My name is Michael Brabazon and am resident in West Sussex, England.
My father Martin was born in Johnsfort, Swinford in 1913 to Thomas,
who died in 1944 and who was for a time a teacher at Kinaffe National
School where his father, James, was the headmaster for 36 years, retiring
in 1909. Indeed, the present school was built after James petitioned
the Ministry of Education. His obituary in The Western People for
6th March 1920 reads 'During his whole career both by word and example,
he was a safe guide' and also '...a dutiful and practical member of
holy Church.' I cannot think of a better life exemplifying our family
moto, Vota Vita Mea, which translates as both 'my life is pledged'
and 'my life is a prayer'.
I have been visiting Swinford for some years now, the last occasion
being for the interment of my father, Martin, in the family vault
at Kilconduff in autumn 2000. He was the last of the Brabazons to
leave Swinford, but hopefully with the ongoing contact between myself
and the town we can claim an unbroken presence, shall we say, of interest
from its very beginnings to the present day.
The history of the Brabazons and Swinford is so intertwined that in
order to understand one you must appreciate the other - not unlike
an old married couple; although, of course, that's just on hearsay.
And one has to say that the relationship must be judged successful,
having produced a community that despite the lean times is proud,
prosperous and, moreover, growing in importance.
Origins in Ireland
The story of how we came to be where we were and the kind of people
we are is as complex as for the rest of humanity, but the main strand
of our past is written in the annals of Brabazon history commencing
in the early 11th century in the province of Hainault, in the Lowlands,
and progressing through medieval England and Tudor Ireland up to our
settlement in Mayo.
Our history in Ireland commences with Sir William Brabazon, who ingratiated
himself with Henry VIII, not least of all due to his jousting skills.
He was one of the King's leading knights at the pageant held near
to Calais at the famed meeting of Henry and Francis 1 of France, referred
to as the Field of the Cloth of Gold.
When Henry embarked on his re-conquest of Ireland he appointed William
Vice Treasurer and General Receiver of Ireland in 1534, and nine years
later Lord Justice in the same year as he proclaimed himself - quite
illegally, of course - King of Ireland. Sir William's exploits on
behalf of the new English rulers do not make happy reading. He devastated
parts of the country, subduing Charles Mac Art Cavenagh, being instrumental
in the capture of the Earl of Kildare, and defeating the rebellion
of the O'Connors and O'Mores in 1547. A fighter to the last, he died
in a military campaign in Ulster in 1552, leaving two young sons;
the elder, Edward, only 3 years of age on his father's death, was
the progenitor of the Earls of Meath, and the younger, Anthony, who
is my ancestor, became the Governor of Connaught in 1597, seated at
Ballinasloe. He married Ursula daughter and heiress of Sir Nicholas
Malby who had preceded him as Governor and who gave vast estates in
the West to the Brabazons. Sir Nicholas' last will and testament,
dated 1583, leaves his estate to Anthony, referring to him as "my
Sir Anthony's task at Ballinasloe was to subdue the Tribes of the
West: not a particularly enviable remit, I think we'd all agree. Anthony
certainly had no illusions about the uphill labour he faced. However,
it is said that he went about his business by acting as honest broker
between the feuding clans rather than by military conquest, which,
if correct (and in support he did survive the O'Neill rebellion which
devastated most of Protestant Ireland), would have drawn him into
the social life of Gaelic Ireland and modified his own cultural upbringing.
However, his grandson, named for him, was a priest-hunter, and vehemently
so, but this was to change and change radically. In fact, this later
Anthony stands at the beginning of a transformed Brabazon family culture,
the ramifications going far beyond the bounds of our domestic situation.
Conversion to Catholicism and Irish
Anthony Brabazon of Ballinasloe married Ellice Dillon from one of
the Old English families, which had remained Catholic, in 1641. There
are two versions of my ancestor's conversion to the Old Faith; the
first says that it occurred on his marriage, but the other is more
He is said to have been curious about his wife's regular evening disappearances
and following her on one such occasion saw her enter a cottage. Peering
in, Anthony saw his young wife kneeling at prayer attending a clandestine
Mass, the sight of which induced a St Paul-like conversion. I rather
like a good story, so I favour the latter version.
