James Owen Hannay (George A. Birmingham)

Clergyman / Novelist

James O. Hannay
St. Ann's Cathedral, Belfast
Bermingham's Residence, Newport Road, Westport
Author's Personal Photo
Holy Trinity Church Westport
Author's Personal Photo
Line Drawaing of Trinity College Arms by W. MacNeill Dixon
Twynholm Baptist Church

Clergyman / Novelist

This Novelist lived in Westport, Co. Mayo for a short time. Aside from being a Novelist he was a Clergyman, Playwright, Gaelic Leaguer, Public Speaker also a Lecturer.


James’s Paternal Grandfather was of Scottish origin.  The Hannay family lived at Bushmills. George’s Father Robert Hannay (1835–1894) was born there.  The family later moved to Belfast as his father was a rector in St. Anne’s Church.  His mother’s name was Emily she was a daughter of Rev. William Wynne.  Her father had Ministered thirty – seven years Moira, Northern Ireland. [i]

Hannay, James Owen (‘George A. Birmingham’) was born 16 July 1865 in Belfast.  He was a son of Robert Hannay Church of Ireland Rector of St Anne’s, Belfast & his wife Emily (née Wynne/) [ii]

James Owen Hannay was born on 16th July 1865.  He was the eldest son. He was brother to Agnes, Robert also William.[iii]

During 1889 Hannay married Adale Wynne (daughter of Frederick Richards Wynne (1827 – 1896 a Church of Ireland clergyman who later became a bishop).  They had two sons, Robert also Seamus & two daughters Theodosia & Althea. [iv]


When James was an infant his father hired a private tutor for him: a Dr. Drew who was the Leader of the Orange Order of Northern Ireland.  James Hannay received his further education in Temple Grove School in England.  He later attended the public Haileybury School.  He returned to Ireland to study at the Divinity School of Trinity College, Dublin.[v]

He was educated at Haileybury School in Hertfordshire, England.  He also studied at Trinity College, Dublin:  He graduated from there during in 1886.[vi]


He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Literature during 1946 from Trinity College Dublin.[vii]


When Hannay graduated during 1888 he was Ordained an Anglican Ministe.  He began his ministry work as a Curate in Delgany, Co. Wicklow. Rev. James Hannay served as Chaplain to the Viceroy.  He served as Chaplin in France & Flanders during W. W. 2.  He opened a small Chapel at St. Lunain.  He also ministered in Budapest to the British Legation.  Following this he published an essay titled ‘Man to Man’ in a collection of Essays with Anglican Chaplains that had served with a  titled ‘The Church in the Furnace.’  He was Rector of Carnelway in Co. Kildare from 1918 – 1920. [viii]

Clergyman James Hannay Ministered in Westport at Holy Trinity Church also outlying Churches from 1892.[ix]

Hannay was Ordained deacon during 1888.  He was appointed Curate of Delgany, Co. Wicklow.  In 1889 he received Priest’s Orders.  Hannay accepted the position of Rector of Westport, Co. Mayo: a small  Ministering occasion to five small & remote congregations.  During 1935 Hannay moved to the parish of Holy Trinity, Kensington, England.  There he remained for life as he continued to perform his Parochial Duties throughout the Blitz.[x]

Rev. J O  Hannay was appointed Canon of St. Patrick’s for the period of 1912 – 22.  He was appointed Rector of Kildare Parish from 1918 – 20.  He acted as Chaplain to the Viceroy also to the British Ambassadorial Legation in Budapest during 1922.  He then moved to the Anglican House in Mells, Somerset, for the years 1924 – 34.  Hannay was appointed Vicar  to the Holy Trinity Church in Kensington for the last years of his Ministry:1934 – 50.[xi]

Hannay was appointed Rector of Kildare parish from 1918 to 1920.  He served as Chaplain to the Viceroy of Ireland.  He joined the British Ambassadorial Team during 1922 in Budapest.   James Hannay returned to Mells Somerset in South West England.  He officiated there from 1924 to 1934 as Canon of the Holy Trinity Church in South Kensington, London where he served until his demise.  He was appointed Vicar of Holy Trinity Church in the London suburb of Kensington where he served from 1934.[xii]

Historic Events

Rev. J O Hannay made history as he celebrated the First Holy Communion Service in the Irish Language on St. Patrick’s Day at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.  He administered Holy Communion at three locations from 1914 to 1916 on each consecutive Easter Sunday at Bealieu, aboard the Lusitania plus in a Y. M C.A. hut! [xiii]


