Bracken, Joseph Kevin
May 31, 2004
Joesph Kevin Bracken - GAA founder, Fenian and politician
Patrick Bracken, J. K's father, came to Templemore in the 1840's as a stonemason to work on a demesne wall being built around the Carden's estate, their home being Templemore Abbey where Abbey Furniture is now situated. His marriage register of his marriage to Anne Hennessy from Barnane on June 7th 1849 records him coming from Borrisokane. J.K., born on the 29th February 1852 and was the second eldest of ten children, three of whom died before the age of 21.
Patrick continued to expand the stonemason business and set up works at Main Street where Nugents Centre is now located. At the time of J.K.'s birth the family resided in Church Street, the house now occupied by Madge Kiely.
Joseph K. Bracken was thirty two years old, unmarried and business manager in the family firm of monumental sculptors and builders in Templemore when he attended the meeting, in Miss Hayes' Commercial Hotel, Thurles, on 1 November 1884, at which was founded the 'Gaelic Association for the preservation and Cultivation of National Pastimes'.
Bracken was one of five persons proposed by Cusack to fill the vice-presidential positions at the third meeting of the G.A.A.on 15 January 1885. Bracken was to the fore in developments on 27 September 1886 at a quarterly meeting of the executive. He proposed Patrick T. Hoctor as a replacement hon. Secretary to Michael Cusack who had been forced to resign at the previous meeting by an amendment carried by 43 votes to 13, however by an amendment his I.R.B. man was actually named as a vice president. Bracken seconded the nomination, unanimously adopted, of John O'Leary, president of the supreme council of the I.R.B., as a third patron of the Association. He then proposed that ' the various branches of the G.A.A. form committees for the purpose of collecting subscriptions' for a monument to the fenian Charles J. Kickham.
This was agreed to as were his nominees for hon. sec. and hon. treasurer to the fund. On November 11th 1886, he published a letter in a weekly national paper, "Sport" in reference, to a dispute between Templemore and a then famous Dublin club Faugh a Ballagh over the awarding of a cup and twenty one silver celtic crosses to Templemore as a result of a tournament game between the two clubs played in the Abbatoir Grounds, Dublin on Whit Monday June 14th 1886. J.K. acted as umpire of field captain for Templemore and the game ended in a draw, the cup and crosses were awarded to Templemore at a subsequent executive meeting.
In the course of the letter he stated "that he acted as referee in at least one hundred and sixty football and hurling matches over the past two years, and it tells pretty well of my judgement that only one complaint was brought before Maurice Davin and he ruled at once in favour of my decision". He concluded by issuing a challenge to the Faugh to come to Templemore on November 21st and if accepted "I assure Mr. O'Toole that he will have more reason to find fault with me after that date, than he had here to the fore, as I will meet him not as an umpire or referee but with my coat off as one of the forwards on the Templemore team of which I am proud to be a member, and if the Faughsare not well liked it will not be the fault of, Yours Truly, J.K. Bracken.
At the second convention, held in Thurles in November 1886 Maurice Davin proposed that there be seven vice-presidents - Bracken's amendment suggested four. During the course of the debate he concluded, to loud cheers, that 'when the Association was in the balance it was Tipperary that was to the front. Show me a county in Ireland that can produce 150 affiliated branches and I'll give them the palm'. Bracken's amendment was carried by 160 votes to 57.
In the subsequent election of officers Davin was re-elected president. Tipperary's delegate strength and I.R.B. influence was very much in evidence and its three men - Bracken, Maloney and Hoctor - were again returned as vice - presidents. Of the eleven-man executive appointed all but Davin were members of the I.R.B. The Bracken-Hoctor-Moloney alliance continued when a Tipperary county committee was formed at the Literary Institute, Nenagh. They became president, vice-president and hon. treasurer respectively. Bracken added another string to his bow by undertaking, with Hugh Ryan, to referee the first-round ties in the county of the first All-Ireland hurling and football championships in 1887. It was however the executive's actions which captured the headlines and J.K. Bracken figured prominently in all issues.