Whatever, Anthony's change of spiritual allegiance was the precursor
to his joining - what was soon to become - the Kilkenny Confederation.
From his base at Ballinasloe Castle he wreaked much havoc, firstly
against the Dublin Establishment and later the Cromwellian Army. The
ferocity of his actions, fighting literally to the bitter end in 1652,
was as much, I imagine, due to a guilty conscience of his former anti-Catholic
actions as to his military prowess. His guerrilla raids against Cromwell's
lines of supply seriously hindered the English advance around the
coast, for which - amongst other incidents - he was tried in absentia
and sentenced to death. He had actually escaped a siege of his castle
by swimming the moat under cover of darkness and made his way to Galway
City, boarding a ship for Spain. He died in exile in Seville, the
old royalist capital, two years later, probably in the service of
the Spanish king in a regiment specifically for Irish officers. Anthony
may have been defeated but he left a young son, William, who was later
to take up the gauntlet in the army of King James. By his actions
my ancestor at Ballinasloe had transformed himself from New English
to Old English, and then, in common with the other Confederates, to
New Irish. This then is the cultural watershed for my lineage, which
has affected the fortunes of my family and those associated with us
down to the present.
Acquisition of Land in Kilconduff Parish
For Anthony in exile in Spain there was to be no forbearance by the
English: as a wanted criminal it was impossible to regain anything
for himself. Nevertheless, a deal was struck - and I imagine that
social and political strings were being pulled on our behalf, perhaps
by our cousin Lord Meath and certainly by the Dillons - which restored
estates to Anthony's wife and his son, William, thereafter.
They were given one-third the size of the original holdings on the
understanding that the Dillons would raise William as a Protestant,
which they most blatantly did not - at least not behind closed doors.
The law stated that rebels who surrendered themselves to the authorities
within a stipulated number of days would be granted land equal to
the area of one third of their original amount - but located elsewhere.
It's obvious that Anthony fell outside this - being in exile - but
the rules must have been bent in order to accommodate his wife and
son, and the resultant grant of land made in the parish of Kilconduff
and elsewhere in Mayo.
The first mention of my family being connected to the locale is the
marriage settlement of Anthony's son William in 1679 to Mary Browne
of the Neale. William is styled "of Tullinacurra" and in
later documents he is "of Tullinacurra, Lough Maske and Ballinasloe".
What is interesting is that later on Hercules Brabazon, who inherited
from Sir William Brabazon, the 2nd Baronet, in the 1840s administered
the Swinford estate through his nephew Harvey Trewythen Combe whose
address was The Lodge, Tullinacurra, (demolished in the early 1900s).
If there are sufficient archaeological remains, I'm sure the Combe
house will date to the Stuart period.
William is then the founder of Brabazon residency in Swinford, and
Tullinacurra, therefore, is the genesis of Swinford town.
Captain William Brabazon 1650-1731
William - as I have said - was supposed to have been raised a Protestant
by his mother and Dillon relatives, who outwardly had conformed. The
reality was very different. As he would have had little or no memories
of his father, being just an infant at the time of his exile, it must
have been his mother and grandparents who instilled in him the political
and religious faith of the New Irish. William became a Captain in
the army of King James, fighting at the Boyne in 1690, Aughrim in
'91 and finally at the following doomed siege of Limerick, being one
of the Jacobite representatives negotiating the surrender treaty.
As with his father before him, he faced his kinsman the Earl of Meath,
a leading supporter of William and Mary. Indeed, the negotiators of
the Treaty of Limerick had Brabazons and Dillons sitting on both sides
of the table.
Perhaps no wonder then that the resultant document shocked the Establishment
in Dublin and Westminster with its lenient terms, which were later
annulled. After the war, Captain William settled down to estate management
and cattle rearing, neither in Ballinasloe or Tullinacurra, but at
Partry on the shores of Lough Mask.
