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Boyhood Home of Governor Brennan

Boyhood Home of Governor Brennan
Jul 19, 2017

This three-story building was the boyhood home of former Maine Governor Joseph E. Brennan. According to the Munjoy Hill Historic Guide, prepared by Greater Portland Landmarks, with text by William David Barry, this house is a typical example of “flat-houses” that became popular in Portland after the Fire of 1866. It was built in 1894.

John J. Brennan, an Irish longshoreman, and his wife Catherine J. Mulkern, natives of Connemara, County Galway, settled on Munjoy Hill in the 1910s. John had come over from the “ould country” when a young boy in 1901. About 1927, John moved into 31a Kellogg Street, along with his mother Bridget McDonough Brennan. At this residence, John and Catherine raised eight children, three daughters and five sons, including Joe and Sister Barbara Brennan of the Sisters of Mercy. John, a veteran of World War I, died in the Veterans’ Administration Hospital at Togus, in 1957.

Joseph Edward Brennan was born in Portland in 1934 and graduated from Cheverus High School. He attended Boston College and graduated from the University of Maine School of Law. Joe became Cumberland County District Attorney and entered local politics. He served in the Maine House of Representatives (1965-1971) and the Maine Senate (1973-1975). Brennan, a Democrat, was appointed State Attorney General in 1975 and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1974. In 1979, he became the first Irish Catholic governor of this state since Edward Kavanagh (1843-1844). But Kavanagh became governor only after John Fairfield had resigned the office to enter the U. S. Senate; Brennan was the first Irish Catholic elected.

Joe Brennan served as chief executive officer of Maine from 1979-1987. In December 1979, he shared the stage with John F. Kennedy, Jr., who made a campaign stop in Portland when his uncle Ted was seeking the Democratic nomination for President (see mainememory.net). When Brennan was running for reelection in 1982, a family friend named James F. Collins remarked on the local boy from Munjoy Hill who had made good. “He grew up on the Hill and made it the hard way. He didn’t get anything for nothing.” Fellow classmate and union bricklayer James McLaughlin stated at the time that “The Yankees can go for him this time, forget his religion. Before, if you were an Irish Catholic from Portland, forget it.” McLaughlin commented on supposed anti-Catholicism, anti-Irish sentiments that were still evident in the 1980s; some would argue that at least anti-Catholicism still hasn’t faded away completely.

Brennan served two terms in the U. S. House (1987-1991) and had unsuccessful bids for governor of Maine in 1990 and 1994. President Bill Clinton nominated Joe to serve as a commissioner on the Federal Maritime Commission in 1999 and he was confirmed for a second term at the FMC in 2004.

Joe’s brother James J. Brennan (1933-2007) operated parking facilities in downtown Portland for over 40 years. He was active in politics and counted such Maine luminaries as former mayor Edward I. Bernstein, former Maine Senate President Gerard P. Conley, and current Maine governor John Baldacci as friends. When Jimmy died, Baldacci declared that “I’ve lost a great and loyal friend. Jimmy was like family. Jimmy loved Portland and understood the city as well as anyone I ever met” (see obituary, Portland Press Herald, 30 Nov 2007).

Author Matt Barker
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