• Tommy Hourigan, Raheen, Limerick

Article from the Grange Book suggested for reading this week (week 27)


Canon Denis Browne (1929 - 2013)

“I love to run in the dawn. It is beautiful to see the day dawning don’t you think…”

This week's (week 27) book article is about Canon Denis Browne. The article was written by Francis O'Dwyer of Upper Grange. The article reflects an enormous amount of research undertaken by Francis - the extent of his research is evident from the detail contained in his account. Such was the amount of detail uncovered by Francis, it was necessary for him to compile a somewhat abridged article to facilitate the book's size limitations - despite this, the book article makes for an enthralling and fascinating read. The full version of the article was subsequently published on this website.

To facilitate the reader, a link to each version of the article is provided below - both versions are superb.

The following are extracts from the book article:

"When Denis Canon Browne, or Father Denis as he preferred to be known, went to his eternal reward on December 11th, 2013, he left a legacy of athletic promotion and achievement to add to the fruits of his ministerial calling in life. Having served in six parishes, in two of these as a parish priest, over a 51-year period, Father Denis is fondly remembered as a priest of great compassion, humility, gentleness and devotion. All who knew him, describe him as simply a lovely and gentle man, devoted to his faith."

"As well as his pastoral life, he had two other passions, namely the promotion of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and athletics. In every parish that he served and indeed far beyond these, he was widely known for his involvement in youth athletics. As a runner himself, he completed twenty-three marathons and also won thirteen All-Ireland medals for track and field events. Remarkably, these athletic achievements occurred between the age of 51 and 74 after he had returned to running in 1980 following a twenty-seven-year absence."

"When he retired in 2004, Father Denis took up residence beside Grange Stone Circle in a house that has been in the Browne family since 1939. He celebrated daily Mass in St Patrick’s and St Brigid’s Church in Grange, and when, after a few years into his retirement, he could no longer drive, he walked to church every morning. If the weather was inclement, he still walked to church, attired in his cap, gloves and wellingtons. Such natural athleticism was a hallmark of his life and was as normal to him as the gift of strong faith that he had, which he practised and promoted in his unique gentle manner."

"During his summer holidays from St Munchin’s College and later from Maynooth College, Denis and his brother, Davie, cycled to track and field events, locally and throughout Munster. Such was his success that in August of 1948 the famed historian An Mangaire Súgach had penned a poem of admiration of his achievements, noting that “In four years’ time he will rattle world champions in a great battle and to Ireland will bring a medal to symbol an Olympic title”. An Mangaire Súgach was a pseudonym used by Mainchin Seoighe from Tankardstown, Bruree, in his weekly Limerick Leader newspaper column “Odds and Ends”, which spanned from 1944 to 2002."

"Denis spent seven years in Maynooth College, having enrolled in 1946. In addition to his clerical studies, the pursuit of athletics also featured. On a regular basis, he ran with some of the priests and students around the college pitches. He was ordained at Maynooth, along with fifty-seven other clerical students, by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, on 21st June 1953. His first parish appointment was to Glenroe, not far from his home in Thomastown. At the time of his ordination and for years after, there was a rule within the Catholic Church that priests could not run competitively. This meant that at the age of 24, Father Denis was precluded from partaking in athletic competitions. Father Denis ministered as a priest in a number of parishes. The first, as already noted, was Glenroe (1953-1960). Subsequently, he served in Granagh (1960-1967), in Glin (1970-1976), in Rockchapel/Bruree (1976-1983), in Donoghmore/Knockea/Roxburgh (1983-1989) and in Ballyagran/Colmanswell (1989-2004). While serving in the latter mentioned parish, Father Denis was elevated to Canon."

"There was amazement everywhere at the number of young people that Father Denis would fit in his car, which predominantly was a “Volkswagen Beetle”. Upon returning home after success at an event, several youngsters would be observed out the window of his car, waving trophies won. Once, Father Denis was about to leave his parish with a carload of youngsters for a match further afield when he was asked how the other members of the team were