In a list of Catholic officers drawn up in 1693 William is registered
in Mayo, along with members of the Fitzmaurice family who were later
to become his in-laws from his second marriage in 1717. The Fitzmaurice
seat was at Coolnaght near Claremorris, the other side of the Lough,
and the family had been vehemently opposed to the New English influence
from the beginning. The choice of Partry seems logical from both an
administrative and political stance: firstly, it was located in the
middle of Brabazon holdings, facilitating universal access, and secondly,
it was in Mayo, one of the counties where Jacobite officers had immunity
under the Treaty of Limerick. However, there must have been a final
move to what is now Swinford towards the end of Captain William's
life, as according to the plan of the Brabazon vault at Kilconduff
- dated 1827 - the 'Old Generation' is buried therein, which has to
refer to William and his wife Catherine Fitzmaurice, dating the vault
to at least 1731, at which time his eldest surviving son George was
only 11 years old.
The Inheritance to the Younger Family
Captain William had two sons by his first marriage to Mary Browne,
Anthony and George: the former conformed to the Protestant Church,
either for personal gain or political expediency, and lived at the
family home in Creagh, Ballinasloe, and the latter remained steadfastly
Catholic residing at Partry with their father. Anthony became the
High Sheriff of Galway in 1721 - 1722 shortly before his demise in
1724, brought on by drink related illnesses. Basically, he was squandering
the family fortune, so something had to be done to preserve the estates
in another's keeping. A deal was struck between all parties which
transferred the estates in his ownership to a family trust and thence
to the children - George and Malby - of the second marriage of Captain
William. This despite the fact that Anthony the High Sheriff had a
son William, whose most famous descendant is Aubrey Brabazon the now
deceased racehorse trainer. In return for the transfer of property
to his half siblings, the family ensured the material wellbeing of
Anthony's widow, Margaret Malone, and son.
After the death of Margaret, their house at Creagh was demolished
and the wooden pillars taken to Newpark to be utilised in the construction
of the new Brabazon House.
What about the second son, George? I imagine that as the Penal Laws
were beginning to bite the transfer of property to a Catholic from
a Protestant was impossible, which meant neither Captain William himself
nor his second son could take possession. Captain William ensured
that his sons at Swinford - another George and a Malby - were raised
as Church of Ireland, so that there was no danger of further losses
from the family's dwindling lands. The elder George, it is thought,
produced a male lineage which remained in the locale of Ballinasloe,
dying out in the male line with the Brabazon-O'Shaughnessys.
Planxty George Brabazon
Before I move onto the next generation I would like to mention the
two tunes (planxties) - and one a drinking song - by the names of
George Brabazon written by the great harpist/composer O'Carolan. On
all the explanatory notes it says that they were written for our George
of Brabazon Park, Swinford. However, I think there is a problem of
age. When O'Carolan died in 1738 George was only 18 years of age,
which means that either he was very precocious and had access to his
inheritance before legal maturity or the planxties were written for
someone else. And the only other person it could have been was the
older George Brabazon at Lough Mask, who is either not recorded on
official genealogies or is erroneously written in as dying young with
The Catholic Tradition
Captain William was vehemently Catholic as were his wives, in-laws,
daughters and the older George. The Brabazon vault was erected in
the Catholic graveyard at Kilconduff during the time of the Penal
Laws. Later on, Malby, the younger son at Swinford married Charlotte
Le Merchant from an old Catholic, Jacobite family in Guernsey. The
question that must be asked is, How Protestant was George of Swinford,
the builder of the Mansion House? I have heard a story that a hiding
place for Catholic Mass requisites was found therein. I don't know
if anyone can confirm this story, but if it is veracious it would
be proof positive that George remained a secret Catholic.
Certainly there were no attempts to either build a Protestant church
or bury the Brabazon dead anywhere else except the Catholic cemetery.
Further, one of George's sons William was married by a Catholic priest,
Fr John Fitzmaurice, and one of his daughters, Sarah, married Ousley
Higgins MP who was also Catholic.
