Monthly Archives: August 2013

Chief of the Brosnan clan

As part of the Brosnan Clan Gathering last month, a Ceann Fine or “clan chieftain” was inaugurated at the Festival Banquet. There were great cheers from the Kiwi contingent when Seán Brosnahan’s name was announced. (Not sure the ash stick will make it through NZ customs, though.)

Sean Brosnahan, the new Ceann Fine

MC Mark Daly and Fr Dan Riordan with Sean Brosnahan, the new Ceann Fine.

Seán is the author of The Kerrytown Brosnahans, a book about his East Kerry ancestors who emigrated to New Zealand in the mid 19th century, and lived in the area of South Canterbury known as “Kerrytown”.  Sean describes his initial journey to Ireland to find his ancestral roots, details his and the many other Brosnahan families that settled in New Zealand, and includes an extensive listing of the descendents of those first Brosnahan settlers.  Seán is Curator at the Toitū Otago Settlers Museum in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Under Brehon Law the leaders of Irish clans were acclaimed by their kinsmen as custodians of the clan. This clan system formed the basis of society in Ireland up to the 17th century. The Ceann Fine was responsible for maintaining and protecting the clan and its property. This often meant leading his clan in battle on land and sea. In the old ages he was the military and political chief of his clan and the go-to person if someone wished to petition their regional king.
The Ceann Fine would also have held all sorts of social responsibilities to his clan members, including the fertility of the land and for protecting his clan against the blight and plague of any sort.
In the modern age he would provide an equally important role, that of unity and family identity, bearing importance on familial relations and establishing a deep seated sense of cultural pride. He will be often at times the only link one disparate sept of a clan shares with the larger sept, creating a sense of security and unity.
- Brosnan Clan Gathering, Facebook page

Brosnan Clan Gathering, Castleisland, Co Kerry

The East Kerry Roots Festival & Brosnan Clan Gathering was held in Castleisland, Co Kerry, over four days last weekend.  I am still trying to recover!

It was a fabulous event, well-organised and offering a whole range of walks, talks and everything in between.  By a stroke of pure luck, I ended up in the same bed & breakfast establishment as a (previously unmet) third cousin and his wife from New Zealand, as well as two lovely women travelling on their own like me.

There didn’t seem to be any time to rest at all over the four days – the festival programme was jam-packed with events and you didn’t want to miss out on anything.  For me the highlights were:

  • hearing one of my favourite poems read in the original Irish at the poetry reading session
  • Seán Brosnahan’s illuminating talk on Irish emigration to New Zealand in the 19th century
  • learning to play the bodhrán, bones and spoons
  • story-telling and songs at the rambling house in Farranfore on Friday night
  • the polka and sean nós dancing workshop
Maura's Rambling House, Farranfore

Maura’s Rambling House, Farranfore

And, of course, not forgetting  the bus trips to traditional villages and graveyards in the area, Saturday night’s festival banquet, Mass on Sunday morning at Currow, and the bog walk in Kilcummin.  Top of the list has to be meeting so many wonderful people, both local and from further afield.  There were over 20 Brosnahans from New Zealand alone!  (Pokarekare Ana was sung many times over the course of the weekend.)

There were opportunities to chat to local genealogy experts, but I spent most of my time enjoying the cultural activities and exploring the area my ancestors left a century and a half ago.

Music workshop at O'Riada's, Ballymacelligot

Music workshop at O’Riada’s, Ballymacelligott

Unfortunately I had to leave on Sunday afternoon to catch my flight home from Cork, so missed out on the farewell concert, but I heard it was fantastic!

My only suggestion would be to have a larger pub/venue for the some of the evening events.  For instance, the Poet’s Inn is a lovely wee pub in Castleisland, but couldn’t fit us all in on the Thursday evening.

My special thanks has to go to Joan, one of the festival organisers, who was so helpful before the weekend, putting me in touch with a relation from the area.  I think this is what made the gathering so special – we were all made to feel very welcome, even before we’d set foot in Ireland, by the locals and organisers alike.  Thanks also to Maggie,  our terrific guide on many of the tours.

Bog walk, Kilcummin

Bog walk, Kilcummin