The executive's first contentious action took place at their February 1887 meeting held in Dublin. In Maurice Davin's absence and under the chairmanship of J.K. Bracken the meeting adopted new rules which barred members of the R.I.C. from membership of the G.A.A.; made all sports organised by county committees subject to central executive sanction, and made all central executive members ex-officio members of all county committees with voting rights. They chose to ignore rule 14 of the Association which stipulated that adoption of new rules was reserved to a general meeting called for that purpose and attended by delegates from affiliated clubs. Maurice Davin subsequently resigned over this violation of the rules, so by May 1887 of the seven certain founders only J.K. Bracken remained on the executive.
The appointment of a handicapper of their own choice by the Grocers' Athletic club, Dublin, for their sports meeting in July 1887, though approved by their county committee, met with the dis-approval of the executive who insisted they abide by the official ruling that the Association handicapper should be employed. This not being done the meeting was 'proclaimed' and competitors threatened with suspension. At the next executive meeting at Limerick Junction Bracken was asked by Hoctor, who was in the chair, if it were true that he had made an arrangement that 'the spirit of the resolution relating to the handicapping rule was not to be put into operation in certain cases'. In vehemently denying any knowledge of this Bracken pointed out that he 'would not budge an inch from the law laid down, namely, the official handicapper was the person to deal with all meetings'. At the end of the debate Bracken proposed and Frank R Maloney seconded a resolution which expelled the Dublin county committee and suspended all athletes who participated in the proclaimed sports for three months. It is evident from newspaper reports of some county committee meetings held to select delegates for the third annual convention arranged for Thurles on 9 November 1887 that a bitter confrontation between supporters and opponents of the executive was anticipated and the at J.K. Bracken's popularity had fallen dramatically since the last convention. Inevitably his image was tarnished by being associated with the illegal alteration of the rules, with the resignation of the popular Davin and with the suspension of athletes, clubs and the Dublin county committee.
The police authorities had now categorised the two factions of the Association into those with I.R.B. affiliations, to which Bracken belonged, and those who supported the Irish National League. This home rule land reform organisation founded by Parnell in 1882 and suppressed in August 1887 included a large number of priests among its members.
Neither Cusack no Davin went to the Thurles convention and the recorded figures in attendance numbered in excess of 300. Several Crime Branch Special men and informants were present to observe and report the whole affair in great detail - J.K. Bracken's movements figure in at least three reports. Of the twenty-six priests actively associated with the G.A.A. in County Tipperary in 1886 at least seven were at Thurles, Fr John Scanlan, CC, Nenagh, was their principal spokesman. The election to the chair of a known I.R.B. organiser, P.N. Fitzgerald, amidst confused opposition, led to disorder which culminated in the withdrawal - or ejection - of Fr Scanlan and his supporters. They retired to Liberty Square where there followed some heady political speeches. Fr Scanlan declared that 'the Association was being made into a Fenian organisation for the purpose of pulling down the National League' but that a new athletic association would be organised which would support the latter body.
They then went to Miss Hayes' hotel to form this new body; there J.K. Bracken seconded a proposal that Archbishop Croke should be patron. He declaimed 'that he was in at the birth of the Association and should enter his solemn protest against the action of the men beyond in the courthouse. These man should have listened to the priests of Tipperary (cheers)'. Bracken's defection to the National League wing meant that no founder-member now remained at the helm of the three-year-old Association. Acting-sergeant Murphy, who had attended the convention, informed Dublin Castle: 'I may be able to account more fully for his action in siding with the priests. Some time ago this man was denounced by an R.C. clergyman in Templemore for his Fenian principles as being worse than a Protestant or even an atheist; that he was false to his religion as he was leading the Roman 'Catholic youth of the country astray....'
Murphy speculated that 'this had some effect on Bracken as he at once saw that if he continued in opposition to the protests after such language his trade would be ruined and he accordingly changed his outward conduct immediately. acting-sergeant Murphy's November 1887 report stated that Bracken had played a football match in Limerick on 23 October and owing to some misconduct was summoned back to Limerick on 2 November. But on that day Bracken went to Dublin and, 'this so incensed the Fenians of Templemore that a party lay in wait for him' intending to attack him. The Crime Branch Special reports, of great value to local historians, are not necessarily always accurate. In this instance the 'Fenians of Templemore' are more likely to have been angry footballers or their supporters.
