Above: Connie Brennan (left) with her
friend Maureen Tierney.
(Photo: James Fennell)
‘We’re unclaimed treasures, all of us’, says Connie Brennan of herself and her two spinster friends, Jenny Cullen and Maureen Tierney. ‘They say that only the mugs get married and the best china is left on the top shelf.’
Born in Rathdrum, County Wicklow, in 1929, Connie was one of three daughters of Jim Brennan, a Guinness deliveryman, and his wife Elizabeth. She was just a toddler when her mother passed away. Her father then married Margaret Redmond, ‘a lovely woman’ who worked between Fortune’s Pub and Smith’s Chemist in Inchicore. Connie’s stepsister Marie was born of this union and, says Connie, ‘she is the nicest girl in the world, you could not ask for a better sister.’
Connie was educated at the Model School in Inchicore where the poet Thomas Kinsella was a year above her. She recalls her childhood as a cheerful period when ‘everyone played out on the street’, hopscotch, marbles and rope-swinging around the old gas lampposts.
But there was a demonic policeman called Scanlan who objected to street games. Connie recalls a time when ‘the lads were playing football and next thing Scanlan was coming and they all flew off,’ leaving a sickly child called Michael Reilly behind. ‘Michael was minding goal, standing on all the coats, when the policeman came. He brought him back to Mrs. Reilly and fined the poor woman. Wasn’t that a terrible thing to do? To fine a poor mother because her sick little boy was playing football on the street?! Michael didn’t live long after that anyway.’
In her early 20s, Connie made her way west to Swinford, County Mayo, where she found work as a cleaner in a boarding school. She then looked after a young family whose mother had passed away in childbirth, before taking work as a housekeeper for a priest who lived near Knock and later on Achill Island.
After she left Mayo, Connie went to work as a childminder for a family who lived in part of Dundrum Castle. She then spent nine years working as housekeeper to Michael Hayes, a Fine Gael Senator and former Minister of Education who became Professor of Irish at University College Dublin in 1951.
During the 1960s, Connie began working as a cleaner at the Montrose Hotel on the Stillorgan Road where she remained for the next twenty seven years. She would cycle across from Inchicore on a black High Nelly bicycle and spend her days cleaning the bedrooms and ‘making it all beautiful.’
Connie had been brimming with mischief since time began. When her friend Maureen hesitantly heads off to have her portrait taken for this book, Connie yells after her, ‘Smile and the world smiles with you, weep and you weep alone.’
With thanks to Emma Deering and Olivia and Ollie Blacque.