The Mansion House
Without the construction of Brabazon House by William's son George
there would have been no attendant accumulation of personnel in the
area and no Swinford as such. So we have in William the founding father
- if that doesn't sound too patrician - of the town and a new dispensation
for my lineage. I know that it has been generally regarded that George
was the first of the line here, probably due to his construction of
Brabazon House in the 1770s. Indeed, George's address before the construction
of the Mansion House was still Newpark; its exact location no longer
known. The new House was a fine Georgian construction, but hardly
of the grandeur or opulence of other country seats. In fact, the move
to a larger domicile was driven by the pressing requirements of a
very large family, the whole project dominating George's later life
and finances, rather than social display. Once the House had been
completed Brabazon Park was created, the name often being used interchangeably
with Newpark, although it only ever was a part of the townland of
Newpark. My family correspondence shows the use of Brabazon Park as
an address becoming more generally used in the residency of George's
Sir Anthony Brabazon Bart. (17445-1803)
Sir Anthony Brabazon, the first baronet (created 1797) of Brabazon
Park and eldest son of George, inherited from his father in 1780,
only a few years after the completion of Brabazon House. From 1770
he had actually been living in Dublin; initially as a young man entering
Society, especially to find a suitable wife.
However, matters were to take a different turn than planned, commencing
from George's refusal to agree the required sum for a marriage contract
for Anthony with his prospective bride's father, one Colonel Madden.
George was assailed with irate correspondence from his wife, son and
in-laws, but he remained steadfast in his refusal, commenting on the
number of children he had to fend for, which meant in reality the
construction of the new family abode - the Mansion House. In fact,
the relationship between father and son broke down and as far as I
can see they stopped direct communication. How then did Anthony find
his spouse? Well, actually he didn't fare too badly in that respect
in that he ended up with two. And to explain how he managed it, I
will have to refer to the mores of the day. It was not unusual in
Georgian times for young men of the higher social order to take wives
from outside their social circles and later on to contract a second
marriage with ladies of their own standing. What's more it was common
for the offspring of both unions to be brought up together, with the
only difference being in their rights of inheritance. The marriage
laws that we are used to today commenced from the Marriage Act of
1753 in England & Wales, being taken up much later in the rest
of Britain and Ireland. No bans were required and no minister of religion
needed to be in attendance but if they were ceremonies could be conducted
quite literally anywhere. The legal ages of marriage for men and women
were 14 and 12, respectively.
By the time Anthony took Ann Molyneux as his wife in 1776 he already
had two sons William and George Charles by his first wife. Even his
society marriage was one referred to as clandestine, again not uncommon
even in the highest families. As he was still without sufficient funds
from his father to contract a marriage in the 'correct way', he took
the well-trodden path of a no-bans, no frills arrangement, requiring
only a small payment to a licensed cleric. We have a painting in the
family of Sir Anthony on horseback in front of Brabazon House with
his two wives and one of his sisters (probably Catherine, the grandmother
of General John P Brabazon) on the front steps.
The composition is symbolic, placing his society spouse on the top
step with her hand against the building, his sister a few steps down,
and at ground level his first wife.
Anthony, having been estranged from his father and under the influence
of his Bingham relatives in Dublin, became very much an establishment
man, the apotheosis of which was in the acquisition of a title.
In Anthony's case it was a baronetecy in 1797, which were notoriously
purchased, but still requiring the right social contacts. As part
of this revision of family tradition from 1641 he despatched his eldest
son William, by his first wife, to be educated at Oxford for the Anglican
They say in America 'What goes around comes around', and it did in
a big way for Anthony, in that his son not only refused to join the
ranks of the establishment clergy but actually converted back to the
ancestral faith of Catholicism, becoming a United Irishman sometime
History was repeating itself from Anthony of Ballinasloe, and this
Anthony didn't like it. William's allowance was cancelled, as was
his place in the family. However, he was not a soul to be deflected
and learnt the shoemaking trade to earn his living. One must remember
that at the time Britain and Ireland were abuzz with news of the French
Revolution, and the ideals of egalitarianism were taken up across
the social board, led in Ireland by Lord Edward Fitzgerald who had
renounced his title in Paris. William returned to Swinford and later
played a part in the 1798 Rising, being an associate of Anthony Corley
in whose inn General Humbert stayed. It is interesting to note that
Sir Anthony remained in residence at Brabazon Park during the Rebellion,
although he had time to escape. In fact a letter from his heir to
the title, William John Brabazon, to his sister Sarah, says that he
has managed to procure a carriage which he is sending from Castlebar
and that they should leave immediately. It may well be that Rebel
William was vouching safe for his family.