Due to the efforts of Dr Croke, Michael Davitt, Maurice Davin and some members of the executive, a new convention was arranged for Thurles on 4 January 1888 at which Davin was re-elected president; the I.R.B. bending to episcopal influence. Hoctor and other I.R.B. personalities still figured amongst the officers and committee but the name of J.K. Bracken was absent. Neither was he a member of the Tipperary county committee for 1888 or 1889. These years marked the beginning of a period of decline of the G.A.A. brought about by the unpopular executive, the political distractions of the Plan of Campaign and the split in the Irish Parliamentary Party after the O'Shea divorce case.
The serious decline in G.A.A. activity all over the county can be best gauged by the situation that prevailed in Tipperary where the figure for affiliated branches in 1887 was 88, 93 in 1888, 42 in 1889 and fifteen in 1890. In the three years from 1891 to 1893 no GAA organisation existed in Tipperary and the county like many others was almost completely deprived of hurling and football activity. The situation was so serious that some ardent spirits issued a call for a closing of ranks with an invitation to a number of prominent Gaels to attend a meeting in Dobbyn's hotel in Tipperary town with a view to re organising the Association in the county.
The meeting on February 27th 1893 was attended by J.K. Bracken and he chaired a provisional committee set up to re organise clubs and to arrange challenge games. He organised a challenge game between Templemore and Brian Borus Dublin in Dublin, and on St Patrick's Day 1893 a monster tournament was held in Templemore where in excess of 3000 people turned up to see Bohercrowe defeat Templemore in a football game. These activities re-awakened interest in the games and as more clubs enlisted themselves it paved the way for the formation of a new county board in 1894 for which Bracken was defeated by one vote for the chairmanship.
Those who came together at Dobbyn's hotel were all deeply concerned for the welfare of the Association, they had witnessed the dire condition to which it had fallen and realised the urgent need to halt the decline.
Enthusiasm was rekindled and marked an upward turning point in the county with the message spreading to influence the national scene. This defeat of Bracken for chairman ended his involvement as an official at county level and ended his decade of service to the GAA in an executive capacity. Two years later a biographical sketch furnished by a Templemore policeman stated that 'he still keeps up his connection with the G.A.A. and assists at most of the local meetings as steward or referee'.
During the split that followed the O'Shea divorce case J.K. served Parnell faithfully. He was a member of an important Parnell leadership Committee and enlisted the support of Tipperary G.A.A. After Parnell's death in 1891 he continued to canvass support for the Parnellite wing of the Irish Party. He was invited to stand at the general election that brought Gladstone back to power in 1892 but he declined, saying he did not wish to violate his fenian oath, pledging life long allegiance to an Irish Republic by taking an oath of loyalty to Queen Victoria. Family tradition has it that he and his wife dined with Parnell on their honeymoon in 1889.
The high point of Bracken's involvement in the G.A.A. at national level has been reached when he married nineteen-year-old Mary Agnes Matthews of Limerick city in 1889. The marriage was short lived as she died four years later, leaving him with two small daughters, Cora and Eileen. He married for the second time in February 1897. His bride, Hannah Agnes Ryan, at twenty-five was twenty years his junior and they had four children, Annie, Peter, Brendan and Kevin. The drive and energy displayed during his involvement in the G.A.A. was also evident in his business life. The family stone-cutting and monumental business expanded under his management to include building and road contract work and employed in excess of forty people in Templemore.The Brackens had their own quarry in Templemore and work yards in Clonmel and Tipperary town.
The centenary celebrations of the 1798 Rising brought an intense revival of nationalist fervour throughout the country often expressed in the erection of monuments. Bracken's high standing as a nationalist helped him to secure many contracts. Perhaps his finest work was the Maid of Erin memorial to the Manchester Martyrs in Kilrush costing £350 and when contacted by the organising committee he stated that "he always belonged to the school of politics that produced Allen, Larkin and O'Brien and that the work would be a labour of love."
his public activities in the early to mid 1890s though low key, indicate that he had not left the I.R.B. when he moved away from the I.R.B. wing of the G.A.A. in 1887. In 1895 he transferred his allegiance from the I.R.B. to the newly founded Irish National Alliance, that aspired to more radical policies than the I.R.B. One explanation for his adoption of the I.N.A. may have been his quarrel with leading I.R.B. organiser, P.N. Fitzgerald, over an outstanding debt due to him for an I.R.B. commissioned memorial. Bracken figured prominently as an organiser and speaker at 'the largest nationalist meeting held outside Dublin in six years' - seeking amnesty for political prisoners - in Tipperary town in October 1896. John Redmond and John Dillion shared the platform alongside Maude Gonne and the celebrated ex-convict John Daly.
