Ex­plor­ing Bray’s past and its top fam­ily, the Brabazons

DAVID MED­CALF FOUND A LIVELY EN­THU­SI­ASM FOR ALL THINGS PAST TENSE AT THE BRAY CUALANN HIS­TOR­I­CAL SO­CI­ETY – AND HE LEARNED ALL ABOUT THE FAM­ILY OF THE EARLS OF MEATH

Bray People - - INTERVIEW -

BRAY must be one of Ire­land’s most mod­ern towns. The place has ex­panded at such a star­tling rate over the past few decades that re­minders of the past are far out-num­bered by re­al­i­ties of the present. Yet the changes brought about by a huge in­flux of peo­ple have cer­tainly not erad­i­cated cu­rios­ity about the town’s roots.

The con­struc­tion of thou­sands of new homes, along with the ar­rival of shop­ping cen­tres and busi­ness parks has left much of the old struc­ture stub­bornly in­tact. At its heart, this is a place which has re­tained much of its old her­itage. The state of play is prob­a­bly best sym­bol­ised by the town hall, which re­mains re­splen­dent in all its mock-Tu­dor glory while rein­car­nated as the lo­cal out­let of a glob­ally renowned fast food com­pany.

Mean­while, the Bray Cualann His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety is one of the most ac­tive or­gan­i­sa­tions of its kind in County Wick­low with its se­ries of win­ter lec­tures and oc­ca­sional out­ings. The so­ci­ety was formed in 1977, emerg­ing from lo­cal de­bate rag­ing at the time around how to res­cue the St Paul’s chapel of ease, which was sur­plus to the re­quire­ments of the lo­cal Church of Ire­land par­ish. The dis­cus­sions brought to­gether peo­ple who found that they had a shared in­ter­est in how Bray came to be Bray.

The first meet­ing was con­vened in the Ep­worth Hall and mem­bers of the new group con­tin­ued to use the hall as a venue for sev­eral years. In the minds of vet­eran mem­bers, the build­ing is as­so­ci­ated with happy mem­o­ries of bis­cuits spe­cially baked by the late Myra Lee­son. From there, they trans­ferred to the Cham­ber of Com­merce build­ing be­fore com­ing to roost more re­cently at the land­mark Royal Ho­tel.

The reg­u­lar slot is the third Thurs­day of the month Septem­ber to Novem­ber and Jan­uary to May.

Re­cent top­ics ex­plored in­cluded a look at Michael Collins, with the his­tory of Bray port, the Har­court Street train line and ge­neal­ogy to come in the new year. The or­gan­i­sa­tion is happy to pro­vide walks and talks for the gen­eral pub­lic dur­ing Na­tional Her­itage Week each sum­mer. And this au­tumn BCHS pre­sented an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Mer­maid The­atre on a World War nurse called Josephine Hef­fer­nan.

While in the French town of Ri­mau­court, the Bray woman lost a bracelet. Josephine died in 1962 but left be­hind a se­ries of wartime pho­to­graphs. The Bray/Ri­mau­court link was re­vived with the re-emer­gence of the sil­ver bracelet, which was repa­tri­ated to be­come cen­tre-piece of the Mer­maid show…

Among those who were in­volved at the start of the so­ci­ety more than 40 years ago were the so­ci­ety’s cur­rent pres­i­dent Eva Sut­ton, along with Nancy Ma­hony and Brian White. Nancy was on the door the other day, tak­ing a fiver off those who at­tended the re­cent talk in the Royal Ho­tel on the in­flu­ence of the Brabazons on Bray over the cen­turies. Mean­while, Brian was the speaker for the night, ea­ger to share the fruits of his re­search into the fam­ily which re­mains as­so­ci­ated with Kill­rud­dery House, close to the Grey­stones road. Now re­tired from the civil ser­vice, he spends much of his time pick­ing up fas­ci­nat­ing and re­veal­ing his­tor­i­cal nuggets from all man­ner of sources.

‘I live in the li­brary,’ he con­fesses, ‘and then I have my own li­brary at home.’

The talk on the Big House fam­ily pre­sented in the ball­room of the ho­tel was first de­liv­ered ear­lier this year to an au­di­ence at Kill­rud­dery which in­cluded sev­eral Brabazons. Since the lecture was over-sub­scribed on that oc­ca­sion, it was de­cided to stage a re-run as part of the his­tory so­ci­ety’s reg­u­lar se­ries and at least 30 peo­ple showed up for the re­peat. As the speaker quickly made clear, the links with the Brabazons have been re­mark­ably en­dur­ing.

The cur­rent in­cum­bent John (or Jack) Brabazon is the fif­teenth Earl of Meath and his son is be­ing lined up to in­herit a ti­tle which goes all the way back to the time of Henry the Eighth. Even in a repub­lic, such sus­tained pedi­gree com­mands re­spect. The name comes from Bra­bant near Brussels in what is now Bel­gium, a cor­rup­tion of the sur­name Bra­ban­con. A sol­dier called Jacque Bra­ban­con took part in the Nor­man in­va­sion of Eng­land in the 11th cen­tury and he was re­warded with a grant of land in Stafford­shire.

Over time, as the Bra­ban­cons mor­phed into the Brabazons, they also ac­quired prop­erty near Lon­don at Go­dalm­ing in Surrey. It was Henry the Eighth who in­tro­duced them to Ire­land as he called in his

loyal ser­vant Sir Wil­liam Brabazon to as­sist in erad­i­cat­ing the in­flu­ence of the monas­ter­ies. Sir Wil­liam served as Vice-Trea­surer of Ire­land and Gover­nor of Con­naught be­fore dy­ing in 1580. The fam­ily ac­quired in­ter­ests in Meath and Louth, while vis­i­tors to Bal­li­nasloe in County Mayo may view a ru­ined cas­tle where they once held court.