Sir William John Brabazon Bart. 1776-1840
William John's correspondence from Dublin talks in negative terms
of Lord Edward Fitzgerald and of the Rebels' "dark and infamous
plots". He is quite patently of his father's establishment position.
How then the complete volta face in his later life when he became
an MP for Mayo (1833) representing Dan O'Connell's Party? Indeed,
not only was he, I understand, one of a handful of Protestant landowning
MPs in O'Connell's party, but wrested the seat from the powerful Browne's
with the support of the Catholic Church. At his acceptance speech,
Sir William drew heavily on his Catholic ancestry, mentioning in particular
the battlefield of Aughrim; that is, the part played by Captain William
Brabazon. The influence of his elder half brother, Rebel William,
was probably the major factor in this turnaround. However, in Sir
Anthony's favour, he refused (as the R.M.) to comply with a request
from the authorities in Dublin to restrict the activities of his younger
brother Counsellor Edward Brabazon, who was defending many of the
The accomplishments of Sir William's developments of Swinford town
are standard local history: the post office, courthouse, etc. But
perhaps his boldest move as a landlord was to grant leases on houses
for 999 years or in perpetuity, virtually making them freehold.
Due to this policy Swinford boasted a town of slate-rooved houses
long before others in the West as the owners were putting money into
what was now their property.
His death in 1840 has been mythologised as the result of choking on
a chicken bone. It may have been that such a convulsion brought on
a heart attack, but this certainly isn't mentioned in the newspaper
reports. He had been subject to bouts of ill health since the early
1830s, which by the end of the decade had worsened. His last bout
of illness, which from the symptoms sounds like a heart condition,
began in London earlier in 1840 when he was attending the Westminster
Parliament and he was advised to return to Brabazon Park to recover.
After a morning ride around his demesne he sat down for breakfast,
only to be found slumped over his meal a short while later by his
butler. He was the last of the true Brabazons at the Park.
Ironically, the Brabazons are best remembered in Swinford in the person
of General Brabazon, the last of the family at the Mansion House.
I say ironically in that not only was his family name not Brabazon
but Higgins, but more than that his politics were also Higgins, which
meant Unionist rather than Nationalist. When the unmarried Sir William
died in 1840 he left a will referred to by one of the lawyers involved
as - and I quote - 'this scandalous document'. 'How so?' you will
no doubt be wondering. (A bit of scandal is always enlivening!) Well,
besides the main inheritance, other clauses left amounts of money
to Sir William's four illegitimate children, but not a thing to the
Higgins family. I leave you to draw your own conclusions! In fact,
if the main beneficiary failed to honour the residency clause in the
bequest, then the illegitimate offspring stood to inherit the estate.
Unfortunately, the copy of the will which used to be in the family
archive has been lost, leaving only legal discussion documents regarding
it. So although my elderly Cousin Eileen can recall many times chuckling
over the inheritances of the four illegitimate children, she cannot
remember their names.
Nevertheless, one imagines that there may well be an awful lot of
Brabazon blood in the district, albeit travelling under a variety
If the Higgins were not the intended Brabazons of Brabazon House,
then who were? Sir William actually left all his estates to his nephew
William Sharpe, the eldest son of his sister Anne.