J.K. Bracken proposed the first motion as follows: "Whereas certain Irishmen at the end of twelve or thirteen years are still undergoing imprisonment for political offences laid to their charge, and whereas we have seen with horror the deplorable condition to which a like imprisonment has reduced Gallagher and Whitehead, and further whereas no purpose, except of vindictiveness, can be served by their further detention, it is resolved that we demand Amnesty and release for these men from the British Government, and Irish members of Parliament are directed to use to their utmost and persistently every means and every weapon at their command to effect the liberation of their unfortunate countrymen, and the Irish voters are earnestly requested, whenever possible, to make the support of our exiled fellow countrymen in this matter, and that we wish to impress on them that by adding strength to the amnesty agitation by public meeting and establishing branches of the Association throughout Ireland, and by instituting workable and effective methods of directing public opinion, the cause of Amnesty can and shall be carried to a successful issue."
The introduction of the Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1898, was followed by elections for the inaugural county and district authorities. J.K. Bracken chose these elections to make his successful entry into local politics. A notable feature of the first urban district council elections was the predominance in Tipperary (N.R.) of an organisation variously called the Trade and Labour League and the Trade and Labour Association, Bracken being a member of the Templemore Branch. Thirty-one candidates contested the fifteen seats in Templemore in the municipal elections, Fifteen candidates including Bracken were nominated by the Trade and Labour League and Ratepayers' Association. There were also fifteen outgoing town commissioners and, ploughing a lone unionist furrow, was Sir John Carde, who enjoyed the public support of the parish priest, Canon William Meagher.
None of the outgoing town commissioners were elected. Bracken headed the poll with 160 votes, while Carden received eighty-nine votes and eighteenth place. The success of Bracken's party was celebrated with lighted tar barrels and Bracken was carried shoulder high from the town hall to his home. He was elected chairman at the first meeting of the new council. Press reports of subsequent council meetings show him to be an vocal and by no means impartial chairman. His relationship with the town clerk was anything but amicable. Polling day for the inaugural county councils and rural district councils was fixed for 6 April 1899.
Bracken's ambition to contest the Templemore division for the county council was thwarted by a disqualification clause relating to persons holding contracts for public works with the council. The county council inherited the grand jury contracts as of the date of its creation as a body corporate on 1 April 1899; Bracken had been a roads contractor as of 1896 and 1897. Both contracts were for five years and applied to sections of roads which lay within Templemore urban district.His application to the grand jury at the Spring assizes of March 1899 to have his contracts revoked and thus allowed to stand in election was refused.
Three candidates contested the single-seat Templemore division in the county council election - Sir John Carden, again enjoying clerical support, and two nationalists, James Ryan and James Fogarty. Bracken supported Ryan who had the 'official nomination and tried to secure an agreement that just one Nationalist candidate would take on Carden. Bracken now moved towards the United Irish League, the organisation with a land reform base, founded by William O'Brien in January 1898 to confront Landlord Evictions of tenants unable to pay the rent. He spoke in favour of James Ryan's candidature at an U.I.L. demonstration on behalf of an imprisoned evicted tenant in nearby Clonmore. He was accorded an enthusiastic welcome and conscious of the occasion he said 'I am a Parnellite and though I am differing from many of you in sectional points, still we all agree that the tenant deserves the support of every right-thinking man', On poling day Sir John Carden benefited from the split in the nationalist camp and took the county council seat for Templemore.
Secure in the success of the urban council election he confidently went forward for one of the two Poor Law Guardian seats which was Templemore's entitlement within the Thurles Poor Law Union. Bracken topped the poll with Lady Carden securing the second seat. Under the terms of the Local Government Act, Bracken as chairman of the U.D.C. was entitled to become a local magistrate. But this necessitated the swearing of an oath of allegiance to the Queen - an action at variance with his fenian principles. In March 1899 he suffered a temporary set-back to his physical well-being when he sustained injuries between his pony-drawn trap and a two-horse wagonette owned, but not driven, by Richard Carden. May 1899 brought the sequel to this accident when the case was heard in a Dublin court. The jury found the accident was not due to any negligence on the part of Carden.
