Using documents from the Registry of Deeds, Eneclann’s researchers identified three distinct but interconnected clusters of Benn/ Behn families between 1719 and the early 1800s in Limerick, Galway and Tipperary.
The earliest records we have for the Benn family show them in 1719 in Limerick city.
The information found in the Registry of Deeds seemed to substantiate a part of Mrs. Benn’s story, that the family arrived in Tipperary from Limerick.
It may also be significant that as late as the 1780s, the family spelt their name Behn and also Benn. On occasion we see both spellings used for members of the same family even within the same document (eg: where the father was recorded as William Behn, and his eldest son as William Moylan Benn).
These spellings are phonetically the same name, but Benn is the English version, whereas Behn suggests a name of Germanic origin. This evidence would tend to suggest that the younger generation probably anglicised their name from the Germanic ‘Behn’ to Benn, as they assimilated into Irish society.
The Germanic spelling of the family name suggested that if the other part of Mrs. Benn’s story – that the family were religious refugees – could be proven true, then they might actually be German Palatines.
With this in mind, we decided to examine the surviving registers for the Church of Ireland parishes in Limerick city. There we found the earliest concrete reference to the Benn family in the baptismal register of the city parish of St. John’s.
We examined the burial registers and found that three of these Benn children died young:
It may be significant that among the childrens’ names in this Benn family, we find the name Trefinah/ Trifenia. We previously noted that Triphena was a ‘founder’s name’ in the Benn family of Ballygurteen, and is still used by them down to the present generation.
Latterly we also found a 1728 document in the Registry of Deeds, which showed that William Benn, father of the children in the St. John’s registers, was himself the son of Hugh Benn who between 1719 and 1728 was engaged in a speculative land transaction, for a property in Cuckoo Lane, parish of New St. Michan’s Dublin.
This 1728 deed is significant for two reasons:
First, taken in conjunction with the evidence of St. John’s parish registers, we see that the eldest known children of William Benn were Triphena (1712-13) and Hugh (1714 – ?). Although the evidence is incomplete, it suggests that William Benn probably named his first male child after his own father, Hugh Benn.
Secondly, we can infer that by 1719 Hugh Benn and his son William were sufficiently affluent to make a property investment outside of the city where they lived.
The evidence of the Benn family’s early prosperity would tend to rule out the theory that the Benn/ Behn family were originally Palatines.