Bren­dan Cor­ish’s legacy is ex­plored by his son Richard

Enniscorthy Guardian - - NEWS -

A CHATHAOIRLEACH, Mr Mayor, Mr Pres­i­dent, coun­cil­lors, ladies and gen­tle­men, I wish to thank the so­ci­ety for invit­ing me to ad­dress this gath­er­ing in Wex­ford to­day. The last time I had the plea­sure of ap­pear­ing be­fore you was in 2006, when, on be­half of the Cor­ish fam­ily, I sub­mit­ted the per­sonal pa­pers of Bren­dan Cor­ish for archiv­ing and to as­sist fur­ther re­search into Ir­ish Labour. We know they went to a good home.

To­day we cel­e­brate the 100th an­niver­sary of the birth of our fa­ther on the 19th of Novem­ber 1918, and recog­nise his con­tri­bu­tion to the Labour Party and the coun­try. I am de­lighted to par­tic­i­pate in this im­por­tant event and will share with you some mem­o­ries of our life with Bren­dan Cor­ish, the man that we, his fam­ily, knew. You all re­mem­ber him as a politi­cian, a leader and a pub­lic per­son, but to his fam­ily he was all that and much more.

Philip, John and I were ed­u­cated at the Wex­ford Chris­tian Broth­ers’ Schools, Pri­mary and Sec­ondary. In­deed, one of my teach­ers had also taught our fa­ther one gen­er­a­tion pre­vi­ously. As chil­dren, we be­came aware that all the other boys

had fa­thers who came home af­ter work but our fa­ther spent at least three days away ev­ery week, ap­peared to have no reg­u­lar work­ing hours and al­ways had peo­ple call­ing to the house. These ab­sences and in­tru­sions into fam­ily time be­came the ac­cepted modus operandi in our lives, leav­ing my mother to run the house and to deal with the up­bring­ing of three sons from 1950 on­wards. She achieved this and more, some­times in dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances.

Con­se­quently, there was an early ac­cep­tance at fam­ily level that our fa­ther had an­other pri­or­ity which would chal­lenge his work-life bal­ance in no un­cer­tain way. He was well aware of this di­chotomy and en­deav­oured to over­come it. Qual­ity fam­ily time was in short sup­ply but he grasped it when he could.

When the op­por­tu­nity al­lowed, our fa­ther took over from our mother and ac­com­pa­nied us to the lo­cal cin­ema, some­times weekly, to watch the lat­est Hol­ly­wood block­buster. On some Sun­days, he would take us to Wex­ford GAA Park to watch hurl­ing and foot­ball games, some­times fea­tur­ing his for­mer club, the Vol­un­teers.

Oth­er­wise, he en­joyed hav­ing his fam­ily with him for beach and for­est walks, just walk­ing and talk­ing. He liked to ex­plore Car­rig River with us and taught us to ride bi­cy­cles and to drive his car.

He was a pro­fes­sional politi­cian,cian, although when it came to DIY, he was very much the am­a­teur. For ex­am­ple, his ef­forts to in­stall a medicine cabi­net at home and the re­sul­tant dev­as­ta­tion still make us smile.

Our favourite mem­o­ries are of Christ­mases and our an­nual hol­i­day in Tramore when we re­ally were a nor­mal fam­ily. Such hol­i­days were trea­sured and rep­re­sented his pay­back for time lost, as were our oc­ca­sional trips to Dublin for spe­cial treats dur­ing the year.

A typ­i­cal week in our house in Belvedere Road started on a Mon­day to the strains of

Puc­cini, Verdi or Rodgers and Ham­mer­stein echo­ing all over the house while our fa­ther washed, shaved and even sang along up­stairs. In­deed, I would in­clude these ex­pe­ri­ences as our first in­tro­duc­tion to proper mu­sic, even be­fore the Bea­tles and the Stones. The morn­ing would in­clude vis­its to our house from Nick Cor­ish, John Howlin and Tommy Carr, who would brief him on lo­cal mat­ters. Later, a trip to the Cor­ish Memo­rial Hall would be nec­es­sary to catch up with pa­per­work and touch base with lo­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives and con­stituents.

Ev­ery Tues­day when the Dáil was sit­ting and af­ter an early break­fast, our fa­ther would set out for Leinster House. We would fol­low re­ports on ra­dio, TV or in the press which gave us some un­der­stand­ing of his job but were al­ways ea­ger for his re­turn on the fol­low­ing Thurs­day night. When we were young, his ar­rival home was ac­com­pa­nied by gifts of Cad­bury’s choco­late bars which were in­tended to take the edge off his ab­sence.