During 1889 Birmingham married Adelade Wynne daughter of Frederick Richards Wynne (1827 – 1896) a Church of Ireland clergyman who was later ordained a Bishop.  This site has an image of Ada also Birmingham at Westport. [xiv]

During 1889 he married his third cousin Adelaide Susan Wynne (d. 1933)  (for whom he claimed literally to have conceived ‘love at first sight’)  They had two sons also  two daughters. [xv]

Joint Effort

On his wife’s advice once he gave up writing fiction.  He committed himself to the study of Christian theology with her.  They produced two publications; ‘The Spirit and Origin of Christian Monasticism’ in 1903) also ‘The Wisdom of the Desert’  during 1904 (http://www.nd.edu/Departments/Maritain/etext/wd.htm) [xvi]

He studied Church Theology with his wife.  They published two books: http://geo-birmin.com/en/profil01.html


Hannay was appointment as Donnellan Lecturer for 1901 at Trinity College.[xvii]

Birmingham lectured in Ireland at the following venues: Trinity College Dublin, the Limerick Young Protestants Society, Sinn Fein also the National Union of Women’s Suffragette Societies.  He toured in the U. S.as a Lecturer.[xviii]

Final Visit

During 1946 Hannay paid his final visit to Ireland to accept an Honorary Litt.D. from Trinity College Dublin.[xix]


He was instrumental in Founding a Literary Circle with most of its members Anglo – Irish Protestants like himself.  His wife Ada spoke of the Literary merits of poems by the Young Irelanders at one such event.  Many of his novels were written during the Hannay’s time in Westport.  He founded a Temperance Society, a Literary Society: he was Chairman of the Protestants Orphan Society.  He acted as Chaplin also Board Member of the Westport Workhouse.  (Unfortunately  for him the Catholic Clergy in the town objected to several of his writings).[xx]

Gaelic League

He longed for an Independent Ireland.  His conflict regarding Nationalism & Unionism was represented most vividly in ‘Benedict Kavanagh’ also ‘The Northern Iron’ which were published during 1907.[xxi]

Birmingham defended also he explained that he  tried to persuade Irish Protestants of its importance & value to them.  Birmingham was elected to the Coiste Gnólha Executive of the League.  He wrote many articles in defence of the Gaelic League in the Church of Ireland ‘Gazette.’  At the General Synod of the Church of Ireland during 1912 he was the sole member to support home rule.  In ‘The Mayo News’ 19th May 1906 edition a joint statement was published of several Catholic priests who denounced Hannay: they also demanded an apology.  At a meeting of the Gaelic League with twenty – two members present that same year on 27th September the Chairman (a Catholic priest) made a motion to expel him: the motion carried as Hannay withdrew from his Position. [xxii]


Hannay initially used the pseudonym ‘George A. Birmingham’ for reasons of confidentiality  He maintained it after the revelation of his true identity also eventually used it even for serious Theological Works.  He used the pseudonym ‘Eoghan’ when he wrote for the Irish Protestant of Lindsay Crawford (qv) & Sinn Féin edited by Arthur Griffith (qv.)  The revelation during 1906 that Hannay was Birmingham aroused considerable local & national controversy.[xxiii]


As a young curate James O. Hannay had collaborated with his wife Ada to make up deficiencies in their living standards by writing articles.  He forwarded his first work to a London Publisher.  When it was accepted he received a cheque for ten pounds.  He penned books on Christian Theology; ‘Spirit and Origin of Christian Monasticism‘ during 1903. [xxiv]

He produced periodicals in the Irish, British and American Press.  His first work was a Biography of his father – in – law Frederick R. Wynne D. D. Bishop of Killaloe.[xxv]

He wrote the “Wisdom of the Desert” 1904 Scriptoria Books under his own name.[xxvi].

While living in Co. Mayo James Hannay used the pseudonym G. A. Birmingham to publish a large volume of fiction that included: ‘The Lighter Side of Life,’ ‘Spanish Gold.’ to name but a few.  His ‘From Connacht to Chicago’ was also published as ‘From Dublin to Chicago.’ The novel ‘Over the Border’ was a humorous one that portrayed his sincere wish for reconciliation between every humour.  During 1939 his ‘Appeasement’ was published. Further publications included ‘The Seething Pot,’ ‘Hyacinth’ also ‘General John Regan’ (those three volumes antagonized the Clergy in Westport.) [xxvii]

His lectures were subsequently published as ‘The spirit and origin of Christian Monasticism’ in 1903. [xxviii].

