The Browne family were all killed on the night of the 31 May when the bombs fell on the North Strand. Harry Browne had gone out to join the Local Defence Services after the first bombs fell that night. At around 2am, when he heard the German plane return, he decided to rush home to be with his family. He got as far as the door before a bomb detonated on the street- his body was found with the knocker of the door in his hand. His wife, mother and four children were all killed in the blast. In this interview, below, Harry’s niece, Thelma McGlinchey, and her brother-in-law, Sean Dunne, speak about the tragedy.
Marc McMenamin’s report on RTE’s The History show on the North Strand Bombing also tells the story of the Browne family.
Listen to the Browne Family story:
Date of Interview: 23/06/2011
Name of Interviewees: Sean Dunne & Thelma McGlinchy
Name of Interviewer: Ellen Murphy
Place of Interview: Dublin City Library and Archive, 138-144 Pearse Street, Dublin 2.
EM: So it is the 6th of June 2017. I am at Dublin City Library and Archive 138 to 144 Pearse Street with Sean Dunne and Thelma McGlinchey and they have both agreed to participate in the North Strand Bombing Oral History Project. My name is Ellen Murphy, Senior Archivist at Dublin City Library and Archive. So we are going to begin by Sean giving a narrative of what he knows about the Browne Family and the North Strand Bombing.
SD: Okay. My name is Sean Dunne and I am married to Phylis McGlinchey, who would be a niece of Harry Browne, who was killed in the North Strand Bombing. His father Edward Browne came from Athy, in County Kildare to work in Aylesbury Furniture factory in Edenderry. He was a coach painter by trade. He married Mary Dunne from Rhode, a village near Edenderry and had two children. Harry born in 1908 and Minnie born in 1912. His son Harry followed his father into the Aylesbury. He married a local girl, the girl next door, Molly [Corrigan], when he was 22 years old. In 1932 Aylesbury closed and Harry moved to [Castlerea] in Roscommon, where he had found a job. In 1935 Edward Brown, his father, went to work in Dublin and found accommodation in the North Strand Area. Harry and Molly visited Edward and decided to move there too in 1937. Harry found a job in the Bus Department of the Great Southern Railway and a flat at No. 25 North Strand over Nally’s Shop. He also joined the local LDF (Local Defence Force) Unit. Unfortunately on the 12th April 1939, Edward, his father, was crossing the road at Newcomen Bridge when he was hit by a hit and run driver and killed. His widow moved in with Harry and lived at no. 25 North Strand also. Now, where am I? Oh yes. On which Saturday the 1st of June, they had four children by now and their eldest daughter, Maureen, was getting first communion. John and Minnie, his sister, who lived down the road in Clontarf, where invited over to stay on Friday night. But as they had a son, who was only six weeks old, they decided not to. At 12.30 (am) on Friday night 31st March, the first bombs fell on the North Circular Road and on Dublin Zoo. Harry left home after the first bomb to join his LDF (Local Defence Force) Unit just before 2.00 (am) where he heard the German plane return and begin to circle over the North Strand Area, he decided to rush home to be with his family. He made it to the front door and his body was found with the door knocker in his hand. The 500-pound bomb fell on stone paving between the tram tracks in the middle of the road and did not penetrate into the ground. So the full force of the blast, hit the houses on either side of the road. Bits of bodies were found on roofs, window sills and on gardens. One man’s head was found 100 yards from his body. The inquest was held at 4.00pm on the 4th June 1941. John McGlinchey, Harry Brown’s brother-in-law, gave evidence of identifying the bodies. What he did not say was that the body of the youngest Angela was never found. And though seven coffins were transported to Edenderry for burial, the smallest one was empty. As soon as John McGlinchey was finished his evidence, all the Browne relations and connections had to leave as [O’Brien’s] was leaving with the seven coffins for Edenderry at 5.00pm. There were thousands of people waiting in Edenderry for the funeral to arrive. And after burial mass the next morning, they were all buried at Drumcooley graveyard, about two miles outside Edenderry town. The grave was marked by a Celtic cross with a headstone of marble. Immediately after the bombing, the doctor said thirty four were dead. But as there were mostly bits of bodies, they had a second count and they decided that twenty eight was more likely to be accurate. Another sad fact is that Mary Browne, Harry’s mother was due to return to Edenderry on the following Tuesday to live with her sister. Edward Browne is buried in St. Michael’s cemetery in Athy with his family and the rest are all buried in Drumcooley. That was Harry Browne, his wife Molly, Maureen seven years of age, Anne five years of age, Edward three years of age and Angela two years of age. Mary Browne, Harry’s mother, was sixty two years of age. That is the bones of what I know about it.
EM: Thanks very much Sean.
TM: Sorry Sean.
EM: And Thelma now is going to.. No, work away Thelma. Yes.
SD: Say something. Introduce yourself.
TM: My name is Thelma Quinn and I come from Edenderry and Harry Browne was my uncle and Mary, his mother, was my grandmother. And my mother was the only survivor of the Browne Family, when the bomb hit. So thankfully she went on to have a large family of twelve children. So we do have a very big family now. Descendents of the Brownes. And that is it.
EM: And Thelma, would your mother have spoken much about her relatives who were killed or about the time of the bombing?
TM: Not to me. She did not. I was 15 years old, when she died and I do not remember hearing much about it. But my sister Phylis was married to Sean. She is about 8 years older than me. She says she remembers Mum speaking to her about it. But I really knew nothing until after my mother died. My father told me the whole story.
EM: And it must have been really shocking really I suppose.
TM: Oh absolutely, absolutely. My mother, she was all she was left with, was her husband’s family. Everybody belonged to her, was gone. And you know, thankfully she had a good husband and they, you know, went on to have, they reared 12 children.
EM: Yes. Wow. What age would she have been in 1941, your mother?
SD: She was born in 1912.
EM: 1912. Oh yes.
SD: 36 years of age.
EM: 36 years of age. Yes.
SD: She died in 1957.
EM: Oh yes.
SD: Did she? (a question to Thelma McGlinchey)
TM: She did
SD: It had affected her quite badly. It was a big cloud hanging over them all. The fact that this happened and they never got over it, I suppose and the Brownes left no descendents in Athy because we went down and looked. They were either, were not married or moved away. But there is no trace of them there today. The grave, the family grave is there, but Edward buried in it and his parents, his sisters and brothers. But there is no, no descendents alive so Thelma and her family are the only descendents of the Brownes.
EM: And within Edenderry, people seemed to remember the association?
SD: The older people would. These things get forgotten with the passage of time. We remember but a lot of people would not know, what you were talking about. Same as true of everything.
TM: But I would say what prompted me to ask Sean to come up for us is to speak about it, is because our grandchildren are hearing about it in school now. Is that right Sean? So the schools are talking about it. For that reason I thought it was important that we.
SD: We looked up this website that you have and saw nothing about the Brownes and that is what motivated us to do this. I am probably not the most suitable person to be doing this, but Phylis’s father would have been more a suitable and qualified man. Because he knew them on a daily basis. But unfortunately he has passed away as well so. It is a little but I hope it is not too late yet and it is better to have some thing than not to record it at all.
EM: Absolutely. Yes. I definitely agree.
EM: And did you have any stories to tell about the members of the family, you know, about, perhaps their personalities or anything kind of about their lives other than the actual bombing or anything else you like to add? So of one of them is making their holy communion? Due to make their Holy Communion?
SD: That day next Saturday
SD: And you know that is that as well. And I added in the fact that the mother was to moved to Edenderry on a Tuesday.
SD: She left it a couple of days too late. So it is not a happy story at all
SD: It is dreadful
EM: And you mentioned about the body of the youngest child of not being found. And that was not reported at the time. Is that something…?
SD: People were very sensitive about details like that. I mean even about the bit where I have spoken about the body parts and everything that was not in the paper or anything. Because it just was not done in those days you know. It was considered too graphic for people’s sensitivities and sensibilities to take. But Phylis’s father, Thelma’s father told her that fact. That is how we know that. Because he identified them. And there was no more in to identify.
TM: [And Maureen…Angela]
SD: [Angela. There was no Angela.]
TM: He said that they had to close the,… They had to get closure. So he had agreed to that. All four children, you know, were confirmed dead.
EM: That must have been a really tough thing. God. For him to have to identify the bodies
SD: He was a youngish man as well
SD: And had young children himself.
TM: Yes it was very hard. He told me that it was very hard thing to do. But he was the… My mother was not in the position to do it. So he was next in line.
EM: He was a representative for the family. Yes.
TM: Yes. So that was more or less what he had told me yes.
EM: And did your mother and father continued to live in Clontarf after the bombings?
SD: Not very long. They moved to Edenderry and they [bought a pub] and they lived in that until the family, until they were nearly all reared and then they went to England, went to live in London.
TM: Well now to say that they bought a pub, my father, my father’s family, were McGlincheys, and they originated from, was it Ballymena or somewhere Sean?
TM: And it was my father’s mother, my grandmother on my father’s side that would have helped them out financially to get them set up
EM: Yes, yes.
TM: In the business. Isn’t that right Sean?
SD: That is right. Yes.
EM: And did your father ever talk about life during the Emergency (Years) or what life was like after the tragedy of 1941 in the immediate impact? Do you think that the bombings influence their decision to move back to Edenderry?
TM: I would say, absolutely, yes.
SD: Yes, yes, yes.
TM: Absolutely yes.
SD: There were too many stark memories here around the North Strand for them to stay on. That they would be passing through it every day and the buildings were all flatten and I suppose they both decided to get out, you know. Just maybe they were afraid that it would happen again, you know. There was a war going on and bombing was everywhere, wasn’t it? So soon after they moved to Edenderry. That is about all we know basically.
EM: Yes, yes. I suppose, yes. I suppose the only other thing I wanted to ask you is about in terms of the community in Edenderry now, you were saying older people would remember, would they identify Thelma, and your sisters as being part of the Browne Family or?
SD: That would be fading, as you can imagine. Years ago everybody, it was a topic of conversation for probably 20 years afterwards, but it fades. That is 1941. It is nearly 80 years ago, you know.
SD: So. Older people say they would be aware of what happened and the terrible tragedy it was, because there was 1,000 at the funeral, you know and there was talk [that went] all the national papers were there, T.D.s, government ministers had tended the funeral. They were so shocking.
EM: Yes, absolutely yes.
SD: Plus they had all the funerals around Dublin to attend to also and as you know from the papers, it was big news at the time. So our first bad taste of war really.
SD: [We] escaped. A few minor things up to then. So, yes, we.. the old people remembered it vividly.
EM: And do you have any views on how we should commemorate today the Brown Family and the other victims of the North Strand Bombing? What would be appropriate?
SD: As long as they are not forgotten. There is a memorial here on the North Strand Bombing. We have been out to see it. It is a bit run down and it is not kept, as we would like to see it kept. But it is there. It would be nice to see it cleaned up and brightened up. Would it not?
TM: Well, what I felt when we went there to see it, is, it would, it would have been nice for the 28 victims to have had their names on the stone. I felt that, that would have been appropriate. Then just they are somebody rather than just the plaque itself. Yes.
EM: Yes. Is there anything else either of you would like to add or?
SD: We probably think of something along the way home.
EM: Well you can certainly, you can certainly get in touch with us.
SD: I have the photographs, a couple of photographs to give you. One of them, Edward Browne, and his wife and two children. And I have a photograph of the headstone as it stands today in Drumcooley Graveyard and we have photographs of the aftermath of the houses and the wrecks of the houses, which you have them already. They are in that book and that kind of thing.
SD: We have one of the lorry with the coffins on it arriving in Edenderry, which you might not have. And I say it might came from the paper. Some of the newspapers.
SD: More than likely yes.
EM: The photograph you have of Edward Browne and two of the children, the two older children, isn’t it?
EM: So that was
SD: Maureen and Naan, was it?
SD: Yes Maureen and Naan.
EM: And where was that picture taken?
SD: At the door, we think at the door, going into the North Strand apartments.
SD: Where they lived. We think. I show it to you now in a minute.
EM: So Sean has very kindly offered to donate a copy of this photograph on it and it will be included in with the archives and the recording.
SD: [These things have a life of their own]
TM: May I speak please?
EM: Of course, yes.
TM: A neighbour of mine, my next door neighbour told me she was in Drumcooley Cemetery last year, last summer and two people approached her asking did she know where the Brownes, the Brownes were buried. And she said one seemed to have an American accent. So there is interest. There is interest out there still about it.
TM: To a certain degree
EM: Yes, that is interesting. Yes and they did not reveal a connection or a reason themselves?
TM: No. She said she was sorry. She did not ask but she was not related and you know, she just said [‘I was just told them where I thought the grave was’]. That was it, yes.
EM: And I am just looking here at the photograph of the Browne family that Sean has given to me. Two young girls, they are probably what ages just two and five.
SD: Four or five.
EM: Yes, yes.
SD: There is three years between the eldest two yes so about five and two yes. And Molly was Harry’s wife, and Harry.
EM: Yes. Well thank you very much to the both of you now. Is there any else you would like to add?
TM: No that is everything and thank you very much Ellen for your time
EM: Great thank you very much.
SD: You are welcome.
SD: I will email that to you sure I can.
EM: Let’s see.
SD: I got your email address, is it?
EM: Sorry, I just do this part first. Excuse me. [Entered up to: 20:35 – The end]