Festival in honour of the county’s first woman Senator
COUNTY Wexford’s newest festival will take place in Bridgetown on September 14 and 15, commemmorating an extraordinary woman who deserves to be remembered for her major contribution to Irish politics, farming and the arts.
The inaugural Kathleen Browne Arts and Literary Festival will feature art exhibitions, writers’ workshops, historical talks, theatrical performances, children’s camps and a daylong concert honouring the memory of the county’s first woman Senator.
Born in 1876 in what is now Doyle’s dwelling house in the south Wexford village, between Molly & Dolly’s cafe and Red Books, she developed an early interest in the Gaelic Revival and the history and customs of the baronies of Forth and Bargy, going so far as to teach herself the extinct Yola language.
She was enamoured with the Nationalist movement and very proud of her heritage, dressing in traditional Celtic dress and keeping Irish wolfhounds.
Kathleen was a member of the Land League, the Gaelic League, Sinn Fein and Cumann na mBan during politically turbulent times and was close friends with leading figures of the day including Padraig Pearse and Arthur Griffith. She was arrested for flying the Irish tricolour over the family home at Rathronan Castle in 1916.
Later, she served as County Wexford first woman Senator and was a fierce defender of the rights of women and rural dwellers. Kathleen was a successful farmer at a time when few women ran such enterprises and even recommended Wexford to the Department of Agriculture as a suitable location for the growing of sugar beet.
It was this remarkable legacy which prompted a group of local business people, community workers, artists and writers to come up with a fitting tribute to the former Senator, among them Wally O’Neill, a local bookshop owner who admitted that he only learned about the woman who once used the building where his shop is located as her art studio, when he arrived in Bridgetown.
‘The simple unveiling of a plaque didn’t seem enough for someone who had accomplished so much in their life,’ said Mr O’ Neill. ‘Kathleen Browne spent her years totally immersed in her broad ranging interests, from art to local culture to history. It only seemed right that we should try to bring all of these things together in one festival that could remember her with deference as well as highlighting the huge talent we possess in South Wexford.
‘When we held our first committee meeting in the spring, we never realised how big this was going to become. I think we underestimated the formidable artistic and craft talent in Forth and Bargy and the fantastic community spirit and determination to grow the area of Bridgetown.’
The Kathleen Browne Festival will bring together some well-known names in local and national arts, writing, music, theatre and historical research with contributors including the novelists Sarah Carroll and Tina Callaghan, poets Fintan Murphy and Jim McGuire, Riff Raff Theatre, Ballycogley Players, Point Blank, Dr Anne Mac Lellan, Dr Nessan Danaher, Bernard Browne, Rachel Grace and Cat Hogan.
The legendary Dr Ivor Browne, a nephew of Kathleen, who is regarded by many as the founding father of Irish psychiatry, will give a rare public talk in the local AOH Hall at 5.30pm on Friday, September 14.
Dr Browne will unveil a new monument to Kathleen Browne at 12 noon on Saturday, which was designed and hand-crafted by local artist Ciaran O’ Brien. The piece will be placed on the wall of the building where Miss Browne was born.
Two books will be launched during the Festival. A collection of stories and poems by the local South Wexford Writers Society will be launched in Molly&Dollys before an Open Mic cabaret at 7.30pm on Friday. A new history of the life of Kathleen Browne by the local historian Brendan Wright will be launched in the AOH Hall at 3pm on Saturday, September 15.
A Craft and Antiques Fair will be held on Friday evening and all day Saturday along with an Antiquarian Book Fair on Saturday in the village along with a children’s amusement fair. A full list of the Festival events can be found on the Kathleen Browne Festival Facebook page and at www. kathleenbrownefestival.net.