“North Belfast Families-Their Stories”: The Dornans of Agnes Street.

As part of the Great Place North Belfast project the archive co-ordinator has been conducting genealogical research using archival material from members of the North Belfast Heritage Cluster. During the transcription of a roll and register, one family in particular stood out. This was the Dornan brothers, Samuel, William and George, who lived at 114 Agnes Street in 1912, and who were all members of the same Orange Order Lodge (LOL 1890: St Michael Church Defenders Total Abstinence). Using this information in conjunction with other historical sources, we were able to find out more about the Dornans and explore the history of their north Belfast routes.

The father of the Dornan brothers was Thomas Dornan Sr. Born in 1847. He was as a labourer. In 1877 he married Anne Elizabeth Law in Lisburn, and together they had seven children, Isabella (1880), Thomas Jr(1881), Samuel (1882), William (1885), George (1886), Martha (1889) and Annie (1892). Unfortunately, fate was not kind to the Dornan Family. Isabella, their firstborn child, died in 1889, aged 9 of Phthisis (an old phrase for a progressive wasting disease such as pulmonary tuberculosis),[1] whilst Anne died on 29th January 1907 of a combination of Bronchitis and Cardiac Disease which developed into Pneumonia.[2] Tragically, just ten days after his mother’s passing, Thomas Jr would take his own life. The Belfast Telegraph would report on his death, stating:

“The Belfast Coroner…held an inquest on the Saturday evening in the Falls Roads Baths touching the death of Thomas Dornan, a labourer, residing at 22 Percy Street, who died shortly after twelve o’clock on Friday night as the result of [carbolic] acid poisoning….it appeared that deceased had been confined in a lunatic asylum for three months about five years ago. His mother died ten days ago, and since that even he had been depressed in spirits.[3]

Belfast Telegraph. 11th Feb 1907
Headline of the report relating to the death of Thomas Dornan. Belfast Telegraph. 11th February 1907.

Thomas died aged 26 and was buried with his mother and eldest sister in City Cemetery.[4]

After these events the family moved from 22 Percy Street to 114 Agnes. It was during this period that Samuel, William and George were recorded as members of the Loyal Orange Lodge 1889. From Agnes Street the family would move to Upper Riga Street. It was here that Thomas Sr. would pass away in 1915, aged 68.

Through research we were able to discover more about the three surviving brothers. William was a Flax Rougher and likely worked in the Edenderry Flax Mill nearby. He died in the house on Upper Riga Street in 1924 aged 39. His brother George went on to serve initially with Royal Inniskilling Fuselier’s and then with the 16th Division of the Royal Irish Rifles, where he would fight in France during the First World War. He would survive the war and would die in 1962, also in Upper Riga Street. Given the occupation of Thomas Sr. as a Labourer, and William as a Flax Rougher, as well as the location of the family home, it is possible that the Dornan’s would have been members of another cluster member, the North Belfast Working Men’s Club on Danube Street. This is more likely given that both the NBWMC and the Loyal Orange Lodge (1890) which the brothers had been enrolled in in 1912 had similar ideologies, with a heavy emphasis placed on abstinence.

Less information survives on the sisters, Annie and Martha. Annie (Annebella) died as a result of a fall after an appointment at Belfast City Hospital in 1960. She was 68. The Belfast Telegraph reported on the incident, stating that an inquiry took place. Evidence concluded she died as a result of an infection following fractures to her hip and wrist which she sustained in the fall, which the inquest ruled to be a tragic accident.[5] She is recorded as living at the family house in Upper Riga Street at the time. Her sister (Martha) and a Niece had accompanied Annie to the appointment.[6] Martha passed away in 1968 in Blythe house on Eglantine Avenue, aged 79: the last of the Dornan siblings.

The eldest brother, Samuel, according to our research was the only one of the Dornan siblings to be married. A postman by trade, he married Elinor Briggs in 1913, and together they had one child, Lily Elinor (Ellie) on 25th March 1914. Tragically Elinor died of postpartum depression psychosis (puerperal insanity) shortly after on 16th April 1914, leaving Samuel to raise Ellie on his own, with the help of his brothers and sisters. In June 1918, Samuel married again, to Alice Maltman in Belfast. Together they would have two children, Phyllis, (1919) and Sydney (1921), who joined Ellie in the household, before Alice died in their house on University Road in 1929.[7] Samuel would go on to become Chief Inspector of the General Post Office, before passing away on 14th May 1963. He was survived by his children. Sydney eventually emigrated to Canada where he died in 1963, whilst his sister Phyllis passed away in 1981. The eldest, Ellie, died in a nursing home in Lisburn in 2008.

Dornan family tree showing the individuals mentioned.

The story of the Dornan family is in no way complete, nor comprehensive. If you are a relative or know the Dornan family feel free to get in touch at (info@greatplacenorthbelfast.com) and we can continue to add to the stories of people who once lived in North Belfast.

[1] Death Certificate 1889: Irish Genealogy. 6757740

[2] Death Certificate 1907: Irish Genealogy. 3679912

[3] Belfast Telegraph. 11th Feb 1907

[4] Belfast City Council City Cemetery Records: F1 523

[5] Belfast Telegraph. 19th October 1960

[6] Ibid

[7] Belfast City Council City Cemetery Records: N 168

Members Involved

YEAR: 1887

Location: Clifton Street