Noel Browne (1915-1997)

[Noel C. Browne; var. Noël]; b. 20 Dec. 1915, Waterford; son of a RIC officer [retired by choice in 1918] and later inspector for the NSPCC, who contracted TB; ed. Marist Brothers’ School [CBS, Athlone and Ballinarobe; brought with his siblings to England by his mother who knew herself to be dying; entered St. Anthony’s Prep. Sch., Eastbourne, on a scholarship, 1929; proceeded to Beaumont College, Windsor, where he met Neville Chance, the son of a wealthy Catholic Dublin surgeon family (Sir Chas. Chance), and afterwards supported by that family through medical college, TCD; entered sanatorium in Sussex,1940; joined Seán McBride’s Clann na Poblachta and elected TD, Dublin South East, 1948; immediately appt. Minister of Health; worked strenuously to eradicate TB, instituting the measures set out in the Health Act of 1947;
he was the sole minister to attend the funeral service of Douglas Hyde in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, incurring clerical wrath; promoted nation-wide free pulmonary screening; his Mother and Child Scheme, also anticipated by the Act, was vigorously opposed on theological grounds by Dr John Charles McQuaid (Archb. of Dublin) and other members of the Catholic Hierarchy, 1950-51; resigned his ministry, 11 April 1951; expelled from Clann na Poblachta; elected to Dail Eireann as an independent TD, 1951-53; joined Fianna Fail, 1953-54; expelled form Fianna Fail; elected to Dail as independent, 1957; fnd.-member National Progressive Democratic party, TD 1958 - with Jack McQuillan; retained his seat in 1961 election;
with McQuillan, he joined the Labour Party in 1963; lost 1965 election and re-elected for Labour, 1969; elected Senator, 1973; won a Dail seat at Artane as Independent Labour candidate, 1977, have failed to get ratification from Admin. Council of the Party; established the Socialist Labour Party with others in 1977, and duly elected that year; retired from politics, 1982; considered as Labour candidate for 1990 Presidential election, but dismissed in favour of Mary Robinson, leading to final breach with the Labour Party; issued Against the Tide (1986), autobiography; settled at Baile na hAbhann, Co. Galway; d. 21 May 1997; survived by his wife Phyllis. DIH

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Against the Tide
(Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1986, rep. 2007), 280pp.; John Horgan, Noel Browne: Passionate Outsider (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 2009), 354pp.

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Phyllis Browne, Thanks for the Tea, Mrs. Browne: My Life with Noel (Dublin: New Island Press 1998), 240pp. [‘controversial memoirs’]; John Horgan, Noel Browne: A Passionate Outsider (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 2009), 352pp. See also Eithne MacDermott, Clann na Poblachta (Cork UP 1998); and Ruth Barrington, Health, Medicine and Politics in Ireland 1900-1970 (Dublin: IPA 1987) [contesting his account in Against the Tide]; Bryan Fanning & Tom Garvin, ‘Noel Browne, Against the Tide (1986)’, in Books That Define Ireland (Sallins: Merrion 2014), Chap. 27.

See also Frank McNally, ‘A policeman’s lot - Frank McNally recalls a short-lived Dáil party composed entirely of the sons of RIC men’, in The Irish Times ([Tues, 21 Jan. 2020) - treating of Browne’s father, actually a serving RIC policeman for thirty years before reaching Derry; quotes Browne'" own account in Against the Tide: ‘We had moved from Waterford, where I was born on 20 December 1915. My father, unemployed and the unskilled son of a small farming family in Co Galway, brought us shortly after my birth to Derry, where we lived for a time in the Bogside. He obtained work in one of the shirt factories.’ = and comments:

[McNally;] ‘The detail about the shirt factory is true. And yet as a later Browne biography, John Horgan’s Passionate Outsider (2000), says of it, that passage is “brief to the point of opacity”. Before the move to Derry, Browne snr had been a policeman for the best part of 30 years, rising to sergeant, which was as high as Catholics could usually aspire to in the force. / The changing politics after 1916 forced him to rethink his position, but he did not leave the police until 1918, a few months before the War of Independence. / After the shirt factory, he went on to become a “cruelty man”: an inspector for the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children, a standard enough progression for former police officers.’ McNally also records that Sean MacEntee used to call Browne "an RIC get" - meaning the son [or bastard] of an RIC-man. online

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Against the Tide
(1986): [After the death of mother and father] ‘We children were then left homeless and penniless, as were and are so many unwanted children of primitive peasant societies such as ours was.’ [3]; contains a critique of Pearse’s ‘rich red blood which so enhances the soul’; account of ambush involving General Sean MacEoin, ‘the blacksmith of Ballinalee’ [5]. (Cont.)

Against the Tide (1986)

‘Much later in a diary kept by Peadar Cowan, an officer in the Free State Army in Custume Barracks [Athlone], I read of the blindingly whimsical system whereby the victims [of State reprisals for the killing of Deputy Sean Hales] were chosen for death, it was a simple process of taking a group of prisoners from each county. [...] Since these men had all been in custody at the time of the shooting of Hales and were known to be innocent of the assassination for which the reprisals were being carried out, their killing was indefensible. The most stunning experience for me was to read how Peadar, a parliamentary colleague of mine in later life, recounted the incident of the mass executions without showing any sense of horror, shock, guilt or concern whatever for the whole process or his own part in it. Yet Peadar was what is known in Ireland as ‘a devoutly religious man.”’ [7].

