Bringing the past to life

I’ve just created a new feature page on this blog to highlight some of the Heenan individuals whose lives I’ve discovered through my research. On the page Real People … Real Lives I’m posting biographies and articles of some of these people. A few may be ‘famous’, others lived ordinary, but interesting lives.

Blackpool tower

Blackpool Tower, Lancs, England.

The first person to feature is an engineer and industrial magnate called Richard Hammersley Heenan. You’ve probably never heard of him but if you’ve ever visited Blackpool Tower in Lancashire, England (or seen a postcard from this major seaside resort), you’ll have encountered his work. His company Heenan and Froude left their mark around the world with brides, jetties and railway structures. Read about Richard Hammersley Heenan’s story here: Richard Hammersley Heenan – profile



John Carmel Heenan - Benicia BoyNext in the queue will be John Carmel Heenan, an American bare-knuckle fighter from New York state who fought under the name of the Benicia Boy.




If you know of any remarkable Heenans, do get in touch via


Heenan family of Pembrokeshire: a brush with the law

Newspapers published in Wales in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have revealed a number of Heenan family members who had an encounter with the law. Some where the culprits. Others were the victims.

One family in particular seemed to be regular attendees at the petty sessions in Haverford, Pembrokeshire.

David Heenan was a seaman who married Phoebe Owens at Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire. They continued to live in Haverfordwest, going on to have a further six children, one of whom was born shortly after David’s death in 1901 when he was in his early forties.

Frederick Heenan

By the time Frederick (also known as Freddy) was 13 he was already in trouble with the law, up before Haverfordwest police court charged with theft of apples. He and two other boys were unlucky enough to be spotted by a police constable as they climbed over the hedge from a garden. When ordered to empty their pockets they produced 47 apples. Each of the boys was fined and, according to the report in the  Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser of 15th August 1902,  “were warned as to the serious nature of the offence and of the consequences that would follow a repetition.”

Perhaps he heeded the warning because he seemed to have kept out of trouble until 1916 when he was charged for being absent without leave from the army. He’d volunteered in November 1915 and had even been mentioned in the Haverfordwest and Milford Haven TelegraphBut on a Saturday night in April 1916 he and another man from Haverfordwest absconded from the 23rd Pioneer battalion of the Welsh Regiment. They were found asleep in bed at their family homes in Haverfordwest and taken back to the battalion under military escort. 

A few years later he was again in court, when  his behaviour had apparenly degenerated to the point his mother felt it necessary to take out a summons against him. She told the court in October 1919 that Fred “had been absolutely out of control”, had smashed crockery  said he would murder her. She would give him another chance however because she was his mother. The case was adjourned so whether they were reconciled is unknown but he was back before the court in December for stealing stout from a pub on Christmas Eve when he and a friend were drunk. 

Joseph Stanley Ernest Heenan

Frederick’s younger brother Joseph Heenan was equally no stranger to the court room in Haverfordwest.

theft of potatoesIn November 1906 when he was 14 years old he and a friend were charged with damaging a garden after they were spotted breaking trees and crushing roses. The magistrates warned them they would be birched if they re-offended. 

They never went through with the threat however, even when the boy appeared before them again the following year, this time charged with stealing lead from the roof of an old house Quay Street. In the middle of the hearing, Joseph suffered an epileptic fit, according to the Pembroke County Guardian. His step-father came to his defence declaring that the boys were not responsible for the theft though he couldn’t prove it since he was away working at the time. The magistrates didn’t believe him and adjourned the case. Before they had the boys in front of them again Fred, became giddy while at a pleasure fair and fell out of a swing, wrenching his ankle. By the time he was due back in court in August,  the local Education Authority had been granted an order to remove him to an institution for the blind in Swansea.

Percival (Percy) Heenan

In the summer of 1914, it was the turn of David Heenan’s youngest son Percival (Percy) Heenan to appear before the magistrates. He and two other schoolboys were accused by Pembrokeshire Tennis Club of stealing 24 tennis balls. Initially denying the theft, the boys later admitted they had gone to the courts on two separate occasions , using keys to get into the pavilion. They sold some to a school teacher and hid the rest. They were put on probation for 12 months.

Before the 12 months was up however, Percy was charged with another offence, this time  theft of a looking-glass from a steam barge. Giving evidence, the boy’s probation officer said he had been behaving well and there had been good reports from people for whom Percy had been running errands.

The magistrates ruled however that they were going to try and remove him from his present surroundings and “give him a chance to become an honest man”. Percy was sent to the Kingswood Reformatory in Bristol for three years.

Phoebe Heenan and David Heenan

1888 Heenan David_prison sentenceIt wasn’t just the children of this couple that got into trouble, both David Heenan and his wife Phoebe felt the strong arm of the law.

Before his marriage David Heenan served a one-month prison sentence for assault at Pembroke in 1888.

His wife took out a summons against her bother in law John Heenan in 1894, accusing him of assaulting her in a family squabble in Quay Street, where she was living. He was fined 5 shillings.

