James Owen Hannay, Irish clergyman and prolific novelist who writes under the pen name of George A. Birmingham, is born on July 16, 1865 in Belfast. Today the house where he is born is a part of the administration building of Queen’s University Belfast.
Hannay receives his education in England. He enters Temple Grove School near the River Thames at the age of nine, and later studies at a public school called Haileybury School. He then returns to Ireland to enter the Divinity School of Trinity College Dublin. He is ordained in 1889 as a Church of Ireland (Anglican) minister and starts working as a curate for Delgany, County Wicklow, a seaside town south of Dublin.
To make up for a deficiency in their living Hannay writes a short story and sends it to a London publisher. It is accepted for publication and he receives a check of ￡10. On his wife’s advice, he gives up writing fiction and commits himself to the study of Christian theology with her. This bears fruit with the publications of The Spirit and Origin of Christian Monasticism (1903) and The Wisdom of the Desert (1904).
Hannay then serves as rector of Holy Trinity Church in Westport, County Mayo. It is here that he makes his debut as a novelist. His early writings raise the ire of nationalist Catholics, and he withdraws from the Gaelic League in the wake of ongoing protests about the tour of his successful play General John Regan.
Hannay becomes rector of Kildare parish from 1918 to 1920, and after serving as chaplain to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, he joins the British ambassadorial team in Budapest in 1922. He returns to officiate at Mells, Somerset from 1924 to 1934, after which he is appointed vicar of Holy Trinity Church in the London suburb of Kensington where he serves from 1934 until his death in London on February 2, 1950.
Hannay enjoys sailing, and is taught the rudiments by his father and grandfather in Belfast. When he is based in Westport, the financial success of his writing enables him to purchase a boat, a Dublin Bay Water Wag. In recognition of Hannay, the Water Wag Club of Dun Laoghaire returns to Westport and Clew Bay in 2016. In the frontispiece of his book The Inviolable Sanctuary Hannay includes a picture of the Water Wag.