Within a few years though, the new William Brabazon - he had to adopt
the Brabazon name upon inheriting - died of Malta fever and the property
passed to his younger brother Hercules Brabazon Sharpe, who then became,
as a French friend once commented to me, Brabazon deux fois. So why
weren't the Sharpes in the Mansion House thereafter? The will stipulated
that the inheritor would have to spend 6 months of every year in residence
at Brabazon Park or forfeit the estate, and Hercules had more of a
liking for the Mediterranean climate, not least of all due to his
His legal advisors had argued about what 6 months actually constituted:
lunar months? Continuous periods of 6 months? A carry over of time
from one year to the next? But at the end of the day Bwab, as he was
known using the fashionable French R in common with his cousin General
Brabazon, was more interested in his art and music than estate management,
which he left to his nephew Harvey T Combe. Besides his Brabazon inheritance,
Hercules also came into the Sharpe's English estates in County Durham
and Seddlescombe, East Sussex, not far from the small town of Battle,
the site of the Battle of Hastings.
Hercules Brabazon Brabazon 1821-1906
Hercules has been described as a model landlord, and as far as I can
ascertain he made virtually no profit from the Swinford properties.
He belonged to the Bohemian artistic circle of his day, using his
inherited fortune - I do mean fortune - to finance his peripatetic
lifestyle and assist less fortunate painters and musicians. One of
his proteges was a young German pianist, Emil von Sauer, who eventually
became part of Liszt's company of young performers. A story told by
Sauer in his memoirs recalls when they first met at a soirée in London
in 1882, followed by a trip to Europe and finally an introduction
to Franz Liszt.
The young Sauer had been financing himself since his arrival in London
by playing at fashionable Victorian gatherings, rather like the background
music in a bar. It was at one such occasion that Hercules attended,
and was immediately drawn to actually listening to the pianist, that
their friendship was first formed.
They talked for hours, ending up in the early hours at Hercules apartment
in Morpeth Terrace, at the rear of what is now Westminster Cathedral,
picking their way through the stacks of music scores that littered
the floor, Hercules being a pianist and composer as well as a painter.
As dawn broke, Hercules asked the young German if he would like to
travel with him to Spain and Italy that very morning. This may seem
a little impetuous, but such was his nature, being famed for his early
morning appearances at the front of the house with a small leather
case containing a few personal items and his precious watercolour
paints, hailing a hansom cab with instructions such as, "Cairo,
my good man!" Whatever the foreign destination might be the cabbies
simply drove him to Victoria Railway Station where he would catch
a train/boat to France and points south or east thereafter.
On the morning he and Sauer set off, the shout would have been "Seville!"
Upon arrival in the old royalist capital, Hercules arranged a recital
for Sauer to play before the Spanish King through an old friend in
the Court. You can imagine how nervous the young German must have
been, but this was not the end. After a successful performance Hercules
arranged a public recital and organised the publicity personally with
himself and Sauer fly-posting the city! For two evenings the main
hall in Seville was packed and Sauer's reputation took-off. But even
this was to be only the prelude to an introduction to Liszt to whom
Hercules had access through the former's mistress in Rome, the Princess
Wittgenstein. Liszt immediately took to Sauer and brought him into
his circle. The friendship between Liszt and HBB became quite close
and the new piano he chose for Hercules was the one my elderly Cousin
Eileen - still living - learnt to play on in her younger years.
Eileen is actually HBB's great great niece, the inheritance having
passed to her line of the family, the Combes, as Hercules was without
wife or direct heir. However, I rather think that what Winston Churchill
wrote about General Brabazon is also applicable to Hercules: "Though
he had always remained a bachelor, he was by no means a misogynist."
These two family lines appeared to be running on parallel tracks:
both the Higginses and Combes had changed their family names to Brabazon,
the eldest sons had both died young and the second sons failed to
produce any heirs.
General John Palmer Brabazon 1843-1922
To go back now to Sir William's succession at the Mansion House; how
was it that the Higgins family became the resident Brabazons, especially
as they had specifically been ignored in Sir William's legacy?
