William Hennessy, the ‘Candy King’ of Cambridge & Boston

This is the story of yet another famous emigrant from Ballymacoda who ended up becoming a multi-millionaire in his destination of the town of Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. Like Thomas Ahern whom we discussed previously, who made his fortune on the other side of the world in Western Australia, William Hennessy left Ballymacoda and Ireland with nothing, and ended up amassing a sizeable fortune from his empire of candy manufacturing and real estate.

William Hennessy

William Hennessy was born in Ballymakeigh, Ballymacoda in 1876. Parish records show that he was baptized on the 13th February of that year. He was the son of Thomas (1838-1898) and Julia Hennessy née O’Keeffe (1848-1910). William was educated with the Christian Brothers in Youghal, and had two younger brothers – John (1881-1917) and Richard (1889-1958).

Baptismal record for William Hennessy from parish records, February 13th 1876

According to his inputs to the 1900 United States Federal Census, William arrived in the US in 1893 at the age of 17. His Commonwealth of Massachusetts naturalization application confirms this, listing his arrival location as New York, on August 15th, 1893. The same 1900 census record shows the then 24 year old William living as a lodger in the Kelso household at 137 Washington Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his occupation being recorded as ‘Candy Maker‘. Naturalization records show that he became a naturalized US citizen two years later on the 8th October, 1902 at the third district court in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

William worked as a candy maker in Chicoine’s candy shop on Norfolk Street in Cambridge for a number of years before deciding to open his own store, believing he could make superior candies for a similar price.

On Saturday 23rd July 1910, the Hennessy candy store opened to the public for the first time, located at 493 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge. The store became successful very quickly, notable due to the high quality of the candies on sale. Perhaps an indicator of the early and sustained success of his store, is that William Hennessy was able to purchase the entire building at 493 Massachusetts Avenue just over 3 years later, as reported in the Cambridge Tribune.

Excerpt from the Cambridge Tribune, 7th Feb 1914.

In 1915, he made the bold decision to expand. The wooden buildings at 493 Massachusetts Avenue were demolished, and a new four story brick building was constructed. Part of the building was leased to a furniture company, Henry W. Berry Furniture Co., while the rest of the building housed the production of the Hennessy candies. Around this time of expansion, he also opened a second candy store at 17 Winter Street in Boston, which, as with the existing store in Cambridge, was successful from the very beginning.

The building at 493 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge in 1921, the Hennessy candy manufacturing headquarters

With a good cash flow from his existing business, William Hennessy was able to start engaging in real estate speculation, with his first purchase being a building on the western end of Central Square in Cambridge. He continued to buy up property, alone and in cooperation with other investors, including land in excellent locations with high strategic values, for example, the Holmes Building on Central Square. By this time, he was the owner of two of the four corners of Central Square, and part of a third.

In January 1923, the candy business was dealt a temporary blow when a fire broke out in his building on Massachusetts Avenue early in the morning. Starting in the basement and then engulfing the ground floor, the fire ended up causing $10,000 worth of damage to the building and stock, a sizeable sum at the time.

Advertisement for Hennessy Candies, 8th November 1924

There are multiple mentions in the Cambridge newspapers of the time about William Hennessy’s trips back to Ireland, including references to Ballymacoda itself. There are references to him having spent ‘many arduous hours on the farm getting back to earth in the vigorous two-fisted way of his youth‘, and mentions of him having lost a lot of weight due to the hard work on such a trip home. His love of farm work is evident from his questioning by a reporter from the Cambridge Sentinel on his return from such a trip in 1924.

William Hennessy on farm work after a trip to Ireland

Due to his position in the community in Cambridge, William Hennessy was frequently interviewed in local newspapers, and was always keen to offer opinion on the political situation at home in Ireland. From his regular trips back, he was in a position to contribute his thoughts on the issues of the day, and did so freely. When he returned from a trip in 1920, he was quick to opine on the situation of Terence MacSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork, who at that time was on hunger strike in Brixton prison in England, having been arrested by the British on charges of sedition.

William Hennessy on Terence MacSwiney, Cambridge Chronicle, 18th September 1920. MacSwiney died just over a month later on 25th October

In an interview with the Cambridge Sentinel in 1924, he also spoke to the importance of the business relationships between England and Ireland, which was insightful for that time in my opinion, given that the Irish Free State was only a few years old.

