In an article some time ago I made a passing reference to the late Fintan Brennan, a name unfamiliar to some, but one readily recognised by anyone whose memory stretches back at least a generation.
Like myself he was "a blow in" coming as he did from Monasterevin where he was born in 1885, the son of a farmer. At 14 years of age he was apprenticed to a butcher where he worked for nine months without pay in conditions which he later described as deplorable. Returning to work on his father's farm he remained there until March 1904 when he took up a shop apprenticeship with Denis Boland at Vicarstown. The pay was £10.00 per year all found with boots and clothing at cost. Later he transferred on promotion to Boland's premises at Cush, Kildangan, where Fintan's brother John Brennan was in charge.
When the Gaelic League established by Douglas Hyde spread throughout the country Fintan joined the Nurney branch where Stephen O'Brien and an old Kerry teacher named Dillon taught Irish. This was the first stirring of Irish Nationalism which would later lead to Fintan's involvement in the fight for independence and his imprisonment in an English jail.
In February 1910 Fintan gave up shop work and became a canal agent in Mountmellick which job he got with the assistance of P.J. Kilroy, then the Grand Canal agent in Athy. He spent four years in Mountmellick where he was an active member of the Fintan Lalor branch of the Gaelic League. He treasured to the end of his days a prize won in the Laois Ossory Feis of 1912 for which he was examined by Arthur Griffith who awarded him first place.
Fintan was next appointed canal agent in New Ross and it was there that he joined the Irish Volunteers. The Company of about 700 men drilled in Barretts Park, the local G.A.A. Grounds, and it was there one Sunday that the Company's officers put to the men the choice of following John Redmond. All but twenty of the Wexford men stayed with Redmond but Fintan Brennan was among the small band who left to form an I.R.A. brigade.
In December 1915 Fintan was transferred as canal agent to his home town of Monasterevin. He recalled the winter of 1916/1917 as one of the severest during his years on the canal. The frost which came in early December lasted throughout the month of January. The canal froze to a depth of several inches requiring a steel boat pulled by six horses and a motor to break up the ice and allow free passage through the water.
Fintan's brother Pat Brennan took part in the Easter Rebellion in 1916 as a member of the Bolands Mill Garrison under the command of Eamon de Valera. Fintan married Mary Malone in 1917 and continued his involvement in Republican affairs which did not go unnoticed by the local R.I.C. He was especially active during the 1918 General Election on behalf of the Republican Candidates for County Kildare.
On the 4th of April 1920 Fintan's son Tadhg was born on the same day that a one day National Strike was called in support of the I.R.A. hunger strikers in Mountjoy Jail. The main Cork/Dublin road was blocked by carts at Monasterevin preventing race goers from travelling to the Punchestown Races. The key to the canal drawbridge was taken up by the I.R.A. thereby ensuring that there was no traffic on the Grand Canal during the strike. Fintan subsequently addressed public meetings in Monasterevin, Nurney and Kildangan in support of the rail workers who were dismissed for participating in the strike. The following June he was appointed Chairman of the Parish Court established by the first Dail. The Courts were held in Fintan's rented house as were meetings of the local Volunteers of which he was Company Quarter Master. Staying with the Brennans during this time was Hugh McNally, a Clerk in Hibernian Bank and Captain of the local I.R.A. Towards the end of 1920 McNally was arrested and Brennan's home was raided. Luckily enough Fintan's wife had the foresight to hide McNally's revolver under their baby son Tadhg.
However other guns and arms hidden in outhouses were discovered leading to Fintan's immediate arrest. Captain McNally, Lt. E. Prendergast and Quarter Master Fintan Brennan, all of the Monasterevin Company I.R.A. were brought to the Curragh Camp and Court martialled. McNally got a ten year sentence, Brennan five years and Prendergast three years.
Fintan was later to write of the sixteen months he spent in jails in Mountjoy, Wormwood Scrubs in England and Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight, and his memories of those times were published in the Capuchin Annual in the 1960's.