Brady soldier, musician, teacher, folklorist
Brady, better know locally as Jimmy, was born c1896 in the
townland of Tullywaltra, parish of Knockbride, Co. Cavan
to Terry and Anne (nee Sullivan). He was the fifth generation
of Brady’s to own the same 60 acre farm since 1798. By Anna
Born with great ability to learn, he quickly absorbed information
from an early age, whilst growing up in a happy home amidst
a closely-knit and supportive community.
Being an only child, he listened attentively as visiting
adults conversed around the fire during their ceilidhe most
nights of the week.
At five years of age he could quote most of Colmcilles
prophecies. He attended the local school in Drumanespic
infrequently, during the summer he was needed at home on
the farm. Master Clarke, the teacher there had trained at
the Model School, Bailieboro, and provided night classes
at his home during winter months. Children of all denominations
who had missed school during the summer happily availed
of this service. James loved Irish culture, language, music,
song and dance, his favourite being the fiddle - it being
the first instrument he had first heard being played at
his home. But there was little time for a lad of his age
to learn the art as duty called upon his resources.
Following the 1917 election of County Plunkett, James having
reached his 20th year of age, decided to offer his service
to Irelands struggle for independence. He expressed
his thoughts to his father and family, his uncle encouraged
him to go to the west where he would learn much
about organised resistance first hand from long-serving
freedom fighters in that region. When the last of the violent
snowstorm at that time had ended, he set off on foot for
Cootehill station. After several change of lines en route,
he finally arrived by narrow-guage rail in Drumshambo. He
found lodgings for the night and a job in Arigna mines the
next day. His first days pay for piecework was ten pence,
this increased to £1 per week out of which he paid
16/= to a landlady for his keep.
He quickly joined the local IRA Flying Column
and whilst part of a group protesting in a land dispute,
was battened, badly injured, arrested and ended up amongst
1,300 other prisoners in the Curragh Camp. The regime there
was inhuman, and rigidly enforced by the Crown Forces. Searchlights
scanned the grounds, with sentries positioned in watch-towers
under order to shoot-and-kill anyone attempting
to escape. Inside, as prisoners feigned conformity to the
rules, thoughts centred on an escape plan. James Brady mustered
support for his planned tunnel-leading underground from
his cell to the area beyond the external wall of the camp.
Using only a makeshift corkscrew they slowly dug, removed
and stored the clay in their pockets or pillowcase, secreting
it away to waste ground used by prisoners during daytime
exercise. When the project was completed, a message was
dispatched to Michael Collins headquarters asking
that personnel from there be sent to the Curragh to act
as guides in placing escaped prisoners in safe houses
following their exit from the tunnel. The message was duly
delivered to Collins via a prisoner's relative - a Father
Smith. On the same day it arrived, a surprise raid on Collins
headquarters by Crown Forces led to the discovery of the
message and an immediate search for the tunnel commenced
at the Curragh. The prisoners had been all relocated in
different quarters, and when it was discovered after seven
days, a meitheal of prisoners was forced to fill it in.
Undeterred, James and his crew quickly recommenced another
tunnel at a depth of 11ft under cells and out walls. One
hundred prisoners made their escape through this, and using
safe houses along the way, arrived in Collins Dublin
headquarters where they were welcomed, given food, civilian
clothing and rest. Afterwards they were dispatched to various
locations to continue their service. After spending a week
with his family in Tullywaltra, James, as instructed, rejoined
the Flying Column in the west.
(Many years ago, the Irish Press published an account of
the tunnel escapade, without any reference to James Brady
the Civil War, James and 30 others with Sean Hyde O.C.,
operated from makeshift headquarters, a dug-out
on the edge of Lough Key, with an exit by water and another
into woodland on the Rockingham Demesne. This group was
ambushed on several occasions during its terms in that area.
When peace was restored, James returned home to live on
the farm. Soon he acquired an old fiddle-determined to master
the art of learning by ear tunes played by neighbouring
musicians when visiting his home in earlier years. An injury
sustained to one ear during wartime left him permanently
deaf, so he was compelled to resort to learning music by
note. He went to Dublin in 1942 and bought a copy
of Petres Book of Music for 4/6d and ONeills
Music of Ireland & Moores Melodies for £1
in a second-hand bookshop on the Quays. Through sheer persistence
of effort he gradually accomplished his aim, and took his
place amongst the best at house seisiuns or on concert platforms.
By the 1950s, Cavan people had become attracted to a different
music culture - that played by the big bands in dance halls
and at carnivals. This craze would have completely obliterated
traditional music by the 60s, were it not for the effort
of James and a few other conservationists who actively encouraged
and organised classes in the homes of many youngsters throughout
a wide area.
He enjoyed passing on tunes laboriously learned from books
or in listening to old gramophone records of ceilidhe bands.
Interested parents elsewhere soon sought out his services,
and gradually he gave classes seven nights per week.
His group known as The Flying Column was comprised
of his very best pupils. It performed at many events throughout
the region, some going on to become accomplished musicians
in later years.
James demanded a high standard of behaviour and dress code,
forbade the wearing of jewellry, nail varnish, or the use
of perfumed products by anyone in his class! Any sign of
disinterest or lack of concentration was cancelled by a
rap on the knuckles with his bow! This irked some
parents, who, as the old saying goes put the dog on
him - in other words told him to leave and not return!
James took insults as compliments and never felt it a burden
on his broad shoulders!
Alongside teaching the fiddle to hundreds of children throughout
the week, he found time to record volumes of local folklore,
songs, poems etc. His contributions are now stored in the
archives of Folklore Commission.
In latter years, he retired to live in Bailieboro town before
his death. I was unable to find a headstone marking his
final resting place in Knockbride cemetery. His unstinted
services deserve commemoration today.
May the sod rest lightly on his earthly remains - agus ar
dheishlaimh De go raibh do anam a Sheamus.