William Hennessy on Ireland’s business relationship with England, 1924

The 1930 United States Federal Census records show William living at Brookline, Norfolk, Massachusetts with his wife Annie (née Condon), also an Irish emigrant. They had married in her hometown of Youghal, on 24th January 1925 when William was 49 and Annie was 19. Annie, born on April 15th 1905, was the daughter of Justin and Annie Condon (née Jones) from Youghal, and also emigrated to the US that same year of 1925, arriving in New York on 24th February 1925, via Cherbourg in France, presumably where she and William had honeymooned.

William Hennessy, Bill to those who knew him well, as a person seemed to be well respected and liked by all in the community, business persons and others. The Cambridge Sentinel summed him up as “Silent for an Irishman, yet as observant, plain, and friendly as if he didn’t have a dime“. He faced serious illness in 1936, but made a full recovery, with the Sentinel publishing a short note congratulating him on his recovery, showing how well liked he really was.

Excerpt from Cambridge Sentinel, 5th December 1936

William Hennessy died in 1942 at the age of 66, still living in Cambridge, but having crossed the Atlantic to his home at least 80 times (as reported in the Cambridge Sentinel in June 1935) during this time living there. The Sentinel published a gushing obituary to him on 6th June, 1942.

Excerpt from the obituary published in the Cambridge Sentinel, 6th June 1942

Annie Hennessy later remarried an Englishman, Charles Peter Peters, and settled in Oxford, England where she lived until her passing away at the age of 92 on October 27th 1997. I have found no record of Annie ever having any children with either William Hennessy or her second husband Charles.

Regarding the Hennessy business empire, and assets such as the real estate in Cambridge and Boston, despite extensive research, I have been unable to find out what became of them. Presumably Annie would have sold everything before her move to England, but I have been unable to find any evidence to confirm that. The former Hennessy candy headquarters on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge survives to this day.

Former Hennessy Building at 493 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge today

Regardless of what became of the fruits of William Hennessy’s life in business, I once again stand in amazement of what a son of Ballymacoda achieved, and the high regard in which he was held during his lifetime.

References & Further Information

Ireland, Civil Registration Marriages Index, 1845-1958

Cambridge Tribune, Volume XXXVI, Number 50, 7th February 1914

Cambridge Chronicle, 18th September 1920

Cambridge Sentinel, Volume XVIII, Number 44, 31st December 1921

Cambridge Tribune, Volume XLV, Number 47, 13th January 1923

Cambridge Sentinel, Volume XX, Number 32, 6th September 1924

Cambridge Chronicle, 8th November 1924

1900 United States Federal Census, Paid Records from Ancestry.com

1930 United States Federal Census, Paid Records from Ancestry.com

Cambridge Sentinel, Volume XXX, Number 29, 20th July 1935

Cambridge Sentinel, Volume XXXI, Number 49, 5th December 1936

Cambridge Sentinel, Volume XXXVII, Number 23, 6th June 1942

Cambridge Sentinel, Volume XL, Number 24, 16th June, 1945

Massachusetts, U.S., State and Federal Naturalization Records, 1798-1950, Paid Records from Ancestry.com

Hennessy Family Plot, Hill Cemetery, Ballymacoda

The Story of Pat Hennessy

In Kingfisher County, near the center of the US state of Oklahoma lies the town of Hennessey. With a population of approximately 2,000, Hennessey lies to the north of Kingfisher County along the historic Chisholm Trail, which was used for decades following the US Civil War for driving cattle from Texas to Kansas.

Location of Hennessey, in the US State of Oklahoma

It is fascinating to consider that this town in Oklahoma was named after a man born in Ballymacoda, Pat Hennessy, albeit with the town name adding an extra ‘e‘ at the end of its name for which no explanation is obvious.

Pat Hennessy

Patrick Hennessy was born in Ballymakeigh, Ballymacoda on March 10th 1837, the son of John and Honora (Norry) Hennessy. According to the Ballymacoda and Ladysbridge Catholic Parish Register, he was baptized two days later.

Barely legible baptismal record for Pat Hennessy, March 12th, 1837

John & Norry Hennessy had six other children in addition to Pat. Next in line after Pat were his brothers Martin (born 1839), and John (born 1841). Next was sister Margaret (born 1843), followed by another sister Johanna (born 1847), followed by brother Maurice (born 1849), and finally Thomas (born 1851).

