Is this the First Irish Canadian?

In the 2006 census - about 4.4 million people in Canada described themselves as being of Irish origin. 350 years earlier, in 1663, the first census was held in the outpost of Ville Marie (modern-day Montreal). It listed 3035 residents. Among them was a man who became known as Pierre Aubry. However, his name on arrival in Ville Marie was not Pierre Aubry - it was Tadhg Cornelius O'Brennan.

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Is this the First Irish Canadian?

In last week’s letter from Ireland, we talked about the “Irish Diaspora” and I asked what part of the diaspora you came from. Well – the response was second to none (that’s very good in Irish parlance!).

I spent until last Thursday reading replies that traced the tracks of many of your Irish ancestors. So many questions – so many unexpected twists and turns – and a fair share of sadness too.

What struck me was how so many traits of the Irish character shone through the stories. Perhaps it was because so many of these people were thrown into situations where they had little choice but to plow ahead and make good of whatever turned up in their path.

This week, I’d like to feature just one of these stories. This is the story of the ancestor of one of our readers, Louis Aubry, who became the first recorded Irish-born settler in what is now modern Canada. Have a read and see if it reminds you of the story of your ancestors…..

Is This the First Irish-Canadian?

In the 2006 census – about 4.4 million people in Canada described themselves as being of Irish origin. 350 years earlier, in 1663, the first census was held in the outpost of Ville Marie (modern-day Montreal). It listed 3035 residents. Among them was a man who became known as Pierre Aubry. However, his name on arrival in Ville Marie was not Pierre Aubry – it was Tadhg Cornelius O’Brennan. And Tadhg was the first recorded settler in the territories that later made up the modern state of Canada.

So, what brought Tadhg to this part of the world a full 200 years before many of his Irish Catholic neighbours?

Tadhg came from the O’Brennan families of north Kilkenny. As we discussed in The Tribes of Ireland book – they came from the old Irish tribal lands known as the Osraighe (Ossary) which covered most of modern County Kilkenny and part of south County Laois. The chief family of the area were the Fitzpatricks – but many “Tuatha” were governed by families such as the O’Brennans for hundreds of years.

However, by 1652, Oliver Cromwell had swept through the island in a brutal campaign which culminated in the “Act of Settlement”. This piece of legislation effectively confiscated the majority of Irish Catholic-owned land. Among the land affected was that belonging to the O’Brennans for hundreds of years previously.

The displaced Irish were give the choice to go “To Hell or to Connaught” – although many ended up as slaves in the West Indies – and over 30,000 ended up as soldiers in the armies of France and Spain, becoming the “Wild Geese” that we know today.

Tadhg O’Brennan was one of those who chose to join the armies of France at the age of twenty. He moved to the Celtic region of Brittany in Northwest France, and this was one the regions to supply soldiers and planters to the new colonies in North America.

Tadhg turns up near modern Montreal – in what was known as Ville Marie – for the first time in 1661. He is recorded as being in the employ of a local farmer, and we hear of him only because he was one of a number kidnapped by a band of Iroquois. He remained a captive from March to October and was one of the lucky few to escape with their lives. By the Ville Marie census of 1663, Tadhg had become known as “Thecle Cornelius Aubrenan”.

The same census recorded that while there were 1,293 single men in Ville Marie – Tadhg among them – there were only nine single women of child-bearing age. This prompted King Louis XIV of France to send on “les filles du Roi” (daughters of the King) to help the situation out a little. These “daughters” consisted of 770 women who arrived in the new colony between 1663 and 1673. In fact, more than 95 per cent of French-Canadians can trace their ancestors to women in that group. Naturally, this group also caught the attention of Tadhg.

Tadhg tried hard for seven years to win himself a bride from each new boat arrival of “les Filles du Roi” – but eventually realised that he needed to head downriver to Quebec City to increase his odds of success. This he did – and on July 31, he met Jeanne Chartier. Tadhg and Jeanne were married September 10, 1670. The newlyweds settled in what is now the island of Montreal, and had seven children – three girls and four boys. Four of the children died before the age of five. The last two girls, born in 1679 and 1681, died soon after birth.