This appearance in court was the beginning of a series of legal conflicts which were to terminate Bracken's career as a public representative, and probably be a contributory factor to his leaving his native town and county. At the Templemore petty sessions court in June 1899, Bracken told magistrates that he had received six summonses issued on behalf of named rate-payers which charged him with having 'on diverse occasions within six months past acted as a member of Templemore Urban District Council whilst at the same time being legally disqualified from so acting'. The basis for alleged disqualification was Bracken's contacts for road maintenance that 'any bargain or contract with a county council in respect of any public work in a district shall be deemed to be also a bargain or contract with the council of that district. But this only applied from April 1st 1899 when the county council was instituted.
The urban council meeting of 17th July 1899 was a historic one. Bracken, who had by now resigned as chairman, attended and got into a lengthy and bitter exchange with the town clerk on the legal formalities surrounding the transfer of roads function. Later in the proceedings Mrs Hannah Bracken was proposed and seconded for co-option to the council to fill her husband's vacated seat. She was then unanimously elected chairman. The loss of the prestigious position of chairman of the U.D.C. was partially compensated for by his election as president of the Templemore branch of the United Irish League which was founded at a meeting organised by the Trade and Labour League in early November 1899. The Brackens now commenced a pattern of behaviour which eroded their standing. J.K. continued to attend meetings of the council.
When challenged, he said he was there as a press representative, or claimed the right to speak as a member of the Trade and Labour League; He sometimes advised the chairman, his wife, how to conduct the meeting. As a chairman Mrs Bracken did not live to up the high standard anticipated of her. Councillors were denied the right to speak while her non-member husband was given the floor. Deputations from the Trade and Labour League were admitted at a moment's notice. Some councillors complained that council business was being done after they had left the chamber. Towards the end of 1899 a long and bitter dispute arose between J.K., the ratepayers protection association and Templemore UDC over monies due to him as a result of contract work he had completed. A nominated member of the ratepayers' protection association obtained an interlocutory injunction against Templemore Urban District Council restraining them from making any payments to J.K. Bracken.
The case prepared against him included details of his disqualification as a councillor, his road contract with the grand jury and the urban district council's agreement releasing him from it. The second phase of the ratepayers' action against Bracken and Templemore Urban District Council was concluded at a hearing before the vice-chancellor in February 1900. He granted a perpetual injunction against Bracken receiving the whole or part of any sum owing and the council from paying any. The final blow was that Bracken should pay all costs. Bracken sought to recover the monies due to him on two occasions but failed.
As the year 1901 and the three-year term of the first urban council drew to a close J.K. Bracken's outstanding account with them was still unresolved. 'When I made these roads under the grand jury system', he wrote in April of that year, 'I was paid without any trouble half-yearly. Since they have come under your jurisdiction I have received not one cent - that is now more than two years'. Seven months after his death - in December, 1904 - and almost six years since his victory in the first municipal elections, the case was concluded in the court of Appeal. The presiding judge ruled that as a contract existed and surveyors had certified the amount being £500, which also included the legal costs.
One cannot be certain of the exact reason whey the Bracken family left Templemore in 1902. It may have been a reaction to declining popularity and the pressure of legal, financial and political wrangles. The Brackens took up residence in Ardvullen house on the outskirts of Kilmallock. His death was to be as slow and lingering as the economic death of the Landlord class he had once fought so hard to destroy. Cancer had been diagnosed in early 1902, and after many futile operations his health had irreversibly declined in late February 1904 and he died nine weeks later, on 2 May, at Ardvullen House. He was buried in the cemetery of Tankardstown, near Kilmallock. Tipperary Board of Guardians paid tribute to him, 'Not alone was he a loss to his family but he was a loss to his county at large for he was a great employer, but above all he was a true and sterling nationalist. He was one of the old guard or, as better known, one of the fenian band. He was not a man for place or position but worked hard and fast as a nationalist'.
Courtesy of the Tipperary Star
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