Fri­day’s rou­tine was al­most a re­run of Mon­day’s with the ad­di­tion of branch meet­ings, clin­ics and call­ers to the house seek­ing his as­sis­tance. Fri­day nights were more fam­ily-fo­cused with vis­its to the cin­ema or take-away fish and chips to kick off the week­end.

Week­ends them­selves were a mix­ture of work and leisure. Satur­day morn­ings meant an un­hur­ried break­fast with the fam­ily and the morn­ing pa­pers. Af­ter­wards his time was spent in the Cor­ish Memo­rial Hall and in clin­ics. Satur­day af­ter­noons brought the sound of horse-rac­ing re­ver­ber­at­ing through­out the house and much-needed re­lax­ation for our fa­ther as he fol­lowed the fate of his one pound Yan­kee bet around var­i­ous cour­ses in Ire­land and the UK.

Time did not al­low him the lux­ury of en­joy­ing all the ben­e­fits of an en­gag­ing hobby. How­ever, horse-rac­ing, and later grey­hound rac­ing, along with walk­ing his dogs, were ther­a­peu­tic in coun­ter­act­ing the stresses of lo­cal, party and na­tional pol­i­tics. We all tried to share in these pur­suits.

Sun­day morn­ings were re­served for at­ten­dance at Mass but most af­ter­noons meant branch meet­ings through­out the county which our fa­ther at­tended while our mother brought us to the near­est beach or for­est park un­til these ses­sions would end.

Later, our pa­tience would be re­warded by soft drinks in the lo­cal bar/gro­cery with him and the at­ten­dees af­ter­wards.

The work­load in­creased as the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of party leader and min­istries were foisted on the full-time TD. The three-day Dublin trips even­tu­ally be­came five days and more. Fam­ily week­ends were com­pressed into hours and min­utes.

These years were fraught with dif­fi­cul­ties as po­lit­i­cal events ex­ploded into un­rest. Dur­ing the 1970s, our house in Wex­ford be­came the tar­get for protests and pick­ets, and the poi­son­ing of his favourite Springer Spaniel, Monty, was a cruel and cow­ardly deed which af­fected us all.

Also, our mother be­came the re­cip­i­ent of bomb threats on our home which in­tro­duced a new el­e­ment of pres­sure on all of us. Around this time, our fa­ther in­formed Philip, John and me that due to a Cabi­net de­ci­sion, if one of us was taken by a para­mil­i­tary or­gan­i­sa­tion in fur­ther­ance of its ob­jec­tives, no con­ces­sions for our re­lease could be made by him or the Gov­ern­ment. As we were on our own in such cir­cum­stances, it could not have been easy for him to sup­port that de­ci­sion.

The as­sign­ment of per­sonal pro­tec­tion to my­self and Philip in Wex­ford be­came a se­ri­ous re­stric­tion on our so­cial lives, and in fact on more than one oc­ca­sion we man­aged to out­pace the in­trepid as­signed Gar­dai while they en­deav­oured to carry out their duty. Any­way, we all sur­vived ex­cept poor Monty!

You may won­der how all this dis­rup­tion and in­tru­sion led to a happy mar­riage and a func­tional fam­ily. In truth, this way of life was what we, as chil­dren, grew up with and were used to and ac­cepted. The re­spon­si­bil­ity borne by our mother was not what she ex­pected when they mar­ried. You will all be fa­mil­iar with the say­ing ‘ be­hind ev­ery suc­cess­ful man is a strong woman’ and

our mother bore that ac­co­lade with dis­tinc­tion, be­cause she un­der­stood that our fa­ther was driven by his com­mit­ment to his con­stituents, his party and coun­try.

In short, we all lived his jour­ney. Our mother an­swered house phones and manned front doors, en­ter­tained the great and the good and was by his side at party and na­tional events. I be­came my fa­ther’s driver at the age of eigh­teen be­fore one was pro­vided by the Party and at­tended con­fer­ences, meet­ings, fu­ner­als, bye-elec­tions and ref­er­enda cam­paigns with him through­out the coun­try. Philip en­tered lo­cal pol­i­tics which took off some of the pres­sure, and we all helped out at elec­tion times. As we got older, there was an em­pa­thy on our be­half with his call­ing and our par­tic­i­pa­tion was at least an op­por­tu­nity to be with him in his world.