Tadhg retired at the age of 51 and died four years later, in November 1687. He was buried in Pointe-Aux-Trembles under the name of Pierre Aubry and was survived by Jeanne and three of their children. We can guess that Tadhg lived a hard and uncertain life – far from all the familiar culture and people he knew so intimately up to the age of 20. He did what he could to survive and push ahead.

Louis Aubry, who kindly shared this story and the documents related to his ancestor Tadhg, points out that he now has 5600 descendants of Tadhg on his database living in North America. And I guess few realise that while many bear the surname Aubrey – they are descended from a man with one of the more common names in the north of County Kilkenny.

Does this sound like the story of your Irish ancestor? The story of Tadhg Cornelius O’Brennan – the first recorded settler in what was to become modern-day Canada. The first Irish Canadian?

As always, do feel free to leave a question in the comment section below, share a story or just to say hello!

That’s it for now!

Slán, Mike… talk next week!

  • Lynn says:

    Wow! What a story! I belong to the American French genealogical society of Woonsocket, ri. They write a lot about the filles du roi. The men of Montreal complained that all the most beautiful women married in Quebec City and only the homely ones ended up in Montreal! So I can understand why Pierre travelled to Quebec City to find a bride!! LOL! The young ladies were coached by their nun-protectors to ask important questions of their prospects like how many livestock do you have? Is your house built yet? How big is your hearth? LOL!! People were so brave in the old days!

  • Janet McKee says:

    Good detective work. Thanks for sharing.

  • Jane S. Fasone says:

    I loved reading about the first settler in Canada. My maternal grandmother, Mary Cavanaugh, was the third child of a family of eight and was the first sent to America. She claimed to be a child of nine years of age. After her death, I obtained her Birth Certificate. Which indicated she had taken 10 years off her age. She lived to be a real age of 96 years.
    She was sent first as she was considered the most industrious in the family and would succeed. She was employed in a Doctor’s household and soon was promoted from a downstairs maid to an upstairs made. She became a close friend of the Doctor’s daughter. And on her days off, the two would pal around.
    Mary was very frugal. She loved to see and to save on electricity, she would sit under a street light at night and create beautiful works. She always sent money home to help her mother and siblings out after her father passed away.. She earned the passage rate to bring two sisters over and found employment for both in Doctor’s homes.
    She made her own Wedding Dress as well as a Maid of Honor Dress to be her sister’s maid of honor. She made the Christning clothes for her children that oat of her descendants still used. My grand daughters were the last two to be Christened in them.
    On Wednesdays her sisters would arrive for dinner. Mary always referred to them as Mrs B or Mrs G, referring to them by their marriage name. On Sunday’s, one of her cousins would usually arrive. The conversation around the table usually spoke of home and I would learn of life in Iteland. It was a great experience and when I was there I saw much of what they spoke of. It was like I was coming home.
    On my visit, I wanted to meet as many cousins as possible and one Sunday afternoon found us going to a nursing home to meet one cousin. Before I went I was told that her mind was not always correct and that she often said her grandfather,y great grandfather, as the Grest Old Man from Longford. I stopped short in my tracts and said he was. That’s how my grandma referred to him. He was 104 when he died in 1904. I never knew what the Title meant and I always assumed it was because of his age. Up to the end he should drive tha trap to Church. Because of my understanding of Itish ways (God rest their souls) I consider myself to be as Itish as they were.
    On my visit one of Mary’s first cousins past away We attended the funeral Mass and burial. I had the experience of walking to the cemetery and praying the Rosary out loud. After which a luncheon was held and I got to met numerous cousins. Thank God for the Irish and their customs. And to the immigrants who brought them with them to their new homes.
    Upon entering my grandparent’s home. I would find a holy water container on the door jam along with pictures of The Blessed Mother, Holy family, and Favorite Saints. In her cousins homes I found the same thing. Customs traveled from Ireland to America.
    The Irish Immigrants were wonderful people who like many others brought their Heritage to their new land and home.

    In Ireland I loved the smell of turf burning in the cooker and the sound of the Magpies. That is Ireland to me.
    Jane Spellane Fasone

    • Mike says:

      Great memories Jane – thanks for sharing! Mike.

