Brian O'Higgins 1882-1963

In 1798, Sean o hUiginn, a travelling schoolmaster from Tyrone, in passing through Kilskyre joined the men of Meath on their way to Tara.

Though wounded he made his way back to Kilskyre, where he was hidden, minded and made welcome, so much so that he stayed and married.

He is Brian O’Higgins’ great -grandfather. Brian attended the local national school and his teacher, a Limerickman, was a lover of Ireland, and no slave, whose influence and that of his parents, particularly his mother (who reared a family of 14), made him an ardent lover of Ireland, its history, culture, language and freedom.

He was confirmed when only nine [1891], a sad year as it brought the Parnellite split and late in the year the death of Parnell at the age of 42. Parnell was M P for Meath. As was common in those days he stayed on in Kilskyre N.S. until 1896 and then he went to serve his time in a shop in Clonmellon. Even at that age he wrote many poems, being encouraged by the editor of the Meath Chronicle in Kells, Tom Daly. He also got his poems published in other magazines. It is most unusual to find so young a person writing and publishing. After five years he became a barman in Leeson Street in Dublin, later moving to Sheridans in North Earl Street. During his short life so far the G.A.A., the Gaelic League, and Sinn Féin were founded.

Eoghan O’Gramhnaigh, [whose mother came from Kilskyre,] was finishing his Simple Lessons in Irish, and leaving Ireland for good due to ill-health, to die in California in 1899, at the age of 36. In Dublin Brian joined a branch of the Gaelic League, called after O’Growney, where he learned Irish, dancing, and songs. He began to write songs, mostly humorous and published his first of many books. He met two very important people at Sheridans, Arthur Griffiths and Michael Cusack.

To counteract British efforts to break the G.A.A. he wrote the first rallying song;
Who says our country’s soul has fled?
Who say our country’s heart is dead?
Come, let them hear the marching tread
Of twice five thousand Hurling Men.
They hold the hopes of bye-gone years,
They love the past --its smiles and tears--
But quavering doubts and shrinking fears
Are far from Ireland’s Hurling Men.

At this time his health was not good so he came home to Kilskyre to re-cuperate. He wrote the Oration for Feis na Mí 1904, and helped to establish the Hurling Club and Irish classes. He also wrote a patriotic column for the Meath Chronicle, the Leinster Leader, the Irish Peasant, and contributed regularly for the Irish Catholic, the Father Matthew Record and Irish Freedom. In 1906 he got his heart’s desire--his Teastas Timire Gaeilge. This gave him authority to teach Irish, he had a job, badly paid, involving a lot of travelling, with classes as far apart as Lavey

near Cavan town to Trim in the far south. It was a seven day week, but he published two booklets one religious ‘A Bunch of Wild Roses’, and the patriotic ‘The Voice of Banba’ . Despite all this he made time to marry Annie Kenny of Dublin. They reared a family of six.

He met Padraig Pearse in 1912, and with political activities very much to the forefront north and south he was busier than ever. At the outbreak of the Great War John Redmond’s call to join the British Army split the Volunteers. Unlike his fellow Meathman Francis Ledwidge he did not enlist but was more active than ever in the events leading up to the 1916 Rising. Easter Monday found him in Parnell Square until evening and then in the G.P.O.for the rest of the week. Due to the state of his health, he did no actual fighting, but helped the others in every way he could. He was on duty all Thursday night [the last night], but by then the building was burning so the remaining garrison evacuated into Moore Street on Friday. In that dash the O’Rathilly was killed. He hadn’t been told of the plans (as was also the case with McBride but he arrived in his car, which stayed parked in front of the G.P.O. the whole week.

Pearse surrendered, and when the leaders had been picked out, the rest soon found themselves in cattle boats on their way to England.

Brian ended as a prisoner in Frongoch Jail in the W elsh mountains. He had gone through the week without a scar, though many were killed and wounded all around him. Not so lucky was another Meathman, Tommy Connolly of the Hill-of-Down. At the last minute he answered a call from Dublin to take some missing person’s place. His return to Longwood was in a coffin, being fatally wounded early in the week. The mood at the time meant almost a secret burial. Later a fine tombstone was erected and the memory of a true Irish patriot fittingly remembered.

