John McCann was a prominent Catholic lawyer in Ballymena. He was at the centre of an infamous libel trial. He took Protestant clergyman, the Reverend Gilmour, to court for casting doubt on his willingness to act fairly for Protestant clients because of his Catholic faith. Gilmour was found not guilty of libel but the case and its coverage in the local newspapers caused sectarian unrest.
John McCann's brother was already a cause celebre. In 1908 the Vatican had issued the Ne Temere decree which stressed that a marriage ceremony not performed by a Catholic priest lacked spiritual legitimacy. The brother had left his Protestant wife in 1910, taken their children with him, declaring that the marriage was null and void because it had not been celebrated by a Catholic priest.
Image courtesy of the McCann family