    • Cheri Dewar says:

      Jane Fasone I was wondering if your ancestor had a relative by the name of Bridget that was born in 1809 and married a John O’Neill? The reason that I ask is because we don’t have anything on Bridget and quit possibly could be related. Her last name was Cavanaugh and like I said we don’t know very much about her.

      • says:

        I don’t think so. My grandmother’s, her dad’s mother was born Bridgit Gavey in 1849 in Colmcille, County Longford, Ireland. Her son James Cavanaugh, my great grandfather, named his oldest daughter,Bridget who died in infancy in Brannigan’s Harbor, Ballymahon, County Longford, Ireland. The fourth daughter,was named Bridget but known as Bessie and was brought to NY by my grandmother, her siste. Bessie married Frank Gregory in Brooklyn, NY. They had two children- Agnes Elizabeth and DR Francis Gregory. Hope this helps. I do not know if Jamess Cavanaugh had any siblings who named a child Bridget Cavanaugh. You can do a search on Roots or contact the Longford Family Center.
        Jane S. Fasone

  • Mary Brennan says:

    Marvelous story and excellent historical information. I may be one of the 5600!

  • Lynn Mcgrath says:

    Great story! Was it passed down through the family or did you have to uncover your ancestor’s story through research ?

  • Manon McLellan says:

    Hi Mike – Love your stories – this one in particular, because I am a Canadian descendant of Tadgh Cornelius O’Brennan!

    I started to do family research, for my mother – Jacqueline Aubry, about 6 years ago. Her father’s mother passed away when my grandfather was only 4 years old, so, even if it was customary to pass this information on, there was very little information available. The one fact my mother did know is that Graddad referred to ‘Aubry du Tec’ (and it’s many variations!!) She had no idea what it meant and neither did I – and when I found my grandfather’s baptismal register entry, I was surprised to find that he was baptized with the family name “Aubry du Tec”! I decided to Google that name and that’s when I hit pay dirt – I found Louis Aubry – our family geneologist! We found that we only live a 45 minute drive from each other – we now call each other ‘cousins’ and we try to visit as often as possible, although at 91 years of age, he’s often busy with historical society committee meetings, research, etc. – he is still very active! My apologies – I regress!!

    When we found Louis and had access to his wealth of knowledge, my mother was thrilled that we finally had some information, even when Louis shocked her by sending us a copy of her Grandfather’s certificate of 2nd marriage – that neither she or her sisters knew anything about! She insisted that it had to be a mistake (even though it had taken place many years before her birth), however, it was pretty hard to argue with hard evidence! It is so important to start talking to our parents/grandparents before they leave us so that we can pass the history on to our children! Unfortunately, my Mom passed away suddenly, shortly after we began the family adventure…. Neither her nor her two sisters were baptized with the added “du Tec” – I suspect because they were girls – no boys, so, sadly, it appears that our branch of the “Aubry” clan has come to a halt, my Graddad was also the only surviving male of his family.

    Louis also introduced me to another “cousin”, Pamela Aubrey, from Pennsylvania, USA (note the different spelling again!) who was advised by Louis the first time we all met for dinner, that she was pronouncing the last name incorrectly – that it was pronounced OBRY, not AWBRY. Funny story!

    Pam and I realized how important our ‘family’ was to both of us – we decided that we had to visit Ireland – as a tribute to our ancestors (and for me, to my Mom) – we’re so excited, we’re arriving August 8th for 2 weeks of travel through the Emerald Isle!

    Although we would love to know where our dear Cornelius was born, where he and his family lived, we are arriving with no preconceived ideas of finding any new information – we know that we are very fortunate that our Irish ancestors’ Canadian history was preserved back to the mid-1600’s. We want to walk the paths of our ancestors, try to imagine their lives, where they had been, where they had lived and, sadly, how the many years of conflict and division impacted them and their families, our ancestors…

    I plan on bringing a picture of my Mom and burying it in Irish soil – my tribute to her and her Irish ancestry…

    Manon McLellan
    Kanata, Ontario, Canada

    • Louis Aubry says:

      Right on Manon. I think that Pamela Aubry and other descendants in the USA have kept the original writing of the name. Our thanks to Mike for publising Tec’s story for the benefit of all the Aubrys on this continent.