He described in ‘A wayfarer in Hungary’ 1925 his years from 1922 to 1924when he was chaplain to the British legation in Budapest.[xxix]


Hannay penned two Biographies ‘Isaiah’ during 1937 then ‘Jeremiah’ in 1939 with a Political Essay.[xxx]


He penned his Autobiography during 1934 ‘Pleasant Places’ portrayed his deep pious faith along with his humour. [xxxi]


Both Hannay’s loved sailing around Clew Bay. (it  provided the backdrop for several of his later farces and adventure stories) [xxxii]

Hannay enjoyed sailing.  He had been taught the rudiments by his father &  grandfather in Belfast. When he was based in Westport his financial success of his writing enabled him to purchase a boat.  He bought a Dublin Bay Water Wag. (In the frontispiece of his book ‘The Inviolable Sanctuary’ Birmingham included a picture of the Water Wag) [xxxiii]


Hannay’s demise occurred on 2nd February 1950 at his home: 187 Queen’s Gate, Kensington, London.  He was buried in  St. Andrew’s Churchyard, Mells, Somerset. [xxxiv]

James Hannay’s demise occurred on 15th February 1882  in London.  He was aged eighty – four years. He is interred in Twynolm Churchyard, Scotland.  (His wife Ada’s demise occurred on 31st  January 1933) [xxxv]


‘My own experience is that the solitary hope we have of avoiding actual despair is a resolute determination to see the comic side of things . . . If we didn’t extract food for laughter out of failure we should go under. Once let your mind get fixed on the pathetic side of the failure and you are done’[xxxvi]

(See below Hilda Martindale)


A Memorial on the wall of James Hannay’s birthplace ( now is the Administration Building of Queen’s University, Belfast) states that James O Hannay, George A. Birmingham, Novelist, 1865 – 1950, Born in this house July 16th.’[xxxvii]

Today a Plaque marks his time in Delgany, Co. Wicklow with this tribute ‘James Owen Hannay: Pastor, Scholar, Author who wrote as George A. Birmingham entered upon his Ministry as curate of this Parish 1888 – 1892.’ [xxxviii]

A Memorial Bust of him in St. Patrick’s Church at Mells Somerset England has this inscription ‘James Owen Hannay (G. B.) ‘Canon of St. Patrick’s, Rector here 1924 – 1934.’[xxxix]

The Wiltshire Gazette’ dated 12th November 1936 devoted a page to the Banquet that included an excerpt from Canon Hannay’s reply to the toast, ‘He had taught their Mayor his Catechism.’  The paper described Hannay as more better known as George Birmingham, the Author of novels based on local inhabitants & the islands of Clew Bay.’[xl]

In her ‘As I know Him’ Author Hilda Martindale describes episodes that show Birmingham’s sense of humour plus deep faith, his Christianity: once he wrote to her these words’  ‘I do not suppose it is easy to do good anywhere. It is certainly desperately hard in Ireland.  My own experience is that the solitary hope we have of avoiding actual despair is a resolute determination to see the comic side.’ [xli]


His sixty – first publication also his last book was published following his demise during 1950.[xlii]

.J.O. Hannay to Lindsay Crawford 29th May 1905 Lindsay Crawford Papers National Library of Ireland, Ms.11 415. [xliii]

James Hannay’s Personal Papers are held within Trinity College Library Dublin.[xliv]

Prior to Arthur Oram’s son James being elected Mayor of Devizes in Wiltshire he requested that Hannay be invited as chairman of his inaugural banquet.  (He had met Vicar Hannay as a young sixteen year old in Newport, Co. Mayo) [xlv]

In recognition of Hannay the Water Wag Club of Dun Laoghaire returned to Westport & Clew Bay during 2016.[xlvi]

A Thesis on Hannay may be viewed at this link: https://mural.maynoothuniversity.ie/5207/1/Eileen_Reilly_20140712074545.pdf

Numerous Publications reference Birmingham (include below are several):

Lottie McManus 1829 ‘White Light and Flame: Memories of the Irish Literary Revival and the AngloIrish War’ Talbot Dublin

Murray Peter ‘Novels, nuns and the revival of Irish industries: the rector of Westport and the Foxford Woollen Mill, 1905–1907’, ‘Cathair na Mart’ 1998 viii, no. 1 (pages 86 – 99)

Taylor Brian 1992 ‘George A. Birmingham and General John Regan: London, New York, and Westport’ ‘Cathair na Mart’ xii, No. 1 (pages 90 – 112)

Murray Peter 1992  ‘First novels and fierce controversies: George A. Birmingham, The seething pot, and Hyacinth’Cathair na Mart’ xii, No. 1 (pages 113 – 27) [xlvii]

Taylor Brian 1995 ‘The Life and Writings of James Owen Hannay (George Birmingham) 1865 – 1950’ (Studies in British Literature)  Edwin Mellen Press

Henderson J W 1939 ‘Methodist College Belfast 1868 – 1938 a Survey and Retrospect Volume One’ ; Martindale Hilda ‘Canon Hannay (George A. Birmingham) as I knew him’ 1950? Methodist College Belfast (page 87)

J.O. Hannay to Lindsay Crawford’ 29th May 1905 Lindsay Crawford Papers, National Library of Ireland, Ms.11,415.

