An esteemed man of the people and the cloth

It had been a cold and bitter winter and the wind from the northeast held a promise of snow as the people of the townland of Ballypierce, near Kildavin, in the parish of Clonegal, Co. Carlow, prepared for Christmas in the year 1836. In the home of Isaac and Mrs Eliza Brownrigg, a son was born on December 23. This brought joy to the family for Christmas and although they did not know it at the time, he was to follow, and even surpass, members of the family who had dedicated their lives to the service of God.

His uncle on his father’s side, Rev. Abraham Brownrigg, was PP of Cloughbawn, Co. Wexford. The family decided to call their son after his uncle and perhaps it was this that in later life steered him on the course he decided to follow and become a pillar of the church. On his mother’s side he had three uncles who also followed the ecclesiastical path. They were Rev. James Canon Roche, PP Wexford, who died in 1882, the Rev. Thomas Roche, PP Our Lady’s Island and Archdeacon of Ferns, who died in 1896, the Rev. John J Roche, OSF Wexford. In his early days, Abraham Brownrigg received his education locally and later at Tullow Monastery, the Classical School, Richmond St, Dublin and St Peter’s College, Wexford. While at Richmond St he had among his schoolfellows a man who was later to become Archbishop of Philadelphia, Most Rev. Dr Ryan.

From his days in St Peter’s he became involved in the doings of Wexford and he entered Maynooth College for Logic on August 8, 1856. At the end of that academic year his high standard of learning and his ability to absorb an amazing amount of knowledge secured for him the highly prized Solus in English. He was ordained on the patronage of the feast of St Joseph on April 21, 1861. He was then appointed Principal of St Aidan’s Academy, Enniscorty, and later was Professor in St Peter’s College Wexford. At this time the Bishop of Ferns, Rev. Dr Furlong, felt there was a need for a revival of the teaching of the church throughout the diocese. Following on this, a group of priests came together in the Mission House, Enniscorthy. Fr Brownrigg was a member of this group. Following the promotion of the first superior of the house of missions, Dr Warren, in 1876 to the See of Ferns, Dr Brownrigg took over and was in charge until 1884. It was in April of that year that 35 parish priests of Ossory met in St Mary’s Cathedral to nominate a successor to Dr Patrick Francis Moran who had been appointed Archbishop of Sydney. The result of the vote was, Dignissimus Rev. Michael J Murphy, President, Carlow College, 18 votes. Dignior – Rev Edward McDonald, DD, PP, St Canices and Vicar Capitular, 14 votes. Rev. Thomas Hennessy, PP Inistioge, 3 votes. The result of this election was later set aside in Rome and Dr Brownrigg was selected by the Pope to fill this position by Papal Brief on October 28, 1884. He was consecrated Bishop in St Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, assisted by Rev. James Lynch Coadjutor Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin and Rev. James Brown, Bishop of Ferns, on December 14, 1884 nine days before his 48th birthday.

Despite the fact that he was now a busy man and had plenty of calls upon his time, Abraham Brownrigg did not forget the windswept slopes of Ballypierce or the schoolhouse in Kildavin and always found time to visit the place of his birth. His best remembered visit by the children of Kildavin school was when, along with his cousin, the Church of Ireland Rector of Killavney, Co. Wicklow, he visited the school in 1895 and distributed sweets and fruit among the pupils. To add icing to the cake he requested the teachers give the children a half day.

Bishop Abraham Brownrigg died aged 92, 67 years after his ordination and 44 years after his consecration as a Bishop. The family name is still remembered in “Brownrigg’s Turn” in Ballypierce.

Courtesy of Willie White and the Carlow Nationalist