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The colourful life of Brendan Bracken

Second Reading

IMPORTANCE Bracken leaving the Ministry of Information building in England alongside the famed US military General, Dwight D Eisenhower in 1944, who would go on to become US President.

Second Reading
Fr Kevin Hegarty

DID you know that among the seven men who met in Hayes Hotel in Thurles on November 7, 1884, to found the GAA, was the father of a future British Conservative Cabinet minister. It is doubtful that Joseph Bracken would have been pleased if he had lived to witness it, how his son turned out. Bracken was a Fenian. He was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, under regular surveillance by the police for subversive activity. In 1887 he chaired a GAA meeting which  banned members of the Royal Irish Constabulary from playing its games. A native of Templemore in Tipperary, he was a builder and monumental sculptor. His work as a sculptor reflects his nationalist view. Among his memorials is a 1978 one in Clonmel and another honouring the Manchester Martyrs in Kilrush. A Gaelic club in Tipperary bears his name.
Currently the ‘Little Museum of Dublin’ is hosting an exhibition entitled ‘Churchill and the Irishman’ about Joseph’s remarkable son Brendan. Born in Templemore in 1901, it is doubtful if Brendan remembered his father as he died when he was three years-old.
Some years after his death, his family moved to Dublin. To put it politely, Brendan had a tempestuous childhood and early adolescence. He mitched from school and was a leader of a gang who vandalised local gardens. He threw a boy into the Royal Canal! When sent as a boarder to Mungret College he often escaped the clutches of the Jesuit priests who ran the school and stayed in local hotels using false names.
In desperation his mother packed him off to Australia when he was 14, in the care of a priest relative.

Eventful life
Four years later he transferred to England where he began to establish a new identity, an identity that denied his Irish roots. He cast off the blue and gold of Tipperary in the hope of donning the ermine of the English upper class. He abandoned Catholicism. He immersed himself in English political history.
Claiming to be a graduate of Sydney University, he taught for a year in Liverpool. He then sought entrance to Sedbergh, a public school in Yorkshire. He claimed he was four years younger that he actually was and that his parents had perished in a bush fire in Australia. He gained admittance but spent only a term there. It allowed him to state that he had been at a public school, one of the hallmarks of social advancement in England.
He devoted his life to business, journalism and politics. He was the creator of the modern Financial Times. Wealth followed in the wake of his success. He bought a fine town house in Westminister and decorated it with artworks. He had a butler and chef and was driven about by a chauffeur. The young man in a hurry had arrived.
In the 1929 general election he won a seat for the Tories. In the House of Commons he befriended Winston Churchill who was out of office and out of favour. He supported Churchill during the wilderness years rather like PJ Mara did for CJ Haughey after the arms trial.
When Churchill returned to government in 1940, Bracken was by his side. He was an effective ‘minister for information’ during the war years. He became First Lord of the Admiralty in 1945.
He was a front bench spokesman for the Tories when they were in opposition from 1945 to 1951. When his party won the 1951 elections, he refused office and effectively retired from politics for health reasons. He died of lung cancer in 1958.
Brendan Bracken stormed the citadel of England public life. He achieved his ambition but I sense he was lonely and unfulfilled.
Oscar Wilde once said that there are two tragedies - “one is not getting what one wants and the other is getting it”.

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