She had a narrow escape  in 1904 when she was accused of receiving stolen goods. Her step-son William Arran and two men were charged with breaking into a premises and stealing beer which was later found hidden in the ashpit at Phoebe Heenan’s home. When the case went to court however the presiding magistrate decided the evidence against her was week and the charge was dropped.

She did however end up with a fine the following year for neglecting to send her children to school regularly. 

Sources: The National Library of Wales, Welsh Newspapers on Line

The Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser

Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph

The Pembroke County Guardian and Cardigan Reporter

A doggy tale….

irishbordercollieOver the years I’ve been researching my family and the surname Heenan I’ve encountered a wealth of records. None have been more unusual than the records of Irish dog licenses I discovered a few weeks ago. Who would have imagined that I would get to know my long lost cousins in County Limerick owned several dogs over the years and that they seemed to prefer collies to any other breed?

Dog licences were introduced into Irish law in 1865. The intention was to make it easier to identify the owners of dogs that were causing problems, for example by worrying sheep or damaging property, The first licences were issued in 1865. It cost 2 shillings for each dog but the applicant had to pay an extra 6 pence in administration costs.

FindmyPast tells me that in the first year more than 350,000 licences were issued across the Republic though this dropped to an average of 250,000 licences in subsequent years.  The majority of these were for working dogs – collies used as sheep dogs, mastiffs as guard dogs and terriers as hunters. But there was also a growing fashion for owning a pet so the records also show licenses issued for lapdogs and some toy breeds. 

Looking at the records for the whole of the Republic, the majority of the applicants with the surname HEENAN were in Tipperary, Cork and Waterford counties.  Within Cork, many of these applicants to the court at Michelstown were from individuals who actually lived just over the border in County Limerick, either at Knocknascrow or Coolattin. 

Over the course of 33 years for which records are available (between 1867-1910) two names occur regularly. Patrick HEENAN and Patt HEENAN between them made 28 applications, usually for collies. It makes sense since I know from Griffith Valuation records and later census records that the Heenans in this part of Ireland classed themselves as ‘farmers’. The fact there are two names could be a transcription error and actually refer to the same individual or the two applicants were related – potentially father/son or brothers. I’m confident however these were related in some way to my own great great grandfather Patrick HEENAN.

Dog licenses

I would love to know what names were given to the dogs but sadly these records don’t show this information though FindMyPast says that some entries do name the animals. But this is still a fascinating glimpse into my family’s past. 

Heenan research goals for 2018

Heenan research goals for 2018

I don’t make New Year resolutions as such but I do like to make a note of things I want to accomplish in the next 12 months.

Heenan One Name Study

Having put my One Name Study into the Heenan surname onto the back burner for the last two years while I dealt with a few health issues, I intend to return to it with new energy this year.   My key areas of focus for 2018 will be:

1. Complete data capture from core records for Wales and England. I’ve downloaded civil registration and census records from the various on line indices and collated these these into some spreadsheets (links are listed below). For 2018 I’ll be working on parish records. I also want to make a start on looking for family groupings.
2. Gather core civil registration records for Ireland and Scotland. I’ve made a start on collecting the civil registration records for Ireland but haven’t yet looked at Scotland. I will upload links to these when they are completed.  
3. Make preliminary evaluation based on 1 and 2 of surname distribution, occupations and migration. Having all the data is only really a means to an end – just having lists of names and dates is meaningless. What I want to do is examine what that data tells me about where people with that surname originated and whether they moved to any particular parts of the UK? Were there particular occupations they tended to pursue?
4. Re-ignite this blog. It has  been sadly neglected this past few years. I’d like to get into more of a regular pattern of posting updates and to include some biographies of the people I come across during my research. As I build some family trees I will also upload these.

My Family History

I had a breakthrough last year when I finally tracked down a marriage of my paternal great great grandparents Patrick Heenan and Ellen O’Brien. Now I know their fathers’ names I’m keen to see if I can I find them in any of the records.  I have a few gaps in the information for each of their children that I want to try and close. On my maternal side, the trail on the Burton line went cold beyond my great great grandfather William Burton – I think a trip to Hereford record office might help overcome the brick wall since it seems that’s where his father was born.

So some specific goals:

  1. Complete all birth, death and marriage records for each of Patrick/Ellen’s children. This will mean delving into Roman Catholic parish records
  2. Track down William Burton‘s father by searching vital records, parish records and census info
  3. Create family trees in Excel and post on this site.

Heenan Surname Data sets  (the links are to Google spreadsheets)

Heenan in Wales census 

Heenan in England census 

Heenan births, marriages, deaths in England and Wales(GRO data)

Who are you Mary Heenan?

Doing a deep delve into the census records for instances of the Heenan surname in Wales has thrown up a mystery.

The first record I can find for anyone with the Heenan surname is in 1861 when a Mary Heenan is recorded as resident in Brecon Road, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire.

She was a child of approximately one year at the time of the census and was the niece of the head of the household Ambrose Neville and his wife Mary. Ambrose is a stone cutter born in Ireland, she was born in 1828 in Lantorman, Monmouthshire (I think this is actually Llantarnam). They have a son Patrick, aged 11 who was born in Scotland about 1850. Mary Heenan is recorded as being born in Pontypool, Monmouthshire in 1860.

The problem is I can’t find any other trace of this child.

There is no birth of a Mary Heenan registered anywhere in Wales let alone in Monmouthshire. In fact there are no births with surname of Heenan registered in Wales until 1864 when James Heenan is recorded as born in the Swansea area.

She doesn’t appear on any of the subsequent census returns for Wales.

Did she die in between the census years? Not according to the registered deaths for Wales or England.

Did her mother die or move around and May then take the name of her uncle/aunt? If she did, there is no record of that. The next time Ambrose and Mary make an appearance is as lodgers in St Woollos, Newport in 1871. There is no female living with them.

Did Mary move away? She may have done but as yet I’ve found no trace of her in any census in England. Or any death of a Mary Heenan born in about 1860.

Working on a theory that Mary Neville is Mary’s aunt, I was hoping to find her maiden name and work backwards from that but to no avail. No record of a marriage has materialised as yet.

Very frustrating. But I haven’t given up. I’m just hoping for inspiration……


Finding a father for Patrick

Just when I think I’ve made progress in tracking my great great grandfather Patrick Heenan in Ireland, I come up against another stumbling block.

I set myself a task earlier this year to find a record of his marriage to Ellen Brian (variations of Brien and O’Brien) and it seems I might have succeeded. I’d already drawn a blank in trying to find a marriage in Wales, England or Scotland so switched attention to Eire, thinking that they could have married shortly before leaving for mainland UK.

The only possible match is this one from 1867:

Patrick - ellen marriage

This might not fit the Genealogical Standard of Proof in its entirety but a few things make me confident that this is ‘my’ Patrick.

  1. Location of the marriage – Mitchelstown is the nearest location to Carrigeen mountains (home of the Heenans) where a ceremony could have been registered
  2. Patrick’s father is shown as Maurice – this name is also used by Patrick and Ellen for their second son
  3. Ellen’s father is shown as William – this was another name common in my family tree – my great grandfather was William as was his first son
  4. The marriage date is close to the time when I first pick him up in the records in UK – which is the baptism of a son called Patrick in March 1868

But then comes the question of linking Patrick with other records showing people with the surname of Heenan in the Kilbeheny parish in County Limerick. Some of these are land records, others are census returns but I also have received, via a Heenan descendant still living in Kilbeheny, a letter to one member of the family who emigrated to Australia.

Which is where it all gets a bit confusing as I try to connect them.

For example, Patrick’s father is a Maurice Heenan. I haven’t found anyone with that name in the Kilbeheny area but I did find a Marcus Heenan in the Tithe Applottment Books compiled between 1823 and 1837 who has 20 acres worth 5 shillings at Coolatin Glen.

There is a Maurice Heenan baptised Feb 1829 in Kilbeheny Parish, son of Denis Heenan and Ellen who are resident at Carigeen. It’s unlikely this Maurice is the same as Marcus (Maurice would be at most 8 years old at the time of the tithe records).

There is another Maurice Heenan baptised in Kilbehenny parish on Jan 1833, son of a John Heenan and Mary Mullan resident at Carigeen.

Could either of these be the father of ‘my’ Patrick? Possible but only if we ignore some of the info Patrick gave on census recors about his year of birth. The earliest date he gave is 1836 so impossible for him to be the son of either of these Maurice’s ( they would have been aged 7 or 3 at the time of his birth!). The latest date he gave in census returns is 1847 making his father 18 or 14 at the time. The latter is unlikely which rules out the Maurice Heenan baptised in 1833. But I still can’t prove that the Maurice baptised in 1829 is the right one.

I tried searching the Griffith’s Valuation Records which are later (they indicate who owned or rented land in Ireland between 1847 and 1864) but drew a blank on the name Maurice in the Knocknascrow townland.

I did find a Denis Heenan who was occupying land in Knocknascrow townland leased by Mary Heenan from the Earl of Kingston.

Griffiths Valuation 1852 - Denis Heenan - Mary Heenan


Griffith valuation 1852 - Mary Heenan - Knocknascrow

There are no records of any Maurice Heenan in Griffiths Valuation for the Kilbeheny Parish.

For now the trail seems to have gone cold….


Notable Heenans: Sir Joseph Heenan

Occasionally my news feed brings me little nuggets about various individuals around the world that bear the surname Heenan.

One that came to my attention today is from New Zealand and concerns Sir Joseph William Allan Heenan who was apparently a senior public servant, administrator and drafter of legislation. Born the son of a bootmaker and dressmaker in Greymouth, New Zealand on January 17 1888 he died on October 11 1951, two years after he was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of his service as undersecretary of Internal Affairs.

He used his legal talents not only for the benefit of his country’s government but for a number of sporting bodies. He re-wrote the rules of the New Zealand Racing Conference in 1931 and those of the New Zealand Trotting Conference in 1949, and twice revised the rules of the Boxing Association.  He considered the highlight of his administrative career to be the New Zealand centennial celebrations of 1939–40, of which he was chief executive officer.


This is an extensive biography of Sir Joseph Heenan and his illustrious career in New Zealand Biographies