Our fa­ther had a strong affin­ity for Wex­ford and its peo­ple, and a re­lo­ca­tion to Dublin to make life eas­ier was never con­sid­ered. While our mother was a Dub, he was not a city per­son and the road south lead­ing out of Dublin at the end of the week of­fered a form of re­lease from the stresses of na­tional pol­i­tics.

None­the­less, on ar­rival home, he would still spend an hour on the phone to Bren­dan Hal­li­gan, re­gal­ing events. Re­mem­ber these were pre-mo­bile phone times.

He was a man of con­vic­tion. This is typ­i­fied by his re­fusal to al­low our pur­chase of South African goods dur­ing the apartheid protests and his for­bid­ding us shop­ping in Dunne’s Stores while they re­fused to recog­nise their em­ploy­ees’ trade union.

Some say he was a de­vout Catholic while oth­ers say he was a com­mit­ted Chris­tian So­cial­ist. He was not dog­matic in his ap­proach to re­li­gion or life, and while he en­sured that we were brought up as Catholics, he never im­posed ad­her­ence to creed or pol­icy, but pre­ferred to lead by ex­am­ple.

He was a hum­ble man. He did not con­sider him­self to be above oth­ers and taught us to be the same. He could walk and talk in the cor­ri­dors of power in Ire­land and Europe but still main­tain a rap­port with those he met on the main street in Wex­ford. His greet­ing of ‘How are ye, Hon’ still rings in our ears to­day.

He was not a com­plainer. Even when mat­ters were go­ing against him, he tried not to let his work im­pinge upon fam­ily time, but of­ten we could sense the pres­sure he was un­der, es­pe­cially in the 1970s. By the time he re­tired from ac­tive pol­i­tics in 1982, he was tired.

In con­trast when he knew he was dy­ing from can­cer, he bore his chal­lenge with im­mense courage, and we had am­ple op­por­tu­nity to spend valu­able time with him in his last months.

One may won­der if we were a nor­mal fam­ily at all. In many ways we were, but there were al­ways in­tru­sions as ev­i­dence that pol­i­tics does not have open­ing and clos­ing hours. Our mother is grate­ful that none of us fol­lowed in our fa­ther’s foot­steps as she is fully aware of the strain that re­la­tion­ships, and es­pe­cially mar­riages, en­dure when a fam­ily mem­ber is in the ser­vice of the pub­lic. He was a re­luc­tant can­di­date prior to his nom­i­na­tion in the by-elec­tion of 1945, but once elected he ac­cepted the re­spon­si­bil­ity thrust upon him and got on with the job.

To­day marks a mile­stone and an op­por­tu­nity to re­flect upon the life and work of Bren­dan Cor­ish. While the world saw him as a pro­fes­sional politi­cian and made its judge­ment ac­cord­ingly, to his fam­ily he was a hus­band, a fa­ther and a role model. We miss him to this day and still re­mem­ber his jovial ri­postes to con­stituents on Wex­ford’s streets, his dud horse-rac­ing bets and walks with his dogs at Cur­r­a­cloe. His fam­ily, his town and his peo­ple were im­por­tant to him and he never for­got them. We recog­nise the in­volve­ment of Wex­ford County Coun­cil and Wex­ford Li­brary in fa­cil­i­tat­ing this event. In­deed, the Ir­ish Labour His­tory So­ci­ety has in­vested time and en­ergy in en­deav­our­ing to pre­serve our fa­ther’s legacy and for this the Cor­ish fam­ily is very grate­ful.


Bren­dan and Phyl­lis Cor­ish on their wed­ding day in 1949.

Bren­dan Cor­ish.

At the con­fer­ence in Wex­ford Li­brary. From left: For­mer Labour Party strate­gist Niall Greene, Cllr Ge­orge Lawlor, Bren­dan Cor­ish’s niece He­len Cor­ish-Wylde, Bren­dan Cor­ish’s son Richard, TD Bren­dan Howlin, Joe Thomas of Wex­ford Trades Coun­cil, Ir­ish Labour His­tory So­ci­ety pres­i­dent Jack McGinley, for­mer spe­cial ad­vi­sor to the tá­naiste Tony Brown, au­thor and re­tired trade union of­fi­cial Francis Devine, for­mer TD Barry Des­mond and Bren­dan Cor­ish’s wife Phyl­lis.

Bren­dan Cor­ish af­ter his elec­tion to the Dáil in 1949.

John, Bren­dan, Phyl­lis, Dick and Philip in 1974.

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