John Gibbons has written re G. A Birmingham in the Westport ‘Cathair na Mart Historical Journal’ in 1982 (Vol 2 No. 1 (Pages 23 – 26)

Murray Peter(February 2002 ‘Lindsay Crawford’s ‘Impossible Demand’? The Southern Irish Dimension of the Independent Orange Project’ (PDF). National Institute for Regional & Spatial Analysis, National University of Ireland, Maynooth. Working Paper Series.(Retrieved 15 December 2020) [xlviii]

Reilly Eileen PDF 1992 ‘An Irishman looks at his world.’  [xlix]

This links lists Articles re  J.O. Hannay http://geo-birmin.com/en/books.html

These links lists all Publications: http://www.ricorso.net/rx/az-data/authors//b/Birmingham_GA/life.htm /  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_A._Birmingham


[i] www.eprintsmaynoothuniversity.ie

[ii] https://www.dib.ie/biography/hannay-james-owen-george-a-birmingham-a3791

[iii] www.eprintsmaynoothuniversity.ie

[iv] http://geo-birmin.com/en/profil01.html

[v] Ibid.

[vi] https://www.dib.ie/biography/hannay-james-owen-george-a-birmingham-a3791

[vii] http://geo-birmin.com/en/profil01.html

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] www.eprintsmaynoothuniversity.ie

[x] https://www.dib.ie/biography/hannay-james-owen-george-a-birmingham-a3791

[xi] http://www.ricorso.net/rx/az-data/authors//b/Birmingham_GA/life.htm

[xii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_A._Birmingham

[xiii] www.eprintsmaynoothuniversity.ie

[xiv] http://geo-birmin.com/en/profil01.html

[xv] https://www.dib.ie/biography/hannay-james-owen-george-a-birmingham-a3791

[xvi] http://geo-birmin.com/en/profil01.html

[xvii] https://www.dib.ie/biography/hannay-james-owen-george-a-birmingham-a3791

[xviii]  www.eprintsmaynoothuniversity.ie

[xix] https://www.dib.ie/biography/hannay-james-owen-george-a-birmingham-a3791

[xx] www.eprintsmaynoothuniveristy.ie

[xxi] http://geo-birmin.com/en/profil01.html

[xxii] www.eprintsmaynoothuniversity.ie

[xxiii] https://www.dib.ie/biography/hannay-james-owen-george-a-birmingham-a3791

[xxiv] www.hathitrust.org

[xxv] http://geo-birmin.com/en/profil01.html

[xxvi] www.scriptoriabooks.com

[xxvii] http://www.ricorso.net/rx/az-data/authors//b/Birmingham_GA/life.htm

[xxviii] https://www.dib.ie/biography/hannay-james-owen-george-a-birmingham-a3791

[xxix] Ibid.

[xxx] http://www.ricorso.net/rx/az-data/authors//b/Birmingham_GA/life.htm

[xxxi] http://geo-birmin.com/en/profil01.html

[xxxii] https://www.dib.ie/biography/hannay-james-owen-george-a-birmingham-a3791

[xxxiii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_A._Birmingham

[xxxiv] https://www.dib.ie/biography/hannay-james-owen-george-a-birmingham-a3791

[xxxv] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_A._Birmingham

[xxxvi] https://www.dib.ie/biography/hannay-james-owen-george-a-birmingham-a3791

[xxxvii] http://geo-birmin.com/en/profil01.html

[xxxviii] Ibid.

[xxxix]  Ibid.

[xl] www.familyhistory.oram.ca

[xli]  http://geo-birmin.com/en/profil01.html

[xlii] Ibid.

[xliii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_A._Birmingham

[xliv] www.tcd.ie

[xlv] www.familyhistory.oram.ca

[xlvi] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_A._Birmingham

[xlvii] http://geo-birmin.com/en/books.html

[xlviii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_A._Birmingham

[xlix] https://mural.maynoothuniversity.ie/5207/1/Eileen_Reilly_20140712074545.pdf


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