Thursday, February 18, 2010

The loss-making landlord, the impoverished playwright, the famous left foot and a grim left footer.

George Brooke inherited 6,500 acres in Kildare and Wicklow as well as a stake in the family wine business of which he was the nominal head (others did the actual work). Upon returning to Ireland from Cambridge (no degree), he rode to hounds and became an enthusiast for evicting his tenants. In two weeks in July 1887, he turfed out more than 70 families. Later, he spent £20,000 trying to install "suitable" (i.e., non-militant) tenants to replace those who had been evicted. Upon the failure of this effort, he declared victory and wore down the government in his efforts to obtain a baronetcy: it succumbed and elevated him in 1903. The title survives, as attested by this self-parodying entry at a website called
Sir Francis George Windham Brooke, 4th Bt. was born on 15 October 1963. He is the son of Major Sir George Francis Cecil Brooke, 3rd Bt. and Lady Melissa Eva Caroline Wyndham-Quin. He married Hon. Katharine Elizabeth Hussey, daughter of Marmaduke James Hussey, Baron Hussey of North Bradley and Lady Susan Katherine Waldegrave, on 8 April 1989. Sir Francis George Windham Brooke, 4th Bt. was educated at Eton College, Eton, Berkshire, England. He succeeded to the title of 4th Baronet Brooke, of Summerton, Co. Dublin [U.K., 1903] in 1982.
(I've just realized who the father-in-law is: "Duke" Hussey, the newspaper executive and chairman of the BBC. I've actually read his autobiography. Strictly for professional reasons.)

George Bernard Shaw, an Irishman, famously wrote (in his preface to Pygmalion) that it is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him. The Irish shouldn't be so smug. A few years ago, my solicitor in Dublin committed suicide when he was about to be exposed for serious financial irregularities. One of the national newspapers, not even attempting to hide its its schadenfreude, wrote that he "seemed to be the epitome of protestant respectability". Do I note similar slippage in the DIB's entry on John Brougham the actor-playwright: "born ... in what appears to have been a respectable protestant family"? Let it pass: Brougham (pictured) is more interesting. A rival of Dion Boucicault, he claimed to have co-written one his his hit plays, London Assurance, although he lost a lawsuit pressing his claim. Like Boucicault, he had hits in Dublin, London and New York, and was a prolific writer, responsible for more than 160 plays and other stage works. He performed oratory by Daniel O'Connell and the temperance campaigner Father Mathew, dramatized popular novels such as David Copperfield and created hit burlesques. The DIB believes that in one burlesque, PO-CO-HON-TAS, this southern anthem Dixie was "introduced" but I believe it predated the show by a couple of years. Regardless, PO-CO-HON-TAS was a big and long-running hit: it even opened Dublin's Gaiety Theatre, still standing, in 1872. His personal life was less complicated than Boucicault's, although he is described as being "[g]enerous, extravagant, and improvident, and noted for helping others get rich while he got poorer."

We're probably all familiar with the story of Christy Brown, from his memoir My Left Foot and Jim Sheridan's film of the same title with Daniel Day-Lewis. It's worth recalling though: one of 22 children of a Dublin bricklayer, of which 13 survived, he was paralyzed from birth, except for the use of the famous foot. He began using it to write with chalk, then started painting at the age of 10. His memoir, published when he was 22, was followed by novels and poetry and his painting were widely exhibited. Not surprisingly, he could be "moodily cantankerous and obstinate", although he could also be "witty and gregarious".

I've mentioned before that the cutoff date for the DIB is 2002, by which you have to be dead to be considered for inclusion. This generally means that you have to be antique, but still leaves room for a few who died before their time. Thus we have a contemporary figure, Jimmy Brown, "republican socialist and drug-dealer". The Northern Ireland Troubles through up a toxic mixture of guerrillas, politicos, gangsters and  psychopaths, sometimes all incarnated in the same person. Brown's breakaway Irish Republican Socialist Party and its military wing, the Irish National Liberation Army, engaged fully in killing unionists, as well as those nominally on its own side who had committed ideological or other crimes. They took up drug dealing to raise money for arms, and had the bright idea of recruiting people who knew how to deal drugs, i.e. criminals. This of course caused them huge problems in the communities were the drugs were dealt, notably their own. Certain loyalists did the same thing, and the war of national liberation descended into something much uglier:  a gangsters' turf war. Jimmy Brown was finally liquidated by the IRA, which had lost patience with the various splinter groups. The DIB's Patrick Maume writes well that he was a "devious man who deceived himself  [and] provided an ideological veneer for sectarian murder and criminality". Ugly times.


  1. Hi Bill,

    I'm Caitlin, a publicist at Cambridge University Press in the Americas. I love the idea of your blog, and I wanted to talk to you about doing a crossover post with "This Side of the Pond" [].

    If you're interested, please shoot me an email: cgraf -at-, and I'll look forward to speaking with you Monday.


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