Martin Brennan is an Athy man whose story mirrors in so many ways the story of so many other folk born in this town in the years preceding and during the Second World War. His is a story tinged with sadness. His mother died when Martin was a month short of his second birthday. She was Esther Territt from Meeting Lane before she married Michael Brennan after he returned from the 1914-18 war. Martin was the youngest of eight children and he has no memories of his mother and no photograph of the young Athy woman who passed away when she was just 32 years old. Esther’s brother Michael Territt was killed during the First World War and by a strange coincidence his death plaque bearing the name Michael Joseph Territt is on my desk as I write this article.
Martin’s father was one of the fortunate men who survived the war, even if he was never again to enjoy the good health which was his before he travelled overseas with the British Expeditionary Force. Michael Brennan suffered for the remaining 42 years of his life from the after effects of gas poisoning.
Three of the Brennan children died at a young age. Infant mortality amongst Irish families in the 1930s was very high and it would take another decade or so before advances in medical science and care stemmed the unacceptable loss of young lives. When Esther Brennan passed away on 10th October 1938 to join her three infant children who were buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery the rearing of the young Brennan family passed to Martin’s only sister Mona. She reared the Brennan children after their father emigrated to England. It would be many years before he returned to Athy and it was with his daughter Mona, then married and living in Pairc Bhride, that he found a home in his final years. Michael died on 6th January 1960 and as the old soldier was laid to rest with his wife and infant children his military medals, the only tangible reminder of his connection with the dreadful slaughter of 1914-18 were buried with him.
Like his father before him Martin on reaching manhood took the emigrant boat to England where he joined three of his brothers. He worked with McAlpine for many years, traversing the English countryside in common with the Irish labourers who built and rebuilt the highways of that country. He lived for a while in Lincoln where the ‘Lincolnshire Echo’ of 22nd July 1961 carried under the headline ‘Irish man rescues mother child’, the story of how Irish labourer Martin Brennan dived into the River Witham to rescue a mother and her four year old son from almost certain drowning. Martin later returned to Ireland where he worked on the construction of the new Dominican Church which was opened on St. Patrick’s Day 1965.
His brothers Michael, Joseph and Timmy who had emigrated to England before Martin, all eventually took up residence in Lincoln. Timmy died there in the 1970s, survived by his wife and family, while Michael died last year, aged 84 years. Joseph still lives in the city of Lincoln where his two brothers have their last resting place. Lincoln City is also home to a number of other Athy men, including Dom and Jim Kelly and members of the Maher family.
Martin who has been unemployed for many years was widowed last year when his wife Brigid passed away. I have known Martin for many years and his story in so many ways is a story common to many other men living in Athy. The loss of his mother at such a young age was a fate shared with many other locals, whether due to death or involuntary emigration. Many families of the 1940s and beyond never enjoyed the security and comfort of a family group where both parents were present. Deprivation and hardship was apparently an accepted part of life for many, yet the uneven struggle to survive did not appear to blunt the good nature so common to Athy folk.
Martin will be 76 years old on 11th November next, the anniversary of the armistice of 1918, the day his father Michael realised for the first time in four years that he was no longer required to put his life at risk for the ‘cause of small nations’.
There are many instances of local families brought together by marriage where connections already existed by virtue of brothers, sons or fathers who soldiered together through the dreadful years of the 1914-18 war. A Brennan and a Territt soldiered together in France and Flanders and the survivor Michael Brennan would return to his home town of Athy to marry Esther Territt, whose brother Michael lies buried in Mailly – Maillet Communal Cemetery, Flanders. Michael Brennan lies in St. Michael’s cemetery with his wife Esther and infant children and the gravestone marking their grave also recalls the memory of their sons Tim and Michael who died in England.