The sequence of events that I pieced together from the family papers
and known history commences with Sir Anthony's bequest of properties
to his nephew Hugh Higgins, the son of his sister Catherine Brabazon
and Luke Higgins. Hugh changed his name by Royal Licence to Brabazon
in 1852, at which time he was already the de facto resident of Brabazon
House. The House itself had been mortgaged, probably from the outset,
and it would appear that a deal was struck between the mortgage companies,
Hercules and Hugh Higgins for the latter party to take over the property.
By this means the 6 months residency clause in Sir William's will
would have been negated, leaving General Brabazon to later pursue
a military career.
What kind of person was General John Palmer Brabazon? He was said
to be very charming, generous and gregarious, very much the Victorian
dandy. His physical resemblance owes more to his Brabazon blood than
Higgins', but his politics were fixedly Unionist.
He was a friend of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII and
mentor to Winston Churchill. In fact Churchill's preference for Anglo-Irish
military leaders - their idiosyncratic way of thinking - I imagine
in part was fashioned by his emotional attachment to Bwab. Always
a colourful character, one of his notable confrontations with the
powers-that-be was over the small growth of hair under his lower lip
- in military parlance, a beard. And as beards were forbidden for
army officers he was finally commanded to shave it off. This he did,
but also half of a very bushy moustache, making quite a noticeable
appearance on the Regiment's parade ground.
On another occasion, whilst stationed in South Africa during the Boer
War, he reported to the Committee of Imperial Defence that he mistrusted
the weapons supplied to the cavalry (he was commanding the 10th Hussars)
and that his preference was for shock tactics using tomahawks. His
description of a cavalry charge under these conditions - and I quote
- 'proved paralysing to the imagination of the commissioners'.
In 1860 his elder brother Captain Luke Brabazon of the Royal Artillery
died in the so-called Second Opium War in China, being executed along
with a French priest on a bridge just outside Beijing. After the death
of their father Captain Hugh Brabazon whilst on a mission to find
the body of Luke in 1864 Bwab came into the family inheritance. He
retired his commission in 1870 as Captain and returned to Swinford
to run the estate, which already in dire straits was to be exacerbated
by the second famine.
You have to bear in mind that the Higginses had only ever had a small
part of the Brabazon lands and properties, so any downturn in economic
fortune could prove disastrous. He returned to full military duties
in 1873 and managed to build his army career as well as keep an eye
on matters back home.
However, all of his plans to assure the economic viability of his
property holding came to naught, and he finished his life in London
as a member of the Court of George V, dying in 1922. I have tried
in vain to acquire a copy of General Brabazon's Bequest made in 1913,
the foundation document of the Brabazon Park Trust which was held
by the Charity Commissioners in Dublin. It was unfortunately lost
in 1992 in transit to the National Archives, along with other documents.
I rather think that the estate was financially fatally wounded and
some kind of a deal was struck with the government to hand it over
for local benefit. Certainly, General Brabazon's social pull would
have gone a long way in facilitating such a hand-over.
I have been told by two different sources that before finally moving
to England at the turn of the century he removed family remains from
the vault in Kilconduff and translated them to the Protestant church.
I have satisfied myself that the majority of those buried in my family
vault were left where they were, so I can only surmise that they were
Higgins' remains, and perhaps not least Catherine Brabazon, his grandmother.
He had four sisters and tracing any possible descendants is one area
of research I still have to address.
That then was the finale of the Higgins-Brabazons, and after Hercules'
demise in 1906 the Combes disposed of their holdings; the inheritor
being Harvey T Combe, Hercules' nephew, who had married one of the
Lamberts of Brook Hill, and who passed on the remaining English estates
to their son, also Harvey Combe. My kinswoman Eileen Barber in London
is the daughter of the latter, and she in turn has a daughter, Robin
Wells, the mother of Patrick and Robert Wells.
What then of the male Brabazon family lineage?
The Lineage Continues
I will now revisit the eldest son of Sir Anthony, Rebel William (1772-1837),
who is in fact my own ancestor. So the Brabazons never actually left
Swinford, only the Big House. In fact, placed in the continuum of
my lineage Brabazon House is simply one of our domiciles that we brought
into existence and which we then deserted. The over-association of
my family with that one building has led to the erroneous belief that
there were no Brabazons here before its construction and none after
Rebel William actually produced a large family, but it was only my
own line which remained in Swinford; my great great grandfather James
(1800-1875) being his eldest son and his eldest my great grandfather,
also James, the headmaster at Kinaffe National School.
