Searching for information on prominent citizen

SIR, — I am currently researching the life and work of John William Hanna, an antiquarian (historian) who lived in Downpatrick from about 1850 to 1879.

He worked for many years as a clerk for Wallace solicitors in Downpatrick. He researched and wrote extensively about Downpatrick and the barony of Lecale.

Much of his work was published in the Down Recorder newspaper. He corresponded regularly with other like-minded people of his period, men such as the famous John O’Donovan of the Ordnance Survey and the eminent Reverend William Reeves, once President of the Royal Irish Academy.

One of his contemporaries and admirers was our very own Reverend James O’Laverty, from Carrowbane in the parish of Bright. J W Hanna, as he was most often called, was a Catholic and was married to Elizabeth Russell, a daughter of James Russell of Ballykinler House.

From about the 1870s until the present day he has been quoted in all the major historical works about Lecale, yet little is known about the man’s personal life or origins. 

He died in Stream Street, Downpatrick in 1879, his wife pre-deceasing him by one year.

They appear to have had no surviving children. He struggled with the affliction of alcoholism for many years. No headstone was ever placed over his grave. He probably contributed more to our knowledge of Downpatrick and Lecale than most, but he is now almost completely forgotten about.  

I have been quite successful in finding material about the man but there are still important gaps in my knowledge. 

Firstly, I would like to ask your readers if any of them can tell me where J W Hanna originally came from and which Hanna family he was connected to.

Although he spent the latter half of his relatively short life in Downpatrick, he addresses his earliest letters, dated in the 1840s, “Moy, Co Tyrone”. 

In 1860, an early editor of the Down Recorder, James Kenney, writing to a friend, says he thought Hanna came from Clonfeacle or Blackwatertown (Co. Armagh, but very close to Moy). Around 1861 he moved from Downpatrick to Ballykinler, where he lived for two or three years in Ballykinler House, but then returned to Downpatrick.

Secondly, I would like to know more about the Russells of Ballykinler House. Russell is a well known family name in Lecale, but I cannot find any connection between the Russells of Ballykinler House and the better known Russells of Ballystrew, Killough (also Baron Russell of Killowen, near Rostrevor).

Any information, no-matter how speculative, will be very welcome. I am a member of Lecale and Downe Historical Society.

My contact details are as follows: Email: . Telephone: 028 4461 5504. Address: 34 Roughal Park, Downpatrick, BT30 6HB.

Yours etc.,