‘I went to school, to the local Christian Brothers. They certainly taught us with great diligence, and with some effect, but for the most part they were enthusiastic religious zealots, whose sole purpose was to win young Irish boys and girls to Roman Catholicism in a united Ireland. They did not see any contradiction in fighting fiercely and winning partial sovereignty from the English while still proclaiming total subservience on all issues of serious social and political importance to a different faraway ruler in Rome. / These deeply religious men and women, using the term “religious” in its loosest sense, had represented a remarkable phenomenon during the nineteenth century in Ireland, giving up their lives to promote a most powerful renaissance of Catholicism while at the same time sending hundreds of their numbers throughout the continents of Africa, Asia, the [29] Americas and elsewhere as missionaries for the Catholic Faith. The general ethos was a powerful sense of angry nationalism and the demand that in all of us there must be inculcated a self-sacrificing patriotism. [...]’

[In Ballinarobe] A militant republicanism replaced the bland Free State ambience of Athlone. We knew and admired men “on the run”; unconsciously we braced ourselves for future sacrifice and struggle, probably even prison and death, “for Ireland”s freedom” [...]’ [30.] (Cont.)

‘This driving obsessive hatred for and of the English was systematically inculcated in our consciousness and rationalised for us into an embittered set of convictions. Hatred for Protestants, because their faith was of English origin, became an unpleasant feature of all our lives. [...] The hatred derived not solely from the occupation of our country but, according to the teaching of the Christian Brothers, from the destruction by the English of our Catholic faith. / Our history taught us to mourn, with intent to revenge, the savage torture by pitchcap and the rack of our patriot martyrs.’ [30] (cont.)

[On the treatment of children from the Gaelteacht in the Christian Brothers’ Schools] In spite of the fact that here was the true repository of the cherished native language, they were not favoured by our militant nationalist Christian Brothers but treated with contempt as members of a lower order as the British had once treated all of us native Irish. [...] At least one of them appeared to be chosen with little reason for the cruelly unbridled beatings with constituted Christian Brother discipline.’ [31]. ‘Surely there was some private pain which the brother thereby tried to exorcise within himself.’ [32] (Cont.)

On ‘a practising pederast’ [32]: Brown finds himself trapped into sharing a bed with the middle-aged curate who has displayed ‘an affection for young boys.’ [33] (Cont.)

‘While my cousin without demur agreed to stay the night with the curate and sleep in his bed, I blankly refused to join them. The night ended for me with a comic opera solution, I agreed that I would sleep in the bed of the priest’s house-keeper. I have distinct memories of some arrangement of a blanket partition between myself and the housekeeper. She need not have worried, even if I had known of the possibilities and wished to avail myself of them. I fell asleep at once, totally exhausted by the struggle to keep away from the curate’s bed.’ [34] (Cont.)

‘Neither in Athlone nor in Ballinrobe were we at any time visited by any public official or person of substance other than the rent collector. No member of a religious order, nun, priest, or brother, came near the house to see if we needed help. Life in Ireland then was completely unconcerned with and uncaring for the poor.’ [35]

L & H: ‘Vincent Browne is somewhat more circumspect. “Several of those now fully registered as astounding national idiots ‘graced’ the L&H in the mid-1960s,” he writes. They managed to say nothing at all, with spectacular panache, he says. In 1961, the L&H had to hold its AGM in the Shelbourne Hotel, because UCD had suspended the society.’ (See Hugh Oram, ‘L&H: Behemoth among UCD Societies’ [review article of The Literary & Historical Society 1955-2005], in UCD News, 21 June 2005 [Irish Times Special Report] - available online as pdf.)

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William Norton
was reported as saying at the time of Dr. Browne’s Mother & Child Bill (1947): ‘If the question is raised as one in which the Bishops are to be on one side and the Government on the other side, I say, on behalf of the Government, that issue is not to arise in this country. This Government will not travel down that road ... There will be no flouting of the authority of the Bishops of Catholic social or Catholic moral teaching [&c.]’ (Irish Times, quoted in J. Whyte, Church and State in Modern Ireland 1923-1979, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1980, Chaps. 7 & 8; cited in Anthony Alcock, Understanding Ulster, 1994 [q.p.)

Blogspot - The Thirsty Gargoyle [‘lacrimae in corde, in capite risus’] - on John Cooney’s biography of Archb. John McQuaid (8 Dec. 2011): ‘The most outragerous example is the now notorious account of Dr McQuaid’s alleged paedophile encounter with a publican’s son in Drumcondra which formed the first of the extracts serialized inThe Sunday Times. Mr Cooney adduces absolutely no evidence for his allegation beyond a piece of fiction cast as fantasy entitled "A Virgin Island", which was written by Dr Noel Browne and based upon the hearsay evidence of an unnamed Department of Education inspector concerning an episode which had allegedly taken place thirty years before. Although Dr Browne must be regarded as a hostile witness - McQuaid had effectively destroyed his Ministerial career during the Mother and Child controversy in 1951 and his own autobiography is charged with bitter animosity towards his former adversary - Browne himself believed that “A Virgin island” should not be published for the compelling reason that the allegations could not be substantiated. It would have been better for Mr Cooney’s reputation as biographer and historian if he had respected Dr Browne’s wishes.’ [Available online; accessed 07.10.2014. Note that the blogger’s name is not given.]

Joining Labour: Brown’s decision to join Labour, with Jack McQuillan, TD, was reported in a column on the front page of The Irish Times on 8 Nov. 1963 (See Irish Times ARchives, rep. in Irish Times, 19 Dec. 2009, Weekend.)

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