 
 

 
 
 

"...A Blennerhassett fought a duel with “The Liberator”, Daniel O'Connell..."

 
not so... but Daniel O'Connell's younger brother John O'Connell of Grenagh on 18-Jan-1813 at Tralee fought a duel with Richard Francis Blennerhassett Jr of Blennerville; also Daniel O'Connel's son Maurice O'Connell of Derrynane on 30-Nov-1832 fought a duel with Arthur Blennerhassett of Ballyseedy.
 
 
 

 
 
 
The Gortatlea, Ballymacelligott, family
 
 
 

"...All living bearers of the name Blennerhassett descend from the “disinherited” Gortatlea & Blackbriar farming family..."

no, there are living Blennerhassetts who descend from the Riddlestown, Blennerville and Ballymacprior families. 
 
 
 

 
 
 

“...'The Serjeant' Thomas Arthur Blennerhassett (1786-1868), head of the Blennerhassett family of Gortatlea & Blackbriar, was so called because he was a Barrister..."

Thomas was Permanent Serjeant & Paymaster of the volunteer “Kerry County Yeomanry”, Elmgrove & Blennerville Unit, 1823-34. This idea appears to have occurred because in modern usage the army rank is spelled Sergeant, whereas a Serjeant is a member of the highest rank of Barristers. In earlier time people were not so particular about spelling, Serjeant being used in all cases... 

 
 
 

 
 
 
Harman Blennerhassett
 
 
 
 
On the origin of the annual Puck Fair at Killorglin, Co.Kerry...
 
"...Other legends regarding the origin of "King Puck" relates to the time of Daniel O'Connell, who in 1808 was an unknown barrister. It seems that before that year, the August fair held in Killorglin had been a toll fair, but an Act of the British Parliament empowered the Viceroy or Lord Lieutenant in Dublin to make an order, at his own discretion, making it unlawful to levy tolls at cattle, horse or sheep fairs. Tolls in Killorglin at this time were collected by the local landlord - Mr Harman Blennerhassett - who had fallen into bad graces with the authorities in Dublin Castle and as a result the Viceroy robbed him of his right to levy tolls. Blennerhassett enlisted the services of the young Daniel O'Connell, who in an effort to reverse the decision decided that goats were not covered by the document and that the landlord would be legally entitled to hold a goat fair, and levy his tolls as usual. Thus the fair was promptly advertised as taking place on August 10th, 1808, and on that day a goat was hoisted on a stage to show to all attending that the fair was indeed a goat fair - thus Blennerhassett collected his toll money and Killorglin gained a King..."
 
In 1808 Daniel O'Connell (b.6-Aug-1775) was aged 33 years and was only beginning his political career, but at that date Harman Blennerhassett was long departed from Co.Kerry. Harman had inherited the Castle Conway estate at Killorglin when his father Conway Blennerhassett died on 13-Mar-1792. Three years later, on 27-Oct-1795, Harman sold the estate, breaking the entail, and on 20-May-1796 departed London for the USA with his new bride Margaret Agnew, his niece, leaving to escape the scandal of their illegal marriage.
 
 
 

  
 
 

Many printed sources, including [BIFR p.137] state in error that Capt. Robert Agnew, father of Margaret Agnew (b.1771 d.1842) the wife and niece of Harman Blennerhassett (b.1764 d.1831), was “Lieutenant-Governor of Isle of Man”. One of these sources additionally describes him as “...a celebrated British Naval Officer...”.

Both are incorrect. The title “Lieut.-Governor of Isle of Man” did not exist before 1832, earlier titles being "Captain" & "Governor" of the Isle of Man. The Governor of the Isle of Man 1777-1790 was Edward Smith.

Margaret's father Robert Agnew was a career army officer, holding the British army rank of “Lieutenant”, later “Captain”. He was Lieutenant  in command of the Isle of Man garrison 1786-7, so the story, as it was passed down within the family, or maybe as it was misunderstood by a writer outside the family, has confused his army rank with the more recent post of Lt.-Governor.
 
The first occurance of the “Lieut.-Governor of Isle of Man” story appears to be in "Biographical Sketch of Herman (sic) Blennerhassett and Mrs Margaret Blennerhassett", in a volume of “Biographical and Historical Memoirs of the Early Pioneer Settlers of Ohio, with narratives of incidents and occurrences in 1775”, by Dr Samuel Prescott Hildreth MD of Marietta, Ohio (pub. Cincinnati Historical Society 1852). This was reprinted in the "American Whig Review" April 1848, vol.7 Issue 4 pp.368-384. The error (on p.368) was subsequently repeated in almost every biographical note on Harman & Margaret Blennerhassett published until recent times, and occasionally still is.
 
NOTE: Confusingly, there was another paper titled "Biographical Sketch of Harman Blennerhassett" by William Wallace ["American Whig Review" August 1845, vol.2, issue 2].
 
The “naval officer” story appeared in on p.128 of "Blennerhassett", a paper read by Emilius Oviatt Randall on 19-Nov-1886 to the "Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society" & published in “Ohio History" the Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly, vol.1, No.2, Sept.1887, pp.127-163.
 
 
 

 
 
 
In a similar vein to the above, some sources state that Harman Blennerhassett was a secretary of the Dublin Branch of the Society of United Irishmen.  While it is correct that Harman Blennerhassett, a friend and kinsman of Thomas Addis Emmet, in 1793 joined the Dublin branch of SUI (having earlier, while undertaking the obligitory young gentleman's "grand-tour" of Europe, been influenced by revolutionary France), he ceased to be an active member c1795 and there is no evidence that he was ever their secretary. Thomas Addis Emmet is said to have been a secretary of the Dublin branch of the SUI.
 
 
 

 
 
 

Several Blennerhassetts in the USA have claimed descent from, or to be the legitimate heirs of, Harman Blennerhassett.

Harman & Margaret Blennerhassett have no known descendants.
Most of the individuals making this claim were descendants of Edward Conway Blennerhassett (b.1776 d.1855) who emigrated to the USA in 1840 (following his son Richard Blennerhassett who had emigrated to Canada in 1831, subsequently moving first to New York state then settling at St.Louis, Missouri). Edward was a 3rd cousin of Harman, so they could reasonably claim to be Harman's closest American relatives, and so perhaps, in that sense, his heirs. 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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