After his release in February 1917 we find Brian involved in an Irish College in Clare. Another period of imprisonment followed this time in Birmingham where he wrote a Prayer Book an t-Aifreann. At the General Election after the ending of the war [Nov. 1918 ] he like many others was elected to the First Dail, while still in jail. He missed the historic First Dail 21st January 1919 in the Mansion House.

After his release in the Spring of 1919 he returned to Clare, this time as a judge of the Republican Courts.He was advised that his life was in danger so he returned to Dublin. We know little of his activities until the Truce in the summer of 1921.The signing of the treaty would be a cause of great sadness to him , and the long and bitter arguments in the Dail before the predictable split and Civil War. Being on the losing side prison awaited him once again, first Mountjoy and after a short while the Curragh. He describes the Curragh [Tintown] as a heartbreaking depressing hole where he could neither read or write. The twenty-five day hunger-strike almost killed him, but when he recovered a little he was released. While by no means giving up writing he started delivering orations or speeches, and where better to start than at Tone’s Grave at Bodenstown, 1924. He soon was in great demand, speaking in all of the 32 counties. his message was simple but it aptly sums up his life’s philosophy--one does not change one’s political coat--and he used both the Irish language and English in all his orations. In 1925 he published The Soldier’s Story of Easter Week , and in 1926 Ten Golden Years.

His close friend Austin Stack died in 1929. Fianna Fail had entered the Dail and Europe had seen the rise of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin. Few could predict the happenings of the next twenty years.
In 1932 the year Eamon de Valera became Taoiseach, the first issue of the Wolfe Tone Annual , Brian’s greatest achievement appeared. It was a book of about 100 pages of fairly small print, devoted to various aspects and personalities of Irish history usually since 1798 except for a few exceptions The Rising of 1641 and The Penal Times. It was very well researched, had some Irish articles and a selection of poetry, mostly ballads. Brian’s fearless and uncompromising Republicanism wasn’t liked by either the Free State or the Republic of Ireland authorities , the Wolfe Tone Annual being suppressed on one occasion. Typical of him he issued the banned publication unchanged the next year. The price at the beginning was one shilling, later rising to one shilling and sixpence and attracted about sixty advertisers, among whom you find Torc Manufacturing Co. Ltd. of Trim, and Cumann Lúithchleas Gael , advertising Ireland’s greatest national sporting attractions played in Croke Park , [accomodation for 80,000 persons plus covered seats for 6,000. ] I found no ads from the big drink companies.

The Wolfe Tone Annual can be read at the County Library an Uaimh. There also I found Life and Times of Brian o’Higgins by an t-Athair Padraig oTuille, S.C., former Chairman of Meath G.A.A. Board. To him and to 12 children from Moynalty N. S. , I am deeply indebted. Go gcúití Dia sibh. To the staff of the Co. Library Navan, many , many thanks.

Ní féidir an sgéal seo a chríochnú gan tagairt do chartaí Nollag Bhriain Uí h-Uiginn a bhíodh ar fail um Nollaig ar feadh na mblianta. Bhíodar i nGaeilge agus i mBéarla le ornaidíocht Cheilteach os na sean scríbhinní agus leachtanna. Fíor -Chaitileach ab ea Brian i rith a shaoil go léir, agus chumadh sé féin bhéarsaí beaga do gach carta. Bhí díol mor ar na cartaí, agus is mo duine na cuireadh aon saghas eile. Bhíodh féilirí beaga, cartaí beannachta agus cartaí féile ar fail uaidh freisin.

Is cinnte na fuil a ait ceart aige fos imeasc laochra na h-Éireann ach le cúnamh Dé nuair a bheidh Eire fíor -Ghaelach tabharfar ansan do Bhrian na Banban an onoir ata tuilte aige. Fuair sé bas ar an 10ú Marta 1963. Solas na bhflaitheas da anam dílis.

Níor dhein a mhuintir féin i gCll Scíre dearmad air. Is do a ainmnigh siad an faiche brea imeartha. Chífidh tú cupla cuimhneachan ag an geata agus tú ag dul isteach.Ta gaolta leis fos sa chomharsanacht.