Stormont pays tribute to late County Derry republican Francie Brolly

Tributes have been paid to the late Francie Brolly by his former colleagues in the Stormont Assembly

Monday, 10th February 2020, 3:02 pm
The late Francie Brolly.

The Speaker of the Assembly, Alex Maskey, spoke of first meeting the Dungiven republican in Long Kesh where he was interned in the early 1970s.

"I first met Francie in the confines of Long Kesh in 1972. He was a passionate advocate of rights and a great advocate of his language, which he loved," said Mr. Maskey.

"He loved his Irish traditional music, and he was a poet and songwriter. He loved his sport, particularly the GAA, so it is no surprise that, when he was a Member of the Assembly, he was an ardent member of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure.

"It is for those interests that many knew him best, and they are reflected through his entire family circle. On behalf of the Assembly, I express our sympathy to his wife, a bhean chéile, Anne, his children Joe, Proinnsias, Conal, Áine, Nodlaig and his 13 grandchildren. Suaimhneas síoraí dá anam uasal," he added.

Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said the late Mr. Brolly had been a "huge figure in the political life of East Derry" and that republicanism was in his DNA.

"When the civil rights campaign began, Francie got fully behind it as a republican and stood up to fight for rights, equality and democracy. His leadership, determination and commitment shone through, and he was a stalwart at marches and demonstrations at that time.

"His republican activism and challenging of the injustices that he saw around him led to his internment in Long Kesh for a period in the early 1970s. In the dark days of the 1980 and 1981 hunger strikes, Francie was to the fore in supporting the campaigns of the prisoners, raising awareness of their demands.

"As a teacher for many years, he is fondly remembered by the many hundreds of former pupils who recall his enthusiasm and passion. In recent days, many have paid tribute to him, showing that he will never, ever be forgotten.

"A committed republican activist all his life, Francie stepped forward and entered the political fray as an elected representative for Sinn Féin. Elected to the Assembly in 2003, he served on the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee, reflecting another great passion in his life.

"A fluent Gaeilgeoir, he was steadfast in his promotion of the Irish language, using it in the Chamber on many occasions. He established a reputation in the Assembly for his commitment and dedication to his constituents and his native Dungiven, and for the respectful way in which he engaged with Members from other parties. Across the Assembly, Francie was admired and respected for his beliefs.

"Aside from politics, Francie also made a huge contribution to the music and cultural world with the songs he recorded and performed alongside his beloved wife, Anne. He was well known across Ireland for his songs, in particular 'The H-block Song', which has become a classic the world over and will live on as a testament to his campaigning, activism and republicanism.

"I send my condolences to his widow, Anne, his children Joe, Proinnsias, Conal, Áine and Nodlaig, the entire Brolly family, and everyone who knew Francie. My thoughts are with them at this very sad time. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam."

DUP MLA Paul Givan said: "I got to know Francie and his wife, Anne, through the pro-life movement. Certainly, his passing is a loss to the voice in the republican community advocating the rights of the unborn child. When I spoke to his wife since Francie's passing, Anne reassured me that she intends to continue his work on the issue, which was very important to them.

"Francie was an unconventional MLA. In a different capacity, I worked with the then Culture Minister when Francie was on the Committee, and I can recall his saying to the Minister, 'I have been handed a list of questions that the folks up in the office want me to ask, which is quite awkward. I do not really want to do that. What can I do to be helpful?' As you said, Mr Speaker, he was a free spirit. He was unconventional, and that certainly marked him out at that time when I was engaged with the then Culture Minister, Edwin Poots.

"I offer my condolences to Anne Brolly — 51 years of marriage to Francie — to their five children and their 13 grandchildren."

SDLP East Derry MLA John Dallat said: "Francie Brolly was indeed a Gael, but his style of Gaelige was all-embracing and about bringing people together to agree or disagree but remain friends and share experiences.

"He was not a bitter man. He did not harbour grudges and, if he could not do you a good turn, he most certainty would not have done you a bad turn. His contribution to life in his native Dungiven was huge and will live on for many years to come.

"As the new Assembly beds down, it would be useful to emulate Francie Brolly for his modesty, inside and outside the Chamber. Let us remember him as a Gael whose example threatened no one.

"He was on an important path and road that I hope we are all now on, respecting and sharing each other's culture and all the things that were important to him and the community that he served for many years as a community representative, councillor and, of course, Member of the Assembly. Mr Speaker, may he rest in peace."

Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn said: "I overlapped with Francie Brolly in this place for about three years, I came here in 2007 and he left in 2010, but I got to know him. He was certainly a very committed republican but also a lover of Irish culture and language.

"He was a teacher of Irish, I believe, and an active member of his church in Dungiven, where I think he lived most of his life. He was also a composer and singer, as others have referenced.

"Whether or not we agree with the songs that he wrote, you still have to admire the skills involved. Not everybody can write a song; believe me, I have tried, and it does not always work. He was a very humorous man.

"He was good company and good-natured, but the main thing that I remember about him was his consistent and passionate promotion of the Irish language and Irish-medium education. We had a debate here in 2008 about an Irish-medium school proposal in Derry. I looked it up the other day and will read you a few lines of what he said: 'The name of the Irish-medium school in question, Gaelscoil na Daróige, charms me greatly. Indeed, it is so fitting that, if I were the Minister of Education, I would approve the school even if it had no pupils at all." — [Official Report (Hansard), Bound Volume 32, p92, col 1].'

"He went on to explain the meaning and derivation of 'Daróige', which apparently has to do with the Irish term for a young oak tree. That is fitting for young pupils growing up; little acorns and all the rest of it. That was Francie. As far as I can remember, he was never rude or abrupt with anybody. He had a gentle approach to what he believed in."