Tadhg Brosnan (1891 - 1971)

Tadhg Brosnan was born in 1891 into a family of blacksmiths in the West Kerry village of Castlegregory. At that time, Ireland seemed comfortable with the Empire, its defiance apparently quenched with the defeat the Fenian Rising. But to Tadhg Brosnan Ireland unfree could not be at peace. The Irish Volunteers were founded in Castlegregory under his leadership 1913 and would prepare for another fight for freedom which would come less than three years later. But Easter Week 1916 ended in another bloody failure. The Empire had put Ireland back on its knees or so it would seem. But no so in Castlegregory. On the Sunday after the surrender in Dublin, despite warnings from the Crown Forces, Tadhg Brosnan marched his company of armed Volunteers up through the village after Mass in open defiance of Britain’s might. The next day he was arrested as were his loyal followers. Brought to Richmond Barracks in Dublin, he was tried before a military court. He refused to recognise that court, becoming the first officer of all the captured Volunteers of 1916 to deny the right of any English man to pass judgement on an Irishman fighting to free his country. His sentence was twenty years hard labour.

Tadhg Brosnan, Thomas Ashe and Austin Stack were the last Kerry men to be released in the amnesty in 1917, but within a year he was again in prison but not before he had reorganised the Irish Volunteers in West Kerry ready to strike another blow for freedom. In 1918 saw he was imprisoned in Belfast where it was recorded that tall blacksmith from Kerry showed the protesting Republican prisoners how to break the hinges of their cell doors preventing their captors for confining these political prisoners to their cells. The prisoners’campaign, led by Austin Stack, was successful and later that year Tadhg Brosnan was back in Castlegregory, unbowed and undefeated.

He was now the commanding officer of the 4th Battalion of Kerry No.1 Brigade and the fight was about to begin. The spring of 1920 saw Tadhg Brosnan and his gallant band take the war the forces of the British Crown. The police were ambushed at Kilmore Cross where a firefight resulted in two dead RIC men, their weapons captured and their military vehicle in the hands of Brosnan’s men – the first British military vehicle to be capture in the Black and Tan War. The RIC barracks at Camp was attacked and soon the British were forced to abandon all their barracks on the peninsula with the exception of the heavily garrisoned Dingle Town. In August 1920, Brosnan led his men to attack a British Army mobile patrol in Annasaul, using landmines that he had captured in Cloghane – the first use of landmines in the war. The soldiers were forced to surrender and the arms captured were to make Tadhg Brosnan’s unit one of the best armed in the county. He was appointed to be the second in command of the Brigade Flying Column in January 1921 and led its active service unit in large scale attacks at the Conor Pass, Lispole, Glenbeigh, Killorglin and Castlemaine. The column had driven the forces of the Crown from the countryside of county Kerry. He was offered the position of officer commanding of the Kerry No.1 Brigade which encompassed North Kerry, West Kerry and Tralee but a combination of a natural humility and loyalty to his erstwhile commander caused to refuse the promotion.

As the Republican forces in the country side were still gaining in strength, their leaders in Dublin were seeking a premature peace, exchanging principle for power, becoming the rulers of a so-called free state which divided North from South and remaining loyal to the King of England. There was to be no thirty two county Republic. It was far from the ideals of 1916 that the new state was founded but the men in the fields and hillsides remained doggedly loyal to the principles that had inspired generations of Irish men to fight for the total freedom of their country. England’s new allies unleashed a brutal war on those Republicans who had fought the Empire to a standstill. Patriots such as Tadhg Brosnan and the Republicans of Kerry were in the sights of British guns whose triggers had Irish fingers ready to shoot down all those who defied the new regime. Tadhg Brosnan led one of the IRA Columns which tried in vain to stem the Free State advance in Limerick and when this failed he led his men back to the mountains of West Kerry where they fought against overwhelming odds in a brave but futile attempt to defend the Republic that they had sworn allegiance to in 1916. With Michael Duhig and Dan Rohan, he was captured by Free State forces near Castlegregory in the dreadful month of March 1923. His arrival in the prison of Ballymullen barracks lifted the morale of the hundreds of Republican incarcerated there. A natural leader, the lifted the prisoners spirits which had been devastated following the Ballyseedy Massacre a week earlier. It would be April 1924, a year after hostilities ended before his captors would release him, one of the last prisoners to be freed, such was his stature.

But the new state would not be a welcome place for the men who fought for Ireland’s freedom. Principles were bargained away for power, ideals sold for votes, the New Ireland had shrunken to twenty six counties, its new government with so much Irish blood on its hands pledged loyalty to England’s king. It was not the Ireland that Tadhg Brosnan and his gallant band had fought for.

In 1924, Tadhg Brosnan and his new bride, Cumann na mBan activist, Kate Daly joined another wave of Wild Geese, forced from the land they sought to free to the Land of The Free across the Atlantic – America was indeed a Home of the Brave, Ireland’s brave soldiers of the defeated Republic.

But still the flame of freedom still in the hearts of these exiles and could not be extinguished likely. Tadhg Brosnan was offered a comfortable government job by DeValera and Aiken when they came to power in 1932. Knowing that this would mean forsaking his loyalty to the true Republican ideals, Tadhg Brosnan chose instead to continue to work in the searing heat of an iron mills in upstate New York. Holding onto one’s principles is never the easy option.

The story of Tadhg Brosnan’s role in keeping the flame of Irish Freedom alive in his adopted country cannot be told with justice in the short time we have here today. Suffice it to say, in the words of WB Yeats, “Let the fools rage, he swerved in naught”.

Unrealised ideals became an embarrassment to successive governments in Ireland. The principles of 1916 fell into a national amnesia. In the 1930’s, DeValera stated that France could be France without Alsace Lorraine and so Ireland could be Ireland without the Six Counties. But this was far from what the men who fought the Black and Tans had died for. Men such as Tadhg Brosnan could never be separated from the ideals that guided their lives. As the these ideals of 1916 became an uncomfortable embarrassment so too did those who still held them. Thus those who remained loyal to the were consigned to a that national amnesia. And so now only few still recall this great patriot whose remains lie here.

But still they speak of this soldier and his deeds and still his cause remains alive in the heart of the Faith Few – An Deam Beag Dílís. As the history of Ireland is again revealed to the next generation in this decade of commemoration, the inspirational name of Tadhg Brosnan will yet again be heard amongst his own people.

Those who would claim to speak for the Irish people now tell us that Ireland has moved on from 1916. What they really mean is that Ireland has moved away from 1916 and its ideals. Just how far it has been led astray can be measured when we look back on the life of Tadhg Brosnan, an unbroken, an unrepentant, uncompromising Irish Republican.

Contributor:   Dr. Timothy Horgan -- Tralee

After the Annual Fenian Commemoration held at the Fenian Monument  in Calvary Cemetery in Queens NY. on May 17th 2015, Seamus Ó Dubhda, longtime activist and Irish Republican, accompanied by  Tyrone pipers John McManus and Seán Thornton led the crowd to the graveside of West Kerry man, Irish War of Independence veteran, Tadhg Brosnan. At the graveside, Séamus graciously deferred to Mary Ó Flaherty who read a biographical tribute to Volunteer Brosnan backed by the stirring sound of pipes. Continuing the tribute, longtime musician and founding member of the famous “Wolftones” Derek Warfield accompanied by Peadar Hickey gave a inspiring rendition of the “Valley of Knockanure".

The above tribute penned by Tim Horgan started off as follows:

A Chairde,

We are gathered here today in the midst of the noise of New York City to pay a humble tribute to one of the giants of Ireland’s history. But such noise was no stranger to the great Tadhg Brosnan. Through the roar waves breaking on the shore of his native west Kerry, through the hammering of blacksmiths in his family’s Castlegregory forge, through the echoes of rifle fire in battle and the banging of prison doors, the voice of Tadhg Brosnan could be heard above them all. It was the battle cry of a great soldier calling for his country’s freedom. Though his mortal remains are here beneath us, his voice still echoes in the hearts of those who still seek Ireland’s complete independence.


 CEMETERY and grave location

Name:      Calvary Cemetery                                                      PHONE NO.   (718) 786-8002

ADDRESS:     4902 Laurel Hill Blvd,  Flushing,  NY 11377

GRAVE LOCATION:     Section 64-6-8




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   Posted 6/20/2015