Br. Eugene Brennan
The death took place of Brother Eugene Brennan in Miguel House, Castletown, on 18th October 2020.
Known better to his family as Jackie, he was ninety-eight years old. Born in Glenbeigh, Co Kerry, on 28th April 1922, he was the second eldest of twelve children born to Thomas and Mary (O’Sullivan) Brennan. His father worked as a Customs Inspector and the family spent a number of years in Clones, Co Monaghan, before they moved finally to a house in Harper’s Lane in Portlaoise.
Brother Michael Loran, a confrere of Brother Eugene's in Belfast for many years delivered the eulogy at the Funeral Mass.
“John – or Jackie as he was known to his family - Brennan or Brother Eugene was born in 1922 to Thomas and Mary (O’Sullivan) Brennan in Glenbeigh, Co. Kerry, the second-born and eldest boy of a family of twelve.
Just a few years ago while on a holiday in Killarney one of the Brothers drove him to visit his native place – how delighted he was to recognise the setting, the walls and the gateway.
His father was a Customs Inspector and so the family transferred to Clones in Co. Monaghan and later to Portlaoise. While Eugene proudly classed himself a Kerry man he was known to change his allegiance to Monaghan or Laois depending on the Sunday evening football or hurling results which were listened to with great attention.
Eugene joined the Brothers here in Castletown on 7th July 1938 and it was on these altar steps that he made his first Profession on 8th September 1939. He pronounced his final vows eight years later at the age of twenty-five during the Brothers’ Retreat in De La Salle College Waterford on 8th July 1947.
On completing his Leaving Cert in Faithlegg in 1942, he was transferred to Kilmacow, Co. Kilkenny, where he spent five years at the end of which he was assigned to St. Patrick’s School in Milltown, Belfast in 1947.
This was a special school for boys who were sent there because of domestic issues, oftentimes for non-attendance at school. Eugene has left us in his notes how he looked back fondly on his years right beside Milltown Cemetery and the children in his care – he wrote, “They were a great source of support to me and they actually helped me in caring for the group at large.” And again, we find in his immaculately written diaries, “The boys were happy with me and this was clear when I had occasion to visit some of their homes. The welcome from their parents and other members of their families was generous and heartfelt.”
However, as we can imagine, these were bleak times in post-war Belfast with few if any of the present day comforts around especially in a residential school setting.
I used to hear Eugene talk of the many winter mornings he would rise at five or six to start up the furnace – no fancy switches in those days but rather chopping timber and using a wad of paper soaked in paraffin to get the blaze going.
Then followed a long day caring for the boys in and out of school – just as the Founder of the Brothers, St. John Baptist De La Salle had directed his men to do just over 300 years ago to “care for the children from morning to night.”
Eugene was the longest serving De La Salle Brother in Belfast, 72 years with the exception of a year in Kircubbin, Co Down (1956/7) and a further two-year spell in East London, South Africa (1966-1968). In 1987 he officially retired having reached retirement age and I suppose I was fortunate to take his place on the staff but I felt hopelessly inadequate in filling his shoes. Eugene was just a legend in St. Pat’s, a great character in and out of school.
He was a tireless worker, never complained and always ready to help out no matter what was going on with his big happy smile. He could have added in his notes, I did it my way or indeed the caring way! No such thing for him as cutting corners or skipping off when all was quiet.
He was always ready to fill in when somebody was out sick or called away at short notice. I know that only too well and indeed some Brothers here also including Brothers David and Ailbe - and many Brothers gone before them would agree.
Retirement was not in Eugene’s book: as soon as he left St. Patrick’s in Belfast he headed for Kilmore House, our house in Glenariff in the Glens of Antrim. Beauty spot as it may be, he had little time for admiring the scenery. There were numerous household chores to attend to – getting ready for groups coming in or clearing up afterwards, keeping the fires going and not resting until everybody felt at home.
Eugene became a household name with the neighbours in Glenariff as he cycled up and down the road to daily mass, a quick stop here and there for a chat and of course a nip into the shop for the Irish News which was well read at intervals during the day.
Nevertheless Eugene was a keen sportsman irrespective of the code but there was little doubt that Man United were his team – a red towel and red jersey often decked his room and a great cheer went up when that winning goal was scored. Likewise, on the field he was fit and crafty when he played with the school teams in St. Pat’s.
One of his favourite yarns of his playing days was when he was in goals for a penalty. The taker was up to all kinds of antics shaping up and prancing around just to distract the goalie – Eugene decided to confuse him a little bit so he stepped out of the goals, stood to the left of the goal post, up comes the taker and sent the ball yards wide leaving Eugene standing still to the amazement of all on and off the field.
In his early days in Kilmacow, in South Kilkenny, he played with the local football team. It wasn’t easy in those days to get out from the Brothers’ House to play football or hurling games – in fact it was frowned upon and the only way was to sneak out on the quiet.
So, invariably on a Sunday morning the milkman making his deliveries would be given the football boots to hide in a designated ditch down the road. Then in the afternoon, Eugene would innocently set off on his Sunday afternoon walk, tuck the boots under his coat and head for the field – making sure to be back in time for tea and hopefully with no limp or black eye for the superior to complain about.
All of this is carefully chronicled in the History of GAA in Kilmacow, complete with photograph. You’ll find it somewhere among the near 900 pages.
Eugene was a very much an ordinary man but extraordinary in so many ways. He was a deep spiritual man.
Over all those years in Belfast one wouldn’t need many more fingers to count the occasions he wasn’t at his place in the chapel for community prayers or at the morning mass in the parish. Right up to the day he left us on the Glen Road in May 2019, every morning he was ready waiting for the car to go to mass and the rosary was rarely far from his fingers.
Again right up to his final year or so with us every Monday evening on the dot of seven he was off to his prayer meeting in the neighbouring parish of Turf Lodge complete with bible and prayer book.
It was the same for any kind of meeting of Brothers and Sisters or the annual parish or Nurses Guild pilgrimages to Knock. No matter what was on Eugene was always ready to help out inside or outside the house, from vacuuming his room and corridor to seeping up the leaves along the driveway and of course caring for the Kilmore lilies was his speciality.
Last night, Margaret McClory, the team leader in our Pastoral Centre in Belfast, sent me the following note:
“Brother Eugene was a joy to be around. He had a genuine interest in people and enjoyed chatting to the adults who accompanied school groups on retreat during their lunch. This was a very important part of our ministry as a retreat team as welcome and hospitality are high on our list of values in our Pastoral Centre.
Br Eugene was full of mischief and fun and loved gatherings for birthday celebrations with cakes and balloons and photos and games. He had a genuine interest in people and remembered to ask about family and friends by name. He was a great man with a love for life and interested in everything around him.”
Also, well-known to Brother Eugene was Pádraig Ó Tuama, Retreat-giver, poet and musician.
Pádraig wrote this message on his FB page on 18th October: “Friends: some sad news. Brother Eugene — that wonderful man who lit the glorious fires for the silent retreats at Kilmore House — died yesterday. He was 98. He cut firewood into his 90s, always loved the GAA news, and remembered everyone’s name. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam, flaithiúil, dílis.” Among the thirty comments to that post were the following:
“I have very fond memories of Brother Eugene from all of our Silent Retreats at Kilmore House. Rest In Peace ‘fire fairy’. He was a legend and a gentleman. Sad news. Scrolling to this face of pure joy and light just made me cry! And I don’t even know him. Surely he knew the real deal. Rest in peace, Brother Eugene.
He made a special place and a special time more special. Oh - the Blessed Fire Fairy - he made the place so warm in many ways, and loved a chat (not quite getting the silence bit!)
He was wonderful - a truly special presence at our retreats in Kilmore. Great man. Follower of Jesus, De La Salle brother. Let the party begin, a life well lived. What a lovely kind face! How sad for you all. RIP
Brother Eugene, and prayers for those grieving your passing. A lovely way to be remembered as a bringer of light and warmth. What a gorgeous soul. 98! Now that’s a long life indeed. Loved how he was so in tune with the environment around him, it felt like watching prayer alive as he worked outside and used his mad fire skills!
Met him once at a retreat and he gave me the gift of some very wise words. I am forever grateful to him. Ah, man. I drove Bro Eugene to our local prayer meetings for a couple of years and saw him often in our Parish.
I was very fond of him indeed. God rest his unique and beautiful soul. . A real legend. Rest in peace, good and faithful servant.
What more can I say? Finally, on behalf of us all here I wish to thank the Miguel House Personnel including Doctor Paddy, Teresa, Brother Martin, the Nurses and Care Staff and indeed all who cared for Eugene so well during his time there.
We greatly appreciate your kindness and attention at all times.
Farewell, Eugene: you were great carer, a great community man and a wonderful religious – what an example to us all!
And after all those years – less than two short of the 100 - we are sure the good Lord has offered you that great reward.
So long Eugene, and thank you for all those years of dedicated work and devoted service which was alwaysgiven with a smile.
Ar Dheis De go raibh d’anam dílis.
Brother Michael Loran