Richard Valentine Brenan was a talented shoemaker, and he was an outspoken Chattanooga political and labor leader as well. Though he was born in 1822 in London, England, his parents were Irish and his allegiance was always to the Emerald Isle. The family returned from England to Ireland and the elder Brenan was a publisher. His newspaper was "devoted to the cause of the Irish people.''
Richard V. Brenan shipped aboard a merchantman when he was 12 and followed a seafaring life for five years. But he was "frightened ashore'' by the Great Storm of 1839.
In 1843 he married Ellen Berry, who had been born in Dublin in 1819. Her father was Irish and her mother was of French extraction. While living in Dublin, the Brenans had daughters Mary Elizabeth, Jane, Esther and Sarah. Jane died as an infant.
About 1849 Richard Brenan left the family to go to America with the plan of saving enough money to send for his family. Some of the neighbors told Ellen Brenan she would never hear from her husband again, but in 1852 she and the daughters made a stormy crossing of the Atlantic. Brenan had worked in New York, and he had pushed on to Cincinnati where his family caught up with him. A daughter, Harriet, was born there in 1854. The family later moved to Lexington, Ky., and Brenan established a boot and shoe shop on Lime Street. He was known as an expert craftsman in making boots for men and slippers and shoes for ladies. Brenan was able to acquire a race horse, Besterling, and to save enough money to send to his wife's sister so she could join them. While in Lexington, Richard, Mary Ellen and James Henry were born.
Brenan was opposed to slavery, and he once took a slave in payment and then released him. The slave worked for him, but was paid. Despite his feelings on slavery, he sympathized with the South when the war broke out. He helped General John Hunt Morgan's men steal guns from the armory of the state militia at Lexington. He narrowly escaped arrest and had to flee to Nashville, again leaving his family behind. After setting up another shoe shop, he sent money to Ellen by a messenger. The family was eating breakfast when he arrived, and the children remembered seeing their mother wipe tears from her eyes as she talked to the stranger. They left immediately, taking with them only the things they could wear or carry. Many cherished family items were left behind and never retrieved.
Meanwhile, a grandmother they had eagerly awaited from Ireland reached New York, but was not able to join them in the war-torn South.
The Brenans were among the last passengers over the railroad between Lexington and Nashville before the tracks were torn up. At his shoe shop in Nashville, Brenan made boots for many officers and soldiers. He kept a book of footprints and measurements so he could fit them again and again. Brenan always insisted on being paid in gold, so the family fared well in the latter days of the war. But the outspoken Brenan almost got into more difficulties when he yelled "Hooray for Jeff Davis!'' as Union troops marched into town. Brenan also had a sense of humor, spreading the tale that a leprechaun had come over with him from Ireland. An "omniverous reader,'' his favorite author was
About 1870 the Brenans moved to Chattanooga, and he set up a shoe shop and cigar manufacturing business. The shop faced Market Street and the Brenans lived in a house to the rear on Cherry. This was where Loveman's was later built.
Richard Brenan Jr. returned to Nashville and ran a shoe shop there. He married Mary McCormack.
The elder Brenan became president of the Greenback Club and he was a leader in the Knights of Labor. He was an effective stump speaker and he engaged in a series of debates with H. Clay Evans. Brenan in 1878 was elected city alderman for the 4th Ward, but the city attorney declared he could not take his seat due to a technicality in the balloting. Brenan remarked that the "clause respecting filling of seats on the board can be so constructed as to suit the ideas of those who desire their ideas carried out.''
Richard Brenan was living with his daughter, Mary Ellen, at East Ninth and Palmetto when he died in 1902 at the age of 80. He was remembered as "a thoroughly honest man in his convictions and in his dealing with his fellow man. He never hesitated to speak his mind in his own particular way, whenever called upon, on any and all questions.'' In his last days he told an interviewer, "Tell the people of Chattanooga for me that I have tried to live like an honest man and cherish the kindest feelings for every man, woman and child in this city and that I am tenderly reminded of many kindnesses done for me for which I am thankful and for which may God bless them all.'' Brenan had gone into a decline upon the death of his wife the previous year. They had been together 58 years.
Mary Elizabeth, his eldest daughter, married James Ryan, and they had 12 children. Esther married Thomas Duffy, and Sarah married Richard Henry Reid. Harriet married Charles Coyne. James Henry, the youngest of the Brenans, took over the cigar manufacturing facility. He married Elizabeth Mandre in 1890. Their daughter, Frances, was unmarried. Mary Ellen, the youngest daughter, married John W. "Jack'' Maycann, who was an expert stonemason and carver. He crafted some of the monuments at Chickamauga Park and worked on the Library of Congress in Washington. A daughter, Mary Helen (Mamie) entered the Dominican Order at St. Cecelia's in Nashville. John Anthony Maycann, son of John and Mary Ellen Maycann, married Berenice Wiggins. Their children included John Jr., William Lawrence, Mary Ellen who married Hynson Edwin Cole and Berenice who married James Martin Lane. Berenice Maycann Lane is a retired teacher and lives in East Brainerd.
Her children are James Jr., Cheryl who married Frederick Wright, Michael and Thomas.