      • Mike says:

        And thanks to you Louis for sharing the facts and chronology on this great piece of history (and story!) Mike.

    • Mike says:

      Many thanks for sharing that wonderful reply, Manon. Mike.

      • Manon McLellan says:

        Totally my pleasure, Mike! I’m very proud of my Irish roots and so happy to have found my ‘cousins’ through my ancestors! Family is so important!

        Not that it makes any significant difference, Mike, but this ‘he’ is a ‘she’ – name Ms. Manon McLellan – I just didn’t want anyone to think that it was a little odd that I was travelling with a female cousin (if I was a male!) 🙂

        LOVE your stories – these are full of wonderful little ‘clues’ that have added colour to my research – which is not only about people, but about where those people came from. I feel such a pull, a connection, to a land that holds a multitude of untold stories about our ancestors – stories that we will never hear or know of for sure, but if we use the knowledge that we have gained from learning about that land, we can spend a good many hours conjuring up our own stories and images as to how it could have been… 26 more sleeps until we leave for ‘our’ beautiful island!!

  • Laura McGinley says:

    Great story!

  • Sandy LaFerriere says:

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful history. So special to have this all recorded for future generations.

    Sandy Kennedy LaFerriere

  • says:

    What a truly amazing story, involving so many folks!

  • Kathleen Casey Golka says:

    I read this story last week, with such interest, having been as a tourist, to both Montreal and Quebec City. But I love reading– the follow up replies!
    Mike and Carina your Green Room is such a wonderful connection –for all of us.
    Till next time.

  • Alicia Mitchell says:

    Thank you so much for the story of Aubry du Tec. Stories like this inspire me to keep looking!

  • Louis Aubry says:

    Incidently, that should be Aubry dit Tec not du Tec. That is common among ancstors in New France.

    • Manon McLellan says:

      Louis is right in that the correct variation should be ‘dit Tec’, unfortunately, in many cases, it was captured in documentation in a variety of ways – in my Grandfather’s, GGrandfather AND GGGrandfather’s case, it was captured as “du Tec”. Thanks for the clarification my cousin Louis!

    • Noreen West says:

      why am I being instructed to cancel reply and log out??

  • Jack Aubry says:

    What a great website you have Mike. Thanks for posting about our Great French-Irish Canadian ancestor!

    Here is the link to a news feature I wrote in 2001, when I was a journalist, based on my oncle Louis’s extensive research:


    Jack Aubry
    Ottawa, Canada

  • Monique Aubry Frize says:

    I am a descendent from Tec Cornelius O’Brennan and Jeanne Chartier. Louis Aubry was very kind in sharing a lot of information with us and my father (Claude Aubry) also did some research and told us (his seven children) stories about our ancestors, including the time when Tec was captured by the Iroquois. I often think that if he had not escaped and married Jeanne, I would not be here.

    When I was a young girl in Eastview (now Vanier), they called me Irish girl, with my hazel eyes, freckles and auburn hair. My mother’s side is all from France, around 1665, so similar period. I have the crest of our O’Brenna family on my wall, with 2 lions and 4 swords, and underneath are the words: Sub hoc signo vinces. Well I took this to heart and fought many intellectual battles for women in engineering to become more visible and present in the profession. I think I am Irish in spite of the more than 300 years that have passed since Tec!!

    • LOUIS AUBRY says:

      I was fortunate to spend an afternoon with Claude Aubry, Monique’s father a City of Ottawa Librarian. We exchanged notes and he even dedicated a couple of his publications. We also met at gatherings of Hôpital Montfort where he was a member of the Board and I was Director of Finance. Enjoyed his company, always.

  • Nancy Ireland says:

    How wonderful to read the story and all the replies which are fascinating in themselves. Hope to get caught up on all the ones I missed these last several months. Next best thing to going to Ireland is this Site.

  • Louis Aubry says:

    I am proud of being the instigator of this series of comments. I don’t mind if you print my e-mail if it helps enhance my datebase.

