Thursday, January 11, 2001

Jim Brosnan

Go deo deo aris ni rachad go caiseal.
Ag diol na ag reic mo shlainte
Na ar mhargadh na saoire im shui cois balla
Im’scaoinse ar leataoibh sraide
Bodairi na tire ag tiocht ar a gcapall
Da fhiafrai an bhfuilim hiralta
O! teanam chun siuil, ta an cursa fada
Seo ar siul an Spailpin Fanach.

Learnt by rote many years ago in the local Christian Brothers School, the words of An Spailpin Fanach were brought to mind again as I attended, last week, the funeral of Jim Brosnan. Jim was a native of Listowel, Co. Kerry, a town immortalised in print by Fr. Anthony Gaughan whose book on the history of that town is a classic of local history. Of course Listowel remains famous for its annual races which fit neatly in the Irish Sporting Calender in the week following the All Ireland Football Final in September. For the readers of Irish fiction and those familiar with Irish Theatre, Listowel will be well known as the home of the literary triumvirate John B. Keane, Bryan McMahon and Seamus Wilmot. The latter two are now dead while the evergreen John B. is now retired but still writing.

It was from the same community which gave us Keane, McMahon and Wilmot that Jim Brosnan came and it was from there that he travelled to South Kildare as a young man of 22 years of age in 1952. He travelled with a number of Kerry men to work on the bog at Ballydermot and when his colleagues returned to the south west coast county Jim stayed behind in the short grass county where he was to make his home for the following 49 years. Jim, who remained a batchelor worked for a number of local farmers after he had finished with Bord Na Mona and they were all represented at Jim’s graveside last week.

Ned Whelan of Mountbrook, Hugh Colgan of Kildangan and Tim Fitzpatrick of Richardstown, Kildangan were some of Jim’s employer’s during the 1950’s and early 1960’s before he went to work for the Brennan family of Bray, Athy. Jim was to remain with the Brennan’s for almost 30 years. In more recent times Jim, a son of the soil from the Kingdom was a constant presence in and around the Streets of the Anglo Norman town which in its history and associations was a world apart from his native place. He returned to Listowel each year, his annual visit timed to coincide with the Listowel Races. Years of absence from his native County gave Jim a Kildare accent, or so his sister believed not realising that to the Kildare man’s ear, Jim had retained to the last, the rich mellifluous accent which was as recognisable as the McGillicuddy Reeks from which it was sourced.

Jim got a good send off from the townspeople last week and Fr. Caffrey’s sermon at the funeral mass that Sunday when he spoke of life as an unfolding mystery was a reassuring and timely reminder of the singular importance and value of every person in our community.

The winter months produce a flood of letters not all of which I can deal with as quickly as I should. One such letter, I recently received was from the Heritage Service of the Department of Arts which is responsible for the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (NIAH). The N.I.A.H. is carrying out a systematic survey of the Architectural Heritage of Ireland and currently they are engaged in County Surveys to record a selection of artefacts, buildings and structures of post 1700 vintage. They are about to commence their survey of County Kildare and would be interested in hearing from anyone with suggestions as to buildings etc. in this area suitable for inclusion in their survey as representative of the better elements of the built heritage of the County. Any suggestions or comments sent to me will be passed on to the survey team.

Of the many letters I received recently, most of them relating to family history research, one was of particular interest. It was from a Dublin based Journalist with an interest in local history who has unearthed a link between an Irish woman and Adolf Hitler. The connection stems from the marriage of Bridget Dowling to Hitler’s brother Alois in 1910 when Bridget was 18 years of age. Last July a local person passed on to me a copy of an article which appeared in the Irish Independent on the 15th July 2000 written by Myles McWeeney under the headline “The amazing story of the Irish Hitlers”. McWeeney who incidentally is not the journalist who wrote to me recently, claimed that Hitler’s sister in law, Bridget Dowling was the daughter of William Dowling “originally from Athy”. I believe that William Dowling may have been a son of Martin and Elizabeth Dowling of Crookstown, Ballytore and was born some time in the 1850’s or the 1860’s. Is there anybody who can throw a light on the Dowling’s of Crookstown, their son William or indeed their grand-daughter Bridget whose place in history is assured as a result of her marriage to an unknown German man in 1910.

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