Bryan, George (1770–1843), militia officer and catholic politician, was born 3 November 1770 in Devonshire Square, London, the younger son of George Bryan (1720–96) of London and his wife, Catherine Xaveria (d. 1778), daughter and heir of Henry Byrne of Oporto, Portugal. His great-grandfather was James Bryan (d. 1714) of Jenkinstown, Co. Kilkenny, a captain in James II's (qv) Irish army who represented Kilkenny city in his Irish parliament (1689) and who, though attainted (1691), succeeded in retaining his property ‘owing probably to the intervention of the duke of Ormond’ (Carrigan). George Bryan the younger was educated at the Académie Anglaise, Liège, where he was admitted on 23 August 1785. He travelled widely on the continent and in 1792 was in Paris, where he witnessed the massacre at the Tuileries. It is said that he was engaged to be married to Countess Louise de Rutaut, daughter of Count de Rutaut of Nancy, Lorraine, and a lady-in-waiting to Marie Antoinette. The countess was imprisoned with the queen and was executed during the terror, despite Bryan's efforts to rescue her. Bryan himself was imprisoned for sixteen months; he married after his release, secretly in Nancy in 1794. His wife was the countess's sister Marie-Louise; the couple escaped to England, where they married publicly in Marylebone, London, on 8 August 1795.
Bryan obtained a commission in the British army as an ensign in the first regiment of foot guards on 22 May 1797, and was soon promoted to lieutenant (25 November 1799). A serious difficulty arose in 1803, by which time he held the rank of captain in the army, when the duke of Gloucester, colonel of the regiment, objected to Bryan on the grounds that he was a catholic. In consequence of this he left the army on half-pay and settled in Ireland, purchasing a house in Henrietta Street, Dublin. Not long afterwards, on 4 February 1804, he was appointed major of the Kilkenny militia. His older brother, Eustace, having died young in 1786, he succeeded on the death of their uncle James Bryan (1719–1805), an eccentric bachelor, to the Bryan estates at Jenkinstown, which had been considerably extended by inheritance in the eighteenth century. He had already inherited his mother's share of the considerable Byrne fortune and, through his paternal grandmother (an Aylmer), lands at Yeomanstown, Co. Kildare.
As a wealthy catholic layman living in the Dublin parish of St Michan he was one of three trustees – another was Bernard Coile (qv) – who raised funds for the building of a new chapel; he himself gave £300, and another £100 yearly until its completion (1814). Bryan's family arms, with the motto Fortis et fidelis, were emblazoned in the porch at the entrance to the spacious, richly decorated chapel, which fronts North Anne Street and, latterly, extends to Halston Street. In the campaign for catholic relief he was an associate of Daniel O'Connell (qv). Both in Co. Kilkenny and in Dublin he was active by 1807. He brought a motion before the catholic committee to ask the prince regent to remove the duke of Richmond (qv) from the lord lieutenancy of Ireland in March 1811; he twice went over to England on catholic committee business, in May 1811 and May 1813. Bryan came sharply before the public eye following the publication in the Dublin Evening Post of resolutions drawn up by Denys Scully (qv) for a political meeting at Kilkenny and read out by Bryan as chairman. The editor, John Magee (qv), was prosecuted in 1813–14 for libelling the government. As Bryan would not take responsibility for the resolutions, Magee consequently being convicted, Bryan became persona non grata with some members of the Catholic Association (though not with O'Connell). In 1830 Bryan was appointed high sheriff of Co. Kilkenny, the first catholic to hold that office since 1690. Declaring himself a reformer and with O'Connell's approval, he was elected MP for the county on 12 August 1837, and remained MP, without a contest, until his death.
According to Christopher O'Keeffe (whose sources are not identified), Bryan kept a coach-and-four that bore comparison with the lord lieutenant's and had a mistress, a Miss Wallstein, an actress, whom he kept near one of Dublin's squares with servants and her own carriage. Known as ‘Punch’ Bryan, he improved his house at Jenkinstown and developed a racecourse. His maternal grandfather being son of Sir Gregory Byrne (d. 1714), 1st baronet, of Tymogue, Queen's County, by his wife, Alice, daughter of Randal Fleming, Lord Slane, in 1829 Bryan made a claim to the barony of Slane, but this was rejected in 1835 by the house of lords. George Bryan died 3 October 1843 and was buried in the family vault at Old St Mary's, Kilkenny. Bryan and his French wife had a daughter, Mary Napolitana, who married in 1817 Colonel Sir John Milley Doyle, a nephew of Sir John Doyle (qv) and MP for Co. Carlow in 1831–2, and a son, George.
This George Bryan (1796–1848), born 25 November 1796, married in 1820 Margaret, the youngest daughter of William Talbot of Castle Talbot, near Blackwater, Co. Wexford. Though a house, Gragara, was built for him near Jenkinstown, he and his wife (whose elder sister, Maria Theresa, was married to John Talbot, 16th earl of Shrewsbury, and was an important influence on his ambitious development of Alton Towers) never occupied it. They lived instead on the continent, where Margaret, famous as a beauty and wit, was a friend of Leopold I of Belgium and Pope Pius IX. After inheriting Jenkinstown, George Bryan became colonel of the Kilkenny militia and high sheriff in 1846 but died in 1848, aged only fifty-one. The couple had three sons and six daughters, of whom only one son and one daughter came of age.
The son George Leopold Bryan (1828–80), born 29 November 1828, received his second name from the future king of the Belgians, his godfather. He inherited Jenkinstown in 1848 while he was still a minor, and some months later married Lady Elizabeth Georgiana, a daughter of the 2nd Marquess Conyngham, whose family was protestant. His wife bore him a daughter, Mary Margaret Frances (b. 17 January 1852); she was baptised a catholic. Some time later Lady Elizabeth left Jenkinstown, eloping with the earl of Winchilsea, whom, after her husband's death, she married, on 16 February 1882. George Leopold Bryan was high sheriff of Co. Kilkenny in 1852 and became well known for his interest in racehorses and fox hunting. In the 1870s he owned 4,612 acres in Co. Kilkenny and Queen's County. He was one of the two MPs for Co. Kilkenny, from 1865 to 1880. Elected with clerical support as a liberal, but never prominent, he became a follower of Isaac Butt (qv). He attended the home rule conference held at the Rotunda, at which the Home Rule League was formed in November 1873, but was always on the right of Butt's party. By July 1876 he had doubts about home rule, which were increased by the intervention in 1878 of John Devoy (qv) with his proposal for a ‘new departure’ alliance of Fenians, home rulers, and agrarian activists. G. L. Bryan died 29 June 1880.
His daughter, his only child, having died unmarried in 1872, Jenkinstown passed to his nephew George Leopold Bellew (Bryan) (1857–1935), who was born 22 January 1857, the youngest son of Edward Joseph Bellew, 2nd Baron Bellew, and his wife Augusta Bryan. The nephew then assumed the surname Bryan in place of Bellew, and eventually, in 1911, his elder brothers having died childless, succeeded as 4th Baron Bellew to the Bellew property at Barmeath, Co. Louth. He served as a major in the 10th hussars (who fought in Afghanistan in 1878–9 and on the Nile expedition in 1884–5), then in the imperial yeomanry in South Africa in 1900–01, and finally in the territorial force in the First World War. He married (at the age of seventy) Elaine, eldest daughter of John B. Leach of Queenstown, South Africa. He died childless on 15 June 1935.
Prominent among the catholic gentry and wealthy owing to prudent marriages, the Bryans had little political ambition.