  • Patricia Clancey says:

    Thanks for sharing such a wonderful story. My father’s dad passed away when he was 6 years old. I know my family came from Biddulph Canada and when I read the book black donnellys there was a small mention that they had a neighbor by the name of Clancey. I have tried everything to find out what part of Ireland they came from but I keep running into dead ends. Someday I would love to visit Ireland and would love for it to be the place my family came from. Do you have any suggestions on how to further research this. I would be extremely grateful for any ideas. Thank you again for your writings I really enjoy them.

  • Thank you all for your generous sharing of this story n and the research behind it. My Brennan family are from Roscommon /Longford but we were always told as children that Cromwell ran our family out of Kilkenny. I hope some day to find out if this was so.

    • Deirdre Brennan says:

      My Brennan’s were from Castlcomer co Killkenny ..James born 1827 a pig farmer,During the great hunger he joined the RIC 1847and posted to Cavan where he served for 7 years .. He and local girl Mary Daley moved to Belfast 1855 and opened a pork butcher shop in Carrickhill area of Belfast….my Brothers & Sister in Canada will enjoy this I’m sure..thanks.

  • Lora says:

    Many thanks to you for sharing this fascinating story and to Louis for conducting such extensive research!

    I have distant-cousin DNA connections to some Canadians and to siblings in Australia with whom the connection most likely involves an ancestor in Canada. In none of these cases have we been able to identify our shared ancestry. One match is with a McGillicuddy from Kerry who also has ancestors from Cork, Kildare, and Derry.

  • Jim O'Mara says:

    I spend far too much time in my craft room “crafting”. This includes hours on the computer researching my history (Scottish, English. German and Greek) plus Jim’s Irish and Scottish roots. Now I have started to read your stories Mike, plus all the comments. Soooo interesting. I’ll never get anything done now 🙂 Di O’Mara

  • Doreen Carter (Conlan , Deering) says:

    Mike and Bride 🙂
    Love this site thank you. I have searched my ancestor for the uit a few years on both sides. My Popu grand father Joseph Conlan and Bride Elizabeth Feeding Conlan came to the USA IN THE VERY EARLY 1900. They were newly married, my god mother , Esther Deering McGill and brother Patrick and sister Catherine Deering Baker all emigrated to USA.. My sister’s and brother in law…Daniel Callahan have visited cousins. My great grandparents are buried in what uses to be the town of Ditch or Black Ditch. There is one wall of their home still standing. I am one of ten children, and fond memories of singing with my uncle’s, and grandparents and auntie and cousins. We still sing now over one hundred of us. Again thank you

  • TedWright says:

    Help me out with pronunciation. Tadhg became Thecle. I can understand OBrennan morphing to Aubrennan to Aubrey. But I don’t understand Tadhg to Thecle to Pierre. Is Thecle part of the du Tec/ dit Tec? Loved it when Louis shared that it was Ohbrey, not AWbrey. That cleared up a lot.
    Thank you folks for proving once again the Irish are the best story tellers. The Blarney Stone reigns! ha.
    Ted Wright

  • Mary Moore says:

    Thanks. I enjoyed this story. My ancestors were Fitzpatricks of Ossory Hill in county Kilkenny who married the Moore clan. I have tried finding ancestry and have put my family tree in I’d love to know more about early years in the area. Thanks, Mary Moore. Australia.

  • Michele Krogh says:

    Thank you for this story. Tec Aubrennan is my 7 x great grandfather. I found him while doing my French ancestry. It was so intriguing! I have an Irish grandmother, but this was a surprise.

    I will now try to contact Louis Aubry.

    Thanks again!

  • Betty Gough says:

    What a genealogy story. It is a prime example of the importance of keeping family records and passing them on. Talk, talk, talk to the older members of your family while they are still’ above ground.’ We here in Ireland take our roots for granted. My life has been greatly enriched by tracing distant cousins in America and Australia. Hearing the stories of the fate of my distant ancestors who left these shores with nothing but hope in their hearts has been so inspiring. If you are a follower who hasn’t started into serious research, get cracking. So many great surprises await you. Betty.