It was the latter James who moved from Swinford town to Tullinacurra
to take up the headmastership: his house eventually being purchased
from my two great aunts, one a teacher at Cloongalorn, by the Murtaghs.
The two family inheritances - shoemaking and education - which preserved
down the generations were both our bread and butter and also the symbols
of Rebel William's self-determination and principled stand for what
he believed to be right.
The craft of shoemaking only finally died out with my father. Even
my great grandfather in his retirement would insist on repairing the
family footwear: A man who was also a classical pianist, played the
oboe and composed his own music.
His chosen academic subject was mathematics, which he used in his
amateur astronomy - a pastime he shared with his good friend Joe Mellett.
His patriotism was directed towards the support of the church and
the education of a new generation - in fact, two new generations -
whereas his younger brother, another William, being a member of the
Fenian Brotherhood, wisely left for the USA.
My grandfather Thomas (1875-1944) along with his siblings, were schoolteachers,
as are my two elder brothers, Kevin and Terence, in North America.
Indeed, Thomas was if anything more dedicated to the Church, hovering
on the brink of training for the priesthood, but entranced by my grandmother
Bridget Nolan at the last moment. He was not one, though, to blindly
accept what ran counter to his own view of life: my father recalls
him berating a member of the local clergy for openly supporting the
Blue Shirts fighting for Franco. Thomas' surviving brother, James,
left for Boston, entering what is affectionately known as the Irish
Mafia and one of his sons, Paul Brabazon, became a close friend of
He was particularly close to Joe Junior who died in a flying mission
over Germany in World War II, and is mentioned in the young Kennedy's
biography entitled 'The Lost Prince by Hank Searles (1969)'.
. Paul, who was a ship's captain brought young Joseph's personal affects
back to Boston and was met by old Joe Kennedy at the harbour. Another
sibling in this family was Paul's sister Elizabeth, a nun, who taught
mathematics in a Boston convent school and due to her later parochial
and charity work also had ties with the Kennedy Clan.
My father Martin was the youngest surviving child of Thomas and Bridget
and the only son to leave a male lineage. He served in the Enniskillen
Fusiliers as Sergeant Major, fighting in the Burmese jungle and had
many a story to tell, as with any old soldier. However, one of his
proudest memories was his friendship with Mahatma Ghandi's chief (Sikh)
bodyguard in Bombay who rescued him from certain death at the hands
of a mob of Congress wallas.
The Sikh's knowledge of Irish history absolutely astonished my father
and he learnt that the adoption of the green, white and orange of
the Indian flag was inspired by the Irish tricolour. After being given
their secret password, my father was the only British soldier who
could walk in safety at any hour through the town.
Martin's childhood memories of Swinford were a mixture of the home,
the hard times and also the War of Independence. His eldest brother,
James, was a youth member of the IRA who narrowly escaped being machine-gunned
by the Black and Tans and his uncle John James was a leading local
member of Sinn Fein.
He also recalled his grandfather giving his barn to the Co-op to store
their food and supplies, and his father walking through the night
to collect money for a recently widowed neighbour. In passing on these
memories, he bequeathed to me an ethos of sacrifice for the community,
a pride in what my family had done and a desire to ensure our traditions
were never lost.
I have tried my best to convey that tradition to my son James Martin
who has been brought up with an acute sense of his ancestry and his
belonging to Swinford, as I am now doing with my daughter Bridget
Hisako. Like all parents I am very proud of his achievements, not
least of all his Cambridge degree in modern history. I hope it won't
be too presumptuous of me to employ the republican imagery of the
phoenix: We shall rise again. Or alternatively, in the words of my
deceased great aunt Elizabeth Brabazon when I would comment on her
excellent health for a lady in her 90s, "Michael, you just can't
keep a bad thing down!"