After school, and a brief stint at St. Colman’s College in Fermoy during which Pat considered joining the priesthood, he emigrated to Canada in 1860. By 1862, he was in the United States. Pat saw action in the American Civil War, enlisting in the Union Army, and serving in the 22nd Regiment, Illinois Infantry. After the war ended, Pat became a freight hauler. In an age before the railroads were built, most freight was hauled across long distances by wagon trains. The job of a ‘muleskinner‘ as those who worked on the wagon trains pulled by mules were called, was to drive the wagon and guard the freight. This was not an easy life, with the average muleskinner making a paltry $25 per month.

Purported photograph of Pat Hennessy’s freight wagon, from the US Army Artillery and Missile Museum, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

On July 4th, 1874 Pat Hennessy was travelling with George Fand, Thomas Caloway and Ed Cook, hauling coffee and sugar south from Wichita, Kansas, to the Darlington Indian Agency. After stopping at Buffalo Springs, a popular stage station and rest stop along the Chisolm Trail, Pat and his company were warned of Indian activity in the area, and advised not to proceed along their planned route. Ignoring this advice, sometime later Pat and his men were moving in a three-wagon train down the Chisholm Trail when they were attacked. Hopelessly outnumbered, Pat and his men fought back but ultimately all four were killed in the battle.

Reports indicated that all four men were scalped, and Pat Hennessy was found tied to a wagon wheel with his body badly burnt. There was also a report of the attack being witnessed by a man on horseback travelling behind the convey of wagons. This man purportedly rode back to Buffalo Springs to report the attack, with a group from there being first on the scene to witness the horrific outcome. The body of Pat Hennessy was buried nearby, but later moved to a park in the town founded in 1889 which was named after him.

Plaque commemorating the massacre, located in Memorial Park on the north side of the town of Hennessey.

The mainly accepted story is that the convey was attacked by Cheyanne Indians, but there is disagreement between historians on this, with some suggesting that the attack was carried out by a group of white outlaws posing as Indian warriors.

Pat Hennessy was only 37 when he died, having never made it back to Ballymacoda. Interestingly, a May 2013 article carried in the ‘Hennessey Clipper‘ reported that Noel Hennessy from Ballycotton, a great-great-great nephew of Pat Hennessy, stopped to visit the town of Hennessey whilst on a tour of Route 66.

Whatever the true story of the events that led to the demise of Pat Hennessy on Independence Day 1874, the man from Ballymacoda is forever immortalized by the town in Oklahoma that bears his name.

Pat Hennessy Park in the town of Hennessey, there is some dispute as to where his body actually lays
Pat Hennessy Memorial Garden located in Hennessey

References & Further Information

Historical Remains of Ballymacoda and Ladysbridge, Ballymacoda / Ladysbridge Community Council Historical Society

The Hennessey Clipper Archives, 100th Anniversary of the Pat Hennessy Massacre, July 4th 1974

The Hennessey Clipper Archives, Great Nephew Stops to Visit Hennessy Namesake, May 9th 2013

The Hennessey Clipper Archives, Pat Hennessy Celebration Starts Tonight, August 27th 1981

Ireland, Catholic Parish Registers, 1655-1915

Civil War Soldier Details, US National Park Service

Old West Teamsters and Freighters

The Story of Thomas Ahern

This is the story of an emigrant from Ballymacoda, Thomas Ahern, who ended up founding a famous department store chain, which became an institution in Western Australia.

Thomas Ahern was born in Ballymacoda on 23rd December 1884, the son of Patrick Ahern (1849-1910), a native of Ballymacoda, and his wife Mary, née McGrath (1853-1946) from nearby Killeagh.

Thomas had six siblings. Two sisters – Ellen (1886-1897) and Catherine (Katie) (1887-1900), and four brothers – John (1888-1962), Simon (1890-1978), Patrick (1892-1944) and Michael (1894-1957).

Searching the 1901 census records available online when Thomas would have been 17 years old doesn’t yield any results that are a match for him specifically in the Ballymacoda area. The census records do indicate a household in Ballymacoda where his parents names, Patrick and Mary, and his brothers names John, Patrick and Michael match, as do their ages.

1901 Census Record Showing Likely Household of Thomas Ahern in Ballymacoda Village – link

The absence of Thomas here likely means that he was in another household on the day of the census, as a record would be added for each person in the household, family or otherwise, when the census form was being completed. A wider search of the census records for Cork at that time show a few matches for someone that would be Thomas’s age, such as the record below from a house in nearby Midleton, where there is a Thomas Ahern listed as a ‘Servant‘ as was common for workers listed in census forms at the time.