One of the first earls had a house in St SteStephen’s Green, a build­ing which later be­came the orig­i­nal St Vin­cent’s Hospi­tal. The cap­i­tal city is rid­dled with Brabazon con­nec­tions, such as the t Meath Hospi­tal, Meath Street and the Meath Home which of­fers shel­tered ac­com­mo­da­tion in Sandy­mount for el­derly res­i­dents. Then there was the Meath Char­i­ta­ble Loan So­ci­ety which was founded in 1809 and went on to be­come what is now the PTSB bank.

How­ever, it was in Bray that they es­tab­lished their t most last­ing pres­ence, thanks to the gen­eros­ity of a grant in their favour in 1619 which ex­tended their land hold­ing. At one stage they had h ac­cu­mu­lated at least 14,000 acres, mostly in County Wick­low and all con­trolled from head­quar­ters at Kill­rud­dery. Brian White’s records show that a house was built there for the fam­ily inn 1618 but it was de­stroyed by fire in 1650.

The ori­gins of the present struc­ture go back to 1654 1 though it was later con­sid­er­ably mod­i­fied. Much of the com­mand­ing or­nate façade was mas­ter­minded by Wil­liam Mor­ri­son in the 19th cen­tury and a sub­stan­tial re-vamp was re­quired inn 1950, which took a dozen years to com­plete.

As Brian White went through his il­lus­trated script, var­i­ous ex­am­ples of Brabazon phi­lan­thropy and en­ter­prise were flashed up on the screen be­hind him.

Did you know:

l That the Royal Ho­tel where the his­tory so­ci­ety gath­ered in the ball­room was once the Meath Arms Inn? It was also known var­i­ously as The White Lion Inn and Quinn’s Ho­tel.

l That the Brabazons’ orig­i­nal cas­tle was lo­cated at Church Ter­race? Some re­minders of the old walls may still be dis­cerned but the build­ing was largely de­stroyed in 1652.

That the Peo­ple’s Park was a pet pro­ject of one of the earls? He pre­sented the lodge at the park the lo­cal author­ity in 1887.

l That the Meath Con­va­les­cent Home was opened in 1881? It was funded in large part by mass col­lec­tion of sil­ver foil sweet wrap­pers.

l That the Earl of Meath used to be en­ti­tled to six salmon each year from the Dar­gle? He never had to so much as dip a hook into the river to en­joy this priv­i­lege.

l That the Windgates Ot­ter Hounds were or­gan­ised by the Earl of Meath? The speaker pro­duced an ot­ter hunt poster dat­ingg from 1906 to prove this fact.

l That the Town Hall was pre­sented to the peo­ple in 1881? The build­ing, com­plete with foun­tain, had been built at a cost of £7,000.

It is be­lieved to have been the first pub­lic build­ing in Ire­land where a no-smok­ing rule was ap­plied.

l That broad­caster Gay Byrne’s grand­fa­ther was a mem­ber of the Brabazon staff ? Old pho­tos show him em­ployed as a coach­man at Giltspur Cot­tage.

l That sheep dog tri­als were held at Kill­rud­dery in the 1930? Per­haps it is no co­in­ci­dence that the same venue was se­lected for shoot­ing of the film ‘Lassie’. The cam­eras have also rolled here for ‘Into the West’, ‘Far and Away’ and ‘Penny Dread­ful’, to name but some.

And so it went on and on, a litany of good in­ten­tions, from the devel­op­ment of the seafront Esplanade, com­plete with cy­cle lane and band- stand, to spon­sor­ing the queasily ti­tled Crip­ples Home. Wolfe Tone SSquare, the first ma­jor coun­cil hous­ing es­tate in Bray was laid out in 1933 on Brabazon lands where 261 new homes were erected. The then earl pre­sented a cup for the house­holder in the square with the best kept gar­den.

Dur­ing the Great War, the earl ofo the time fully sup­ported the mil­i­tary ef­fort­ef­fort. Train­ing camps were staged on Bray Head for volunteers. He went to the ex­pense of hav­ing a hand­book – ‘ The Sol­dier’s Pocket Com­pan­ion’ – printed in 1915 for the troops. A glos­sary of Ger­man phrases as well as a guide to recog­nis­ing Ger­man air­craft. The only prob­lem was that they were de­ployed in the hell-hole of Gal­lipoli in Turkey, where the phrases were com­pletely use­less…

The 14,000 acre hold­ing has dwin­dled to 800 acres while the Big House and gar­dens are play­ground to thou­sands of vis­i­tors as well as be­ingg still the fam­i­lyy res­i­dence.

GAY BYRNE’S GRAND­FA­THER WAS W A MEM­BER OF THE BRABAZON STAFF AND OLD PHO­TOS P SHOW HIM EM­PLOYED AS A COACH­MAN AT GILTSPUR G COT­TAGE

The wyvern out­side Bray Town Hall sup­port­ing the shield of the Brabazon fam­ily.

The Earl and Count­ess of Meath with their son Lord Ardee and his wife Lady Ardee and their chil­dren Aileen, Al­dus and Eve­lyn at an event in May to mark 400 years of the Brabazons in Kill­rud­dery.

His­to­rian Brian White at Kill­rud­dery.

Bray’s Town Hall, which had a nosmok­ing rule.

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