    • Michele Krogh says:

      It is so good to know that some of you in Ireland wonder what happened to those that left. Other than Tec Aubrennan, my more recent immigrant ancestors are Michael Stackpole and Patrick Nelligan from County Cork who arrived in Canada in 1829 and 1823 to work in building of the Rideau Canal near Ottawa. I hope to connect someday to some cousins in Ireland. I have found 3rd cousins here in North America, but none in Ireland, yet. I have had my DNA done. Michele

  • Monique Aubry Frize says:

    Thank you Mike for the story. Tec Obrennan was my ancestor. Louis Aubry and my father Claude Aubry were both very interested in the genealogy of our family. My father who was Director of the Ottawa Public Library for nearly 30 years was often telling his children some of the stories about the ancestors. Louis is amazing in the work he has accomplished! I think we have the same great great grandfather. Two of my brothers are called Pierre and Francois.

    On my mother’s side, my first ancestor arrived in Ile d’Orléans in 1665 (Nicolas Boissonneau dit St-Onge. My mother was Paule St-Onge and my uncle Gérard did a very thorough research of the family back to France in St-Seurin d’Uset near La Rochelle. I guess this makes our family very early settlers in Québec.

    I would like to receive your newsletter. So many years after Tec, I was born with green eyes, auburn hair, and freckles! and everyone called me an Irish girl although at that time I did not know much about the Irish blood I had..

    I wish to thank Louis and his great passion for history of our family!!! and you Mike for distributing these great stories.

    PS I hope you don’t mind that I married an Englishman! We both visited Ireland in 1969, and loved it. My favourite beer is Kilkenny!

    Monique (Aubry) Frize

  • Hi there, I enjoy reading the letters from Ireland. Im an adopted child and only knows that my Father was Irish. I only found out at the age of 37. Im now 67. Ive been to Ireland twice, first in 1995 and again in 2013. I just love the country and its beautiful friendly and helpful people. I d love to visit it again once more.

  • […] Click here to read the story of Tadhg O’Brennan – The first Irish-Canadian. […]

  • […] be an Irish surname? Is it true that the Kilkenny surname “O’Brennan” become the French-Canadian name “Aubry”? These are varieties of the many questions we receive on a weekly […]

  • […] lost in the mix! Some Irish surnames were also translated/morphed into French – such as O’Brennan becoming Aubray in one case. How about you – do you have Irish ancestors who lived in Quebec at one stage? Do […]

    • Suzanne Aubry-Kovacs says:

      I’m the 9th generation from Cornelius O’Brennan aka Aubry. Just went to Ireland to the area where he was born (Castlecomer and Dysart):

  • LeeAnn Grimm says:

    My grandmother’s maiden name was Brennan. She said both her parents were Irish and her surname had changed to Brennan from O’Brennan when her ancestors came over from Ireland. Her father was Bernard (Barney) Brennan and Bernard’s father –
    Thomas Brennan was born
    B:1 Jul 1843 County Claire, Ireland
    came to The USA (Wisconsin) via Canada.
    Thomas married a Mary Finegan (Finnegan spelling ?) who was born
    B:01 Jan 1848 Lindsay Ontario,Canada

    Thomas Brennan’s parents were Dennis Brennan
    B:1813 Moynalvey, Meath, Ireland. And
    Eliza Brennan. (We we’re unable to find her unmarried name)
    B:1815 Auaglass, Ireland

    Mary Finnegan (spelled several ways in records) parents were Patrick Finnegan
    Patrick Finnegan
    B:16 Mar 1823 Carrick, Monaghan, Ireland
    and Julia McMee
    B:14 Apr 1831 County Monahan, Ireland

    Patrick’s father was
    John Finnegan
    B:1781 Ireland (unable to find where he was from in Ireland)
    D:27 Jun 1866 Northern Ireland. Mother all we have was her name was Judith and she was from Ireland

    His mother, Julia, unmarried name was McMee and her mother’s name was
    Mary McMee Creedon
    B:abt 1813 Ireland
    D:Jun 1896 Glenamaddy, Ireland

    We don’t know where she was born only where she died.

    I would love to learn what ever you can tell me where my ancestors were from in Ireland as I would love to visit that area of Ireland.

    • Carina says:

      You are very welcome to join us on where we provide information on our free weekly letter and for more serious research assistance check out our Green Room.