1901 Census Record Showing Thomas Ahern in House in Midleton – link

So, no direct matches for Thomas Ahern in the 1901 census records in the Ballymacoda area that seem to match. But, we do know that Thomas was apprenticed to a draper in Midleton at this time, due to the farm in Ballymacoda not being able to support everyone in the family. Therefore, the above census record for a household in Midleton is very likely referring to the Thomas Ahern whom we are interested in.

Thomas’s father Patrick died in October 1910, before he left for Australia. Records kept at the time, specifically the ‘Calendar of Wills and Administrations, 1858-1920‘, indicate that Patrick left the sum of ‘£333 18s. 4d.’ and that his wife Mary was sole beneficiary.

Will details of Patrick Ahern, Thomas’s Father from the Calendar of Wills and Administrations

Thomas was employed in Tipperary and later Dublin, and in 1911 was living on Usher’s Quay in the city. In 1910, Patrick had applied for assisted passage to Australia, in place of a colleague who couldn’t make the trip. Thomas arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia in February 1911. Records available online, specifically ‘Fremantle, Western Australia, Passenger Lists, 1897-1963‘ indicate that Thomas arrived from Bremen, Germany aboard the vessel ‘Grosser Kurfürst‘ at that time.

Thomas initially worked at Brennan’s drapery in the town of Boulder. He married his fiancée Nora McGrath (coincidentally with the same maiden name as his own mother) in Perth on 19th June 1912, and subsequently started working as a departmental manager for clothing retailer Bon Marche. The 1916 electoral role for the division of Fremantle in the state of Western Australia shows a record for Thomas and Nora, living at Shenton Road in Claremont, with Thomas listed as a draper and Nora’s occupation listed as ‘home duties’:

1916 Electoral Role for Fremantle, Western Australia (image quality impacted by age of document)

In 1918, Thomas became the manager of the Brennan’s store in Perth.

The first Archbishop of Perth, Patrick Clune, himself an Irishman from County Clare, had a hand in advising the family of P. F. Quinlan to invite Thomas Ahern to manage their drapery and furniture store in Perth. Thomas insisted, were he to take on the role, on a controlling partnership and thus was the beginning of Aherns Department Store in Western Australia on 15th May 1922. Later electoral records show Thomas and Nora living at Airlie street in Cottesloe, with Thomas still listed as a draper:

1931 Electoral Role for Fremantle, Western Australia

Aherns Department Store started out with 50 employees and grew to over 500 quickly under the astute management of Thomas, across 5 different stores in Western Australia. Over time, Thomas bought out all the remaining shares in the business and become sole owner of the now thriving business.

Ahern’s Department Store in Perth in 1938

As he grew older, Thomas maintained an active role in his business until his death in Perth on 22nd May 1970. He was survived by three sons and two daughters, with Nora having passed away in 1959. He was buried in Karrakatta cemetery, of which he had previously been a trustee from 1938-1942.

Ahern’s in Perth in the 1980s

Ahern’s department store chain continued as a functioning business until 1999, a time when it employed 1,500 people, when it was sold to rival department store David Jones for $29 million, an amazing end to the legacy of a man that had been born on a farm in a small village in the south of Ireland. I have found no evidence that Thomas ever returned to his native Ballymacoda, that would certainly be interesting to know. There are multiple travel records that indicate he left Australia many times to travel to the UK, so there is certainly a likelihood that he returned to Ballymacoda during his lifetime.

Portrait of Thomas Ahern

A further history of Thomas Ahern and the department store chain he founded is captured in the book ‘Ballymacoda to Binduli: the story of Aherns W.A‘ by William Mahoney (a descendant of Thomas Ahern), published in Australia in 1997.

Ballymacoda to Binduli

In 2013, Thomas Ahern was named one of the 100 most influential Western Australian businesspeople.

References & More Information

Note: Links provided where available.

National Archives: Census of Ireland

Calendar of Wills and Administrations, 1858-1920

Western Australia – Shipping and Passenger Records

Fremantle, Western Australia, Passenger Lists, 1897-1963

Fremantle, Western Australia, Electoral Role, 1916, 1931

Metropolitan Cemeteries Board, Government of Western Australia, Bio of Thomas Ahern

Thomas Ahern on Wikipedia

Google Books: Ballymacoda to Binduli: The Story of Aherns W.A.

The West Australian, 100 Most Influential Business Leaders, 1829-2013