James McKenna (1851-1909)

According to the 1901 Ireland Census, James was born in County Tyrone in 1851. He moved with us family to Belfast before 1852 and lived first at 6 Albert Street Place. In the 1852 Christ Church Census, James was the youngest of 6 children, including a sister Mary Anne, who was adopted (a foundling). His father and older sisters worked in the linen mills.

By the time he was 10 years old, the family had moved to the nearby Galway Street, just off Durham Street. Durham street was a hotbed for secular conflict with the Protestant Sandy Row to the south and the Catholic “The Pound” to the North. The nearby Christ Church was the dividing line between them two religious factions.

It is unclear how James and Catherine Doyle met, but her parents were also from County Tyrone and arrived in Belfast about the same time as the McKenna’s. Catherine’s parents, Daniel Doyle and Mary McManus, seemed to favor the Catholic faith, while James’ family favored the Church of Ireland. The families may have known each other in County Tyrone as Mary McKenna, possibly James’ mother, was the informant on the birth certificate for Doyle’s first child, born in 1851 in Belfast.

James and Catherine were married on 19 September 1873 in the St Anne’s (Church of Ireland) Church. James’ father Hugh was a Laborer and Daniel Doyle was a Carpenter. James was 22 years old and Catherine was 21 years old. Both of them lived on Shankill Road at the time they were married. Hugh Macklin and Mary Jane Priestly were the witnesses.

Their first child, John, was born in 1874 and was christened in St Malachy’s Catholic Church on 2 August 1874. The informant was Ellen McCann. They wouldn’t have another child until 1881. Perhaps they had children during that 7-year gap that were stillborn. Stillborn births were not recorded in Ireland until 1880, at the earliest (See Births and Deaths Registration Act (Ireland), 1880).

Between 1881 and 1894, Catherine gave birth to 7 more children, but only 3 of them lived past 15 months old. The 4 who died, suffered from convulsions, teething, diarrhea, and tuberculosis. Three of the children were born in the Belfast Workhouse and one in the Lying-in Hospital. One of the children died in the Lying-in Hospital and one of them died in the Belfast Workhouse.

The loss of so many children in the midst of their poverty must have been very painful for them. But in the 1901 census, James and Catherine had the surviving three of their children, John, Catherine Jane and Annie living with them at 16 Warwick Street.

Unlike his brothers Thomas and John, James never seemed to develop a craft or trade. In all of the sources but two, James is listed as a Labourer. In the other two he is listed as a Cattle Drover and a Butcher. Thomas became a carpenter like James’ Father-in-law, Daniel, and John became a master painter. The lack of craftsman skills may have perpetuated the conditions of poverty. Or perhaps the difficulties Catherine faced with childbirth may have prevented James from learning a trade.

Catherine died in 1902, at the age of 49 from Bronchitis. James died 7 years later, at the age of 59, from Dropsy (an old-fashioned term for edema, which is an excess of watery fluids in the cavities of the body, e.g. pulmonary edema). They are buried together in the Belfast City Cemetery (H2 131).

John McKenna and Harriett Dale -

John was the first child of James and Catherine Doyle McKenna, born in 1874. In 1893, at the age of 18 years and 10 months, John joined the British Army, in the Royal Irish Rifles. He was listed as 5’ 4 1/2” and 117 lbs. He had a dark complexion, hazel eyes and black hair. He served in active duty, a a private, for 12 years. The first year of his military service was in Ireland. He then was deployed to India for a little over 7 years and South Africa for a little less that 1 year. While serving in India in 1899, he slipped on the stairs of the wash house and in the ensuing fall injured his left shoulder. After receiving treatment at the hospital, it was determined that “His injury will not interfere with his future efficiency as a soldier." He completed the last 3 years of his active duty in Ireland.

Following his honorable discharge in 1905, John enlisted in the Army Reserve for another 4 years. It was during this time that he married Harriett Dale. They had 4 children. In addition to his military service, John worked as a labourer. John died in 1943, at the age of 67 from hypostatic pneumonia, caused by a common heart valve disease called mitral regurgitation. His daughter Mary Ann Condell was the witness on his death certificate.

Catherine Jane McKenna and James Davidson -

Catherine and James Davidson were married on 29 December 1906 in the Church of Ireland. Catherine was a spinner and James was a wood turner. James’ Father Henry was deceased at the time of their marriage, having died in 1904. We don’t know if Catherine and James had any children, but in the 1911 Census they were living with Catherine’s sister Annie and they had no children at that time. Catherine died in 1927 at the youthful age of 42. She is buried by herself in the Belfast City Cemetery (X210) which may indicate that James remarried.

Annie McKenna -

Following the death of her parents, Annie lived with her sister Catherine and her husband James. In the 1911 Census, she was single and working as a Flax Doffer. She died tragically in 1925 of gas poisoning, at the tender age of 29. She is listed as “Single” on the burial record. She is buried in the Belfast City Cemetery (H2 131) with her mother and father and James Davidson’s mother.