Sitting down in her favourite armchair, knitting needles and a ball of wool stationed at the table by her feet, Marie Finnegan (75) is quite comfortable with her Thursday evening’s plan. Upstairs, her husband can be heard doing a bit of DIY work. The elderly couple live alone, all their children have fled the nest, and had children of their own but they are settled and happy.
Marie never strayed too far from home, being born in a small cottage on Brunswick Street. Their home was cottage no.2, and maybe a little remarkably, Marie’s home now is also a No.2. She was born in August 1934 and is the third eldest of six children, five that are still living. They were a rather close family from the start, ranging from George (Georgie), Alice, Marie, Patrick, Phildelus (Dalo) and Colette. Her youngest brother and sister were born in August of 1945, but tragically, they didn’t stay on this earth very long, which may not have been uncommon for small children at that time. Augustan Brown died first of TB, when he was a mere baby, and even more sadly, Marie’s mother Jane Brown (previously Dunne) also died, leaving her husband Patrick (Paddy) Brown, a widower with seven children to look after. Little Rita Brown only lived less than thirteen months before death also claimed her in the form of meningitis.
“It must have been a sad year for my father. I was only six or seven at the time, but he had to bury his father that year, as well as my mother and the twins.”
The death of Jane and Augustan of TB would not have been rare at this time in Ireland, and theirs were certainly not the only lives claimed by the horrible disease that seemed to ravage though the country of Ireland. It is a memory that remains clear in Marie’s mind however, despite being young.
“I remember the little white coffin that held Augustan on the back of the taxi, it used to be called.”
The Brown family were certainly very close when Marie was growing up and they remained so all their lives, and maybe the deaths of their loved ones brought them even closer. Their mother had been brought up a Catholic in a large family of six and very surprisingly, Paddy Brown was a Protestant, with a smaller family of three. Despite the prejudice religious beliefs at the time, Paddy and Jane married. It is something special, that though their families disowned them of sorts, they stayed together.
Jane’s sister Esther was the one relative that stayed in touch after Jane’s death and Marie remembers her fondly.
“She married a Cunningham in Clonsilla, she was so beautiful and small.”
Marie was born in the wartime, when the Second World War was tearing apart most of Europe. She recalls the ration books, and gas masks. Everything used to be rationed- from clothes to food. She also remembers very vividly the bombing of Sandymount.
“We could see the flames from it from where we were!”
Marie left school at the age of 14, and immediately began to work in a sewing factory in Cecelia House off Dame Street. She cycled into work every day, because back then, “everyone cycled.” She would cycle home for lunch and then cycle back into Dame Street for another few hours of work. The bikes would be lined up outside the factory and they would never be stolen, very unlike if teh same thing was done today.
She remembers the factory clearly as it was also used by the College of Surgeons for dissecting bodies.
“It was really creepy!”
And of course, every night was the time for dancing! Every evening there would be a dance held somewhere and the lists went on and on- The Crystal Ballroom, Four Peas and the Kings Way on Friday evenings. If you had a date you would dance.
Marie also remembers fondly the Theatre Royal where you went for a variety show and a singsong, all for one shilling and six pence which would add up to about five and a half cent now!
Marie was only 20 when her father passed away from lung cancer, and she was left to rear her younger brother and sister- Dalo and Colette. Patrick and Alice were also still at home and Georgie married six weeks after Paddy Brown’s death. He had still wanted it to go on despite knowing he would die before it would happen. The cancer would claim him. He had been a smoker which had resulted in the lung cancer but he had never once touched alcohol in his life.
“He never touched alcohol because his father before him drank,” says Marie
Though all the Brown siblings were extremely close, one stands out in the affection Marie speaks of him; Patrick Brown. He was certainly an extraordinary man who believed in changing his lifestyle every five years.
“He tried everything from cooking to writing!”
At one point he moved from a very posh and well furnished home in North Hampstead to a small country village in Wales where he bought an old railway station of all things, and turned it into craft units. He was even a close personal friend of Laura Ashley herself.
Patrick was also a member of the environmental organisation of Greenpeace, and protested on the Greenpeace boats against the nuclear power factory Sellafield of the coast of England. This, Marie feels, was a close connection with his death at the age of 60 from stomach cancer. Never having smoked or drank in his long, eventful life, many of his family believe he must have inhaled some nuclear air when he was protesting. He died in the Caribbean country of Grenada, yet another not so ordinary place- it must have been another lifestyle change.
His death was rather sudden, Marie feels, and his illness tragic when he, of all her brothers and sisters, had led the healthiest life. But he was certainly loved and he had not wasted one minute.
“Dalo did all the drinking and smoking to make up for the rest of the family. He used to say you couldn’t sit at our table if you weren’t good –looking.”
Like many of her generation, Marie married young. She met Michael Finnegan at a dance in the St Mochtas School House in Clonsilla. He fell ‘flat on his face.’ Marie remembers how the girls and boys had to stay on either side of the room.
“The priests used to walk between us with their sticks, and they would never let us slow dance together.”
Marie wasn’t a complete angel of course; she was already courting another unfortunate lad when Michael caught her eye. In fact she was courting two others! But obviously Michael had something the others didn’t, and so...he managed to woo her.
“Ships in the night! Never settle with the wrong person!”
She married at the age of 24, and by 26 had become a mother to Lesley. Audrey followed two years later, and then Marie and Michael completed their family with Colette. Their perfect little family grew up in Cabra, and they lived their almost 23 years before moving into a slightly bigger home in Castleknock, where they have since stayed.
Marie did not stay at home like most mothers, and though she looked after her girls, she also worked in St Claire’s Home for the Elderly, on Glasnevin Road for 27 years as a seamstress. She was always handing with the sewing machine, an ability that still comes in handy to this day. It’s rarely a day that Marie is seen without her trademark knitting needles, making something for one of her beloved grandchildren.
She retired at the age of 66, and is now a ‘full time granny.’ And she is most certainly the best one. It’s clear she has lived her life to the full and has three children, and six grandchildren to show for it. There is no doubt that Marie is loved and will forever have her family around her.