Dream Life of John Brannigan

After the formation of the Irish Free State, the Irish Land Commission set about
purchasing huge tracks of land that might be offered for sale. The land was for
dividing into average small farms – suitable for a family to operate without too
much hardship. In most cases, cooperative neighbours eked out a comfortable
living. Most applications for land came from the West of Ireland and involved
giving up smaller holdings for bigger ones. About 1930, in the Parish of
Kilcormack, Co Longford, 500 acres became available for dividing (part of the
King-Harmon 70,000 acre estate). The local Parish Priest, Fr Bannon got
involved. He didn’t agree with the Department ideas for selecting tenants. He
had his own ideas which, in his opinion, made more sense – parishioners got
first preference. A man called John Brannigan applied and was allocated a
farm. John was not married which was a requirement for getting a farm but he
was keen to get married. At the time, a lot of people were dependent on the
local match maker.
Dream Life of John Brannigan
About 1950, I was a morning Mass Server for the then Parish Priest, Fr
O’Flynn. After Mass, Fr O’Flynn would give me an apple to eat on the way to
school. He would sometimes give me an apple for John and at the same time
ask me if there was any sign of John to get married. The priest knew I was a
visitor with John. The main attraction was John’s Murphy radio but I used to
do a lot of small jobs for him – like cleaning out the huge fireplace which could
hold a barrowful of ashes or more, washing the delph which could be fairly
dirty – the mugs would be so grubby that there was no clean space to put to
your mouth. The dogs would lick the plates clean of potato skins and bread
crumbs. Tea leaves would be all over the table and the floor would be covered
in an inch of dust or more. One day the smell was awful – the dog was in for
too long…! I was not too happy. Cleaning was no problem but this was a bit
much! I started to cry, shouting at John, saying ‘Fr O’Flynn is constantly asking
me “any sign of John to get married?”’, saying ‘John it’s not fair you living here
on your own – why didn’t you get married like Mammy and Daddy and have
your own children – they could do your cleaning – I’ll do it today but in future
let out the dog for a run and please go and get married!’.
John put me sitting down. I was upset and sorry. John gently spoke to me,
sorrowfully and forgivingly, getting myself and himself set up for his end of the
problem, saying ‘Tom will you forgive me if I tell you the story of a life. It’s
hard to explain to a boy like you – in ways my life was a dream. My young
days were spent working on my father’s farm and boating on Lough Ree.
Lough Ree was full of fish and fishermen! The islands were well-populated and
farmed. Everybody knew me and I knew them. It was a beautiful lake – I spent
all my spare time on Lough Ree. Life on the lake for me was a constant holiday
– away from the lake was pure hardship.’
John went on, ‘One fine Summer evening as I was crossing the lake I heard this
girl singing. Her voice was beautiful. I looked around and I saw a girl floating
along on her back in the water. A tall young woman with a long black ponytail,
a knitted brown woollen garment covering her body from head to toe – her
fingers and toes were uncovered. She swam along beside me and she spoke as
she swam. I invited her into the boat but she declined. As I floated along in my
boat we talked and we laughed. We became great friends. Eventually, she got
into the boat and sat beside me. We continued the friendship for a couple of
years but no matter how friendly we got she would not come to the mainland.
On several occasions I thought I had convinced her to come with me but “No”
was the answer. For me this became a terrible problem, Tom. You could say
we got too friendly. At this stage, I couldn’t live without her nor she couldn’t
live without me. This caused me many sleepless nights and hours of anxiety
and for her I’m sure it was the same. We were selfish – the mainland was for
me – the islands and the lake for her.’
‘The days and the months passed. I thought time would heal the hurt – life
became a dream and I couldn’t let go. There was no one else to measure up to
I felt so sorry for John – such a friendship was hard to forget.