The Priest Who Was Buried Three Times
He was one of the tallest priests in the Kerry Diocese, standing six feet two inches in his bare feet. He was of splended physique; an excellent horseman, the horse and sadle was his chief mode of transport. He took an active part in the political and agrarian movements of the eighteen eighties. His untimely death at the age of sixty years numbed and stunned his parishioners of Abbeydorney and Kilflynn, who were grief stricken at his loss. He was buried three times, and his body was removed from his Church by orders of his Bishop. Later his grandnephew Eamon Casey was to become the ruler of the same Diocese.
His name was Rev. Thomas Hugh Brosnan, and he was born in Dromulton, Currow, in the year 1833, fourteen years before the Great Famine of Black Forty Seven. Educated at the Irish College, Paris and Maynooth, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1857. His first curacy was Ballybunion parish. From there he was transferred to Causeway in 1861. In 1868 he was appointed parish priest of Tuosist. He was appointed parish priest of the combined parishes of Abbeydorney and Kilflynn in 1869 where he was to labour for over twenty five years.
He built schools in Cappa and Adrahan, as well as teachers residences. He carried out vast improvements to the churches of Abbeydorney and Kilflynn. He built the present parochial house in Abbeydorney. All this work required the co-operation and financial assistance of his parishioners at a time in history when none of them owned even one perch of ground, not even their humble homesteads. But it is as a mediator between the landlords and their tenants that Fr Brosnan is best remembered in Abbeydorney and Kilflynn. Affectionately known to his parishioners as Fr Tom - they rarely mentioned his surname in conversation.
Prior to his arrival in the parish a number of evictions had taken place in Abbeydorney and Kilflynn but after his arrival few took place. During the eighteen eighties, few parishes could claim this distinction. In the latter end of February, 1894, Fr Brosnan became seriously ill, and he died in his presbytery at 4.00 a.m. on Thursday March 1st, 1894. His offical death certificate shows that he had been ill for 8 days and that his brother Patrick Brosnan, Castleisland was present at his death. The certified cause of death is "fatty acgouration of the heart". His age last birthday is given as 60 years. His death was registered by L. Crosbie, Registrar on March 5th 1894. After his death the parishioners of Abbeydorney and Kilflynn decided that their great and lovable pastor should be laid to rest in his church in Abbeydorney, which they considered to be the greatest honour that they could bestow on him.
This church was built in 1822 at a cost of £600 by stone masons named Boyle from the Killorglin area. It could be said to have been built on the pennies of the poor, such were the conditions of the people during this period with landlordism, evictions and hunger rampant. According to local tradition the church itself was the subject of controversy during its erection. The parish priest at the time, Fr. Eoghan McCarthy, had permitted, without episcopal consent, some stones to be removed from the local Kyrie Eleison Abbey, and used in the building of the church. As a result of this he was transferred to Causeway before the building had been completed, but in the words of the first letter of St. Peter, "the stone rejected by the builders has proved to be the keystone" , in that Fr. McCarthy became one of Causeway's most famous parish priests, but that is another and fascinating story.
After Fr. Brosnan's death, responsibility for the running of the parish rested on the shoulders of the curate, Rev. P. Browne. Fr. Browne informed his parishioners that Fr. Brosnan's body could not, due to an episcopal edict, be buried within the church, but that it could be buried instead in the Church grounds. What happened next is reported in the
"Kerry Weekly Reporter" of Saturday March 10th 1894 as follows - "On Saturday, while the obsequies of the late parish preist of Abbeydorney, the Rev. T. Brosnan were being carred out, some extraordinary scenes were witnessed".
It appears that the original intention of the relatives of the deceased was that the interment should take place in Abbeydorney chapel. For some reason the Bishop of Kerry directed that the interment should not take place in the Chapel at Abbeydorney and this vexed the parishioners of the deceased. The interment was fixed for Saturday and on Friday night the chapel was entered and a grave in which it was intended to bury deceased was opened in the Sacristy. On Saturday a large crowd collected to attend the funeral and about 15 clergymen were in attendance. The coffin was taken to the chapel and on arrival there the clergymen made an attempt to prevent the burial without success. The parishioners, disregarding all protests from the clergymen, placed the coffin in the grave and left. The clergymen also left without performing the service at the grave.
The spring of 1894 was cold and wet with very little sunshine and a prevailing north easterly breeze. Snow falls were frequent. On St. Patrick's day the Stacks Mountain and Slieve Mish, according to the papers of the time, were snow capped. The children put on their St. Patrick's day badges. The adults wore sprigs of shamrock in the time honoured custom. Some travelled on foot to the church in Abbeydorney and others in animal drawn vehicles to attend the 8.30 a.m. Mass. When they arrived at the church they found the double gates chained and padlocked against them.
The "Kerry Evening Post" of Saturday March 17th, 1894 reports on the incident as follows; - "The Abbeydorney Roman Catholic Church has been closed for public worship by order of the Bishop of Kerry, Most Rev. Dr. Coffey. This step was taken owing to action of the parishioners,who interred the remains of the late Rev. T. Brosnan, P.P. Abbeydorney, in the Church against the orders of the Bishop. It will be remembered that the church was opened at night and a tomb made and the deceased clergyman interred the following morning, notwithstanding the protests of a number of clergymen who were present and who refused to carry out the burial service. The Abbeydorney people refuse to remove the remains and feel strongly over the matter".
Approaching Holy Week in the middle of April, 1894 the Bishop, Dr. Coffey, sent a priest to the relatives of the late Rev. Fr. Brosnan and asked them to remove Fr. Brosnan's body from the Church but they refused his request. The next phase in the case is reported in the "Kerry Weekly Reporter of June 30th, 1894. It states - "On Monday morning, June 25th last, some workmen proceeded from Tralee and commenced the making of a vault in the chapel yard. When this had been done the remains were raised from where they lay in the church, the funeral service was read and they were interred in the newly made grave. Meanwhile word had been conveyed to some of the friends and some little time later a number of people collected, another exhumation took place, the remains were conveyed to the family burial place in Killeentierna, Castleisland. It is thought that the Bishop will in a short time give the necessary permission to have the church reopened".
According to the oldest man, and native of the parish of Abbeydorney, who is now on the threshold of his 92nd year, a convoy of young men in horses and carts led by a horse-drawn hearse arrived in Abbeydorney on Tuesday, June 26th 1894. The local parishioners tried to persuade them not to take Fr. Brosnan's body out of the parish but they were incensed at the treatment meted out to him and were determined that he should be buried in Killeentierna. His former parishioners respected their wishes. The "Kerry Evening Post" of Saturday September 1st, 1894 contains the following news item - " We understand that the Rev. Fr. Cremin, P.P., Milltown, has been promoted to the charge of the parish of Abbeydorney which has been vacant since the death of Rev. T. Brosnan some months since.".
Fr. Brosnan was a grand uncle of Bishop Eamonn Casey. Another grand nephew, William T Brosnan, Droumulton, Currow, has some memorabilia of Fr. Brosnan, including the stirrups of his saddle. His other grand nephew, Patrick Brosnan, has the Mass book in Latin which he used at the Stations in Abbeydorney and Kilflynn. The Brosnan family also have an oak table around which it is reputed members of the Abbeydorney Branch Committee of the local Land League gathered in conclave with Fr. Brosnan in his presbytery where they planned their strategy to free them from the slavery of landlordism. My grateful thanks are due to the County Librarian, Kathleen Browne and her staff for allowing me to research for this article.