Local Faces: Michael Brennan
Michael not only views the area as it is now, built-up, but as the farmland it once was. Michael sees the rural area of the past, even in it’s suburbanised state today

Local Faces: Michael Brennan

Michael Brennan is a man who oozes class. The father of four puts a lot of stock in his roots, and loves a good natter about what came before and how times have changed.

Everything the 83-year-old says, is jammed with golden nuggets of information with historical value that leaves you longing to pick up the phone and have a chat with him again.

When Michael was born in 1938, the middle child in a family of nine children, he was the third generation of Brennan’s to live in a two-up two-down cottage named Ballyroan, in Knocklyon.

“My great grandfather was baptised in Rathfarnham in 1830, that’s as far as I can get back,” Michael tells The Echo.

“My father was originally a stonecutter by trade but after the war, there was no stonecutting. So he went into small time farming.”

After the war, the family got some cattle and livestock and lived off what they could produce on their property.

Growing up, Michael attended Loreto Convent on the Grange Road and would do his homework with an old oil lamp next to him – as there was no electricity.

Peter and Margaret, Michael’s parents, would take the pony and trap into town to get their shopping and they would take the same ride to Firhouse Convent on a Sunday morning for mass.

Years later, in 1971, the dust was blown off the pony and trap.

“My youngest sister, Bridget, went to England to work and she got married to the chap who worked in the BBC,” he says.

Michael Brennan

“She rang me up one day, she says ‘we’re coming home to get married’ and I said ‘that’s great’.

“‘Would you bring me to the church in the pony and trap?’ she says, so I just said I would.

“I of course thought this was a joke until she rang me again asking if the I had the pony and trap ready.

“The horse was retired for about 10 years at this stage. I brought the horse in and I had the blacksmith’s anvil, some old shoes, for Kitty, which was the old mare.

“The poor horse. She was very nervous of the traffic at first.

“So what I started doing was taking her out every evening, driving her around the locality here and by the time of the wedding, she had no problem at all.”

A very cultured man, remarkably Michael can recall details and dates with great accuracy.

Throughout the hour on the phone during our interview, there was countless times that Michael reeled off names of families and people who lived in patches of land in the surrouning areas.

“When I was growing up in Knocklyon in the 1940s and 50s, there was only three cars in Knocklyon,” he says.

“The late WT Cosgrave had one, a lady Farren, who lived in Knocklyon House, which is now the Rutland Centre, she had a car and there was a Colonel Newman, who lived in Castlefield House, he had a car as well.

Knocklyon (1955)
photo by
Michael Brennan

“Castlefield House was knocked down because the land was sold for building.

“It was all fields from here to the Hellfire Club, there was nothing around, all farmland.

“There was a grassbank either side of the road and as kids we would sit there with a notebook waiting for a car to drive by and we’d take down their registration number, counting how many we could get.

“The thing is, if you saw one strange car in a day, you’d be lucky.

“That’s because Johnson Mooney and O’Brien would deliver the bread by horse and cart, the local dairy farmers would deliver the milk by horse and cart, the coal companies would deliver by horse and cart.

“It was all horse and cart.

“Landy’s came up from Rathfarnham in 1949 and they bought the land near us here and built a bakery.

“I have a picture of my father mowing hay on the field at Ballyroan Road with two horses and a picture of Knocklyon Road from 1955 and there’s nothing on it.

“That same year, in 1955, we got the electric light. Prior to that, we used paraffin lamps. I still have the paraffin lamps, the ones for the house and ones for the yard – and, they’re still working.

“I remember the night it was switched on. The ESB told us to leave the switches on for when the power comes on. And sure god almighty, when the power came on we were almost blinded.

Michael Brennan

“When the ESB installed the telegraph poles, it made a big change.

“When we got a fridge and a washing machine, it was a big change. I think the electric kettle was the first thing we got. That all changed life completely.”

The old hardware isn’t resorted to ornamental status just yet either.

When Storm Eunice came to town, there was a power failure in Knocklyon for a few hours during the day and with nighttime looming, Michael got the old lamps ready.

Fortunately, the power came back on before nightfall and Michael put the paraffin’s away.

Once in a while, Michael will bring his old butter churn, the original lock and five-inch key from his front door and other old bits into the local schools to regale students with tales from the past.

Michael worked for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs throughout most of his adult life and was a key figurehead in laying phone lines.

“I went into post office engineering. I did 40 years with them. I’m 25 years retired now,” Michael explains.

“I spent about 33 years in the city. I was in charge of communications in Dublin Castle when Pope John Paul II came.

“We were fitting, so we did the switchboards. I was in charge of that for years and I had four telephone exchanges, but the areas got so big, they whittled it down to one area per staff.

“In the early years it was a magneto, where you’d turn a handle. In 1969, I changed over Blessington from magneto to automatic.

“I specialised in the big switchboards, then in later years the PABX’s came in. They took over and the old switchboards became obsolete.”

Michael and Collette, whom he married in 1967, had four children together and raised them all out of Ballyroan – becoming the fourth generation of Brennan’s to live in the house.

A home bird by nature, Michael has spent his entire life living in the cottage and never even once, moved out.

Raising the four lads, Francis, Paul, Peter and Mark, out of the home, Michael developed a great bond with them through outdoor activities.

“We used to cut turf up at the Hellfire Club, up Glencree. In the summer time, we’d go up, cut the turf and save it,” Michael details fondly.

“When you cut it, you have to spread it, then turn it, then foot it. So the two older lads would do the weeding out for me and the two younger lads would do the spreading.

“The same comradery is still there today, as it was then. If they want something done or wanted advice on something, they’d have no hesitation coming into me.

“Our three houses are here side by side, but there’s no walls between us.”

A lot of family history was lost when the barn on the premises was set alight by school children in the 1980s.

“At that stage, we no longer had cattle here. But we had hens and a barn with a loft in it,” Michael recalls.

“Two youngfellas were mitching from school. I came home for my lunch and one of them came in to tell me that there is a fire in the shed and it’s smoking into the loft.

“They set fire to the place and it took two fire engines four hours to put it out.”

Michael put his handyman skills to the test after the barn was decimated and totally rebuilt it.

Surprisingly, some 30-years-later, there was another dance with fire for the Brennan household.

While work was being carried out nearby, a gas main was fractured and it lead a massive explosion right at the boundary of Ballyroan.

This time, two trees in Michael’s front garden were casualties and the fire brigade had to spray Ballyroan down to prevent the foliage attached to the house from catching.

In the late 1980s, Michael did a stint as chairperson of Knocklyon Community Council and as he describes, their “main plank” at that time was getting the post office and fighting builders for open space.

See, the housing estates in the locale were still in their infancy with the first brick and mortar being laid in the fields behind Ballyroan in 1973.

“They elected me because I was a native of Knocklyon and probably knew the area better than most people.

“A lot of people were moving into the area and they didn’t have a clue about the area.

“Whereas it didn’t matter what field they were talking about, I knew the history and the background of it. I think we got good value out of the efforts we put into it. The estates are a lot more settled now and they have their own residents associations, so Knocklyon Community Council is on sabbatical.”

For decades, Michael has built the Knocklyon Church crib every Christmas and he has operated the Wheel of Fortune – something he also built – annually since 1974. Today, despite being retired for 25-years, there is no let up in Michael.

He sows seed in his glasshouse, visits his allotment in Bohernabreena and operates a workshop full of his father’s tools for building “everything under the sun”.

“I’m not one for looking at television,” Michael says.

“I prefer to be out doing something.

“If I’m not in the glasshouse, I’m in my workshop. Whatever has to be done, whether it be plastering, carpentry, electrical, I just do it.

“I do enough to keep myself busy.”

While Knocklyon has continued to grow and expand, it is as if time stood still at Ballyroan. The cottage has stood the test of time, despite the expansion of urban sprawl surrounding it.

Michael is somewhat similar. He not only views the area as it is now, built-up, but as the farmland it once was.

Michael sees the rural area of the past, even in it’s suburbanised state today.

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