Friday, April 1, 1994

Brother Seamus Glespen

The future Cardinal and Primate of all Ireland, Tomas O'Fiaich, writing in Irish in Christus Rex in 1958 noted
"ever since Leon O'Broin published his biography of Parnell much of the most effective historical writing in this country is being done through Irish. To support this view Art O'Griofa by Sean O'Luing and Emmet by Leon O'Broin have been published and now we have Br. MacGiolla Easpaig's book as incomparable evidence. Not only does he write well and even better than those who write in English but he breaks new ground that they had never ever reached".

His reference was to Athy man Seamus Glespen, in religion Brother James Norbert Glespen, a member of the Irish Christian Brothers. Glespen's book which drew such high praise was a biography of Thomas Russell of 1798 fame which he had written and published in Irish under the title "Tomas Ruiseil".

Seamus Glespen was born in Athy on the 30th of January, 1920. His father John Glespen was a coachbuilder whose premises were located at Duke Street in the premises now occupied by the Golden Grill. His mother was once a well known singer who had performed in operatic roles with the Dublin Operatic Society and the D'Olyly Carte Company in London. Seamus attended the local Christian Brothers Primary School and later transferred to the O'Brien Institute in Marino for his Secondary education. From there he entered the Brothers Juniorate in Baldoyle in 1936 and on Christmas Day 1937 he made his first profession of vows. After a period in Marino, Dublin, he transferred to Portlaoise in 1943 where he stayed for two years before moving to Drogheda where he was appointed Principal of the Primary School. At Christmas 1945 he made his final profession.

It was while in Drogheda that he began his University studies which he was to complete in University College Galway. Having obtained a First Class Honours Degree he was again on the move to Belfast where he taught in St. James's Grammer School in Barrack Street.

He was to spend 16 years in Belfast during which time he served as Secretary to the Ulster Colleges G.A.A. Council. A fluent Irish speaker he spent some time each year in Ranafest, an Irish speaking area in North West Donegal.

While in Belfast he wrote and had published a booklet "Grattan and his Times" for A level students. He also started his research on the United Irishman Thomas Russell as part of his M.A. studies. Awarded an M.A. First Class Honours in 1955 for his treatise on Russell he continued to work on the extended biography which was published in 1957.

This was the only biography published on Russell who was born in Mallow, Co. Cork and served as an Officer in the British Army in India. Later appointed Librarian to the Linenhall Library in Belfast Russell was captured and hanged in 1803. It was of Russell that Florence Wilson wrote the immortal lines

"For the man that they hanged at Downpatrick Jail,
Was the man from God knows where".

Tomas O'Fiaich in his review of Glespen's book remarked
"It is a long time since a historical work gave me as much satisfaction as this book. If the author had the opportunity now to undertake the story of 1798 in the North he should not be reluctant to attempt it. He is the most able man for the job and there is a great need for this book".

Brother Glespen transferred to Stoke-on-Trent in 1968 and one year later to Blackpool College where he remained for six years. Following the withdrawal of the Christian Brothers from Blackpool he went to St. Anselus College, Birkenhead in 1975. Within a year he was struck down with leukaemia but he continued his school work until 1980 when he was hospitalised for the last time. He died on the 28th of July, 1980.

His sister Carmel who married Jim Flaherty, an official in the local Post Office, now lives in Greystones.

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