Errant pupil the master of British propaganda

Heard the story about the son of a Tipperary IRB man and founder of the GAA who became the First lord of the Admiralty in England and a Privy Councillor?

The Jesuit educated lad from Templemore, who became a Tory Member of Parliament, was named Brendan Bracken, born February 15, 1901. By the time he died on August 8, 1958, he was the first Viscount Bracken of Christchurch, Hampshire. It either shows what enterprise will do - or a Jesuit education.

For some reason the Jesuit College, Mungret, Co. Limerick, were not too enthusiastic about their famous ‘old boy’. Well, Brendan did run away from the school when he was 15 years old. Brendan’s father was James K. Bracken, a building contractor from Templemore, who was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and one of the five founding members of the GAA in 1884. He was the sculptor of the 1798 memorial that stands outside Clonmel Town Hall, finished in 1904. He sometimes used the original Irish form of his name Ó Breachcáin (speckled).

Brendan’s brother P.K. Bracken rose to be a superintendent in the Garda Síochána in Tullamore. However, Brendan was the black sheep of the family. Having run away from school, he was sent to some relatives in Australia to work on a sheep station.

Claiming he was younger than he was, he managed to talk his way into the Australian public school Sedbergh and lasted a term before being discovered. He later boasted about his public school education.

His father died and his mother remarried. Brendan returned to Ireland in 1919. He collected a small legacy and took the boat for England. He was able to talk himself into a journalistic job in London. Aged only 22 years Brendan was invited to a luncheon given by J.L. Garvin, editor of The Observer. Winston Churchill was one of the guests and Brendan impressed the politician.

Brendan joined the Tory Party and became an election worker for Churchill. He was also working for the publishers Eyre and Spottiswode. With his panache and extraordinary business sense he was soon a director of the company and bought publications such as The Financial News, founded The Banker and acquired control of the Investors Chronicle and Practitioner.

The young, carrot-red haired Irishman, with white skin, freckles and black teeth - he apparently never bothered about dental hygiene-had impressed the Tories. He won a seat in Parliament for North Paddington in 1929 and stuck firmly by the side of his mentor, Churchill. When Churchill withdrew to the backbenches having disagreed with his party’s policy not to allow India to have greater self-government, Brendan continued to support him.

Brendan’s loyalty to Churchill was firm. He became known as ‘Churchill’s chela’ - the Hindi word for servant. It was rumoured that he was Churchill’s illegitimate son. In spite of the fact that Brendan published his Irish birth certificate in 1928 to counter stories of his birth, the rumours caused Clementine Churchill to have an intense dislike for the young Irishman.

From 1934 Brendan also supported Churchill’s calls for rearmament and was vociferous in his attacks on Chamberlain and appeasement and in 1940, he was made Churchill’s Parliamentary Private Secretary and confident. Churchill, as Prime Minister, appointed Brendan Minister of Information in 1941. Claud Cockburn once remarked about Brendan that he was “a man so devious, even his natural hair looked like a wig”.

King George VI personally expressed his concern that an Irishman, son of an IRB man, should be appointed a Government Minister and member of the Privy Council. Churchill stood up for his protégé and wrote to the King: “He has sometimes been almost my sole supporter in the years when I have been striving to get this country properly defended”.

George VI gave in to Churchill’s wish. Brendan was now in charge of what the British public could and could not know about the war effort. He was Britain’s equivalent of Josef Goebbels and his propaganda ministry. He was in his element and did much work behind the scenes to bring the United States into the war and was behind Churchill’s offer to De Valéra of an immediate reunification of Ireland if De Valéra declared war on Nazi Germany and joined the Allies. It was an offer De Valéra rejected.

The popular myth that the British Government did not know about the holocaust and the extermination camps until the end of the war is exploded by an examination of the records of Brendan’s Ministry.
On July 9, 1942, Brendan had declared the planned systematic extermination of Europe’s Jews had begun and that 700,000 had been murdered in Poland. The name of Auschwitz was particularly mentioned

When the war in Europe ended in 1945 and the coalition government dissolved, Churchill headed a ‘caretaker government’ in which Brendan was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty. The country went to the polls and Britain rejected the Tories and Churchill. Brendan returned to his business interests becoming chairman of The Financial Times. Brendan soon returned to the House of Commons as MP for Bournemouth, Christchurch. In December, 1951, Churchill returned to power with an overall majority of 17. He invited Brendan to join the Government. Brendan’s health was not good. He was suffering from sinusitis and minor ailments. He declined and in 1952 resigned from politics accepting a peerage as the first Viscount Bracken of Christchurch (Hampshire) - after his last constituency.

He died, unmarried, in London on August 8, 1958 and the early age of 57 years. Brendan is even remembered in fiction for he was the model for the character of Rex Mottramin in Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel Brideshead Revisited.

It was a curious journey for the son of a Tipperary Republican. While not the first, nor the last, Irishman to become an English peer, Brendan’s career was certainly unique.

Courtesy of the Irish Post