A Merchant Family
The Jennings were a prominent Cork merchant family through the 19th and early 20th century. They had business interests in chemicals, and they bottled and distributed mineral waters. They also built up substantial land holdings, mostly on the west side of Cork city. Part of the original site of the College in the 1840s belonged to them, and most of the land acquired subsequently, as the College extended to the West, was also former Jennings land. The most recent such transfer to the University was that of Brookfield House and its remaining grounds in 1998.
A Part of Cork
Members of the family played a significant role in Cork cultural life; there was a Jennings on the committee set up to campaign for the establishment of a Munster College, and Francis Jennings was active in the affairs of the College during its early years. Francis was a member of the Royal Irish Academy; he was also a Fellow of the Geological Society of London. His independent and relatively liberal outlook is reflected in the pamphlets he wrote on Irish social and economic issues.
It was Francis' son, Thomas, who built Brookfield in 1898. Thomas was a noted athlete and was captain of the University Athletic Club while at Cambridge. He had strong views about house building, with an almost obsessive concern about fire. He may have had a bad experience when he was living in London, of course, the disastrous fire in the College in 1862 was still remembered.Hence the less than beautiful yellow firebrick, specially imported, the steel panelled fire doors and the 5000 gallon lead water tanks in the attic.
When Thomas Jennings died in 1935 Brookfield passed to his three daughters Meg, Eithne and Muirne, but only Meg, who never married, remained at home. She wanted company in the house and also some additional income to help meet the outgoings of such a large house. George and Eileen Coomber, who had just moved to Cork from Dublin, found in Brookfield an ideal home, and they, with their son, Brian, shared it with Meg for some 35 years until her death. Muirne, with her husband Bernard Gedge, then returned from London and remained in Brookfield until she moved into a nursing home in the early 1990s. As there were no Jennings children it was the wish of the family that Brookfield should be transferred to the Coombers. Eileen Coomber remained in Brookfield after her husband's death until 1998, when she was no longer able to live there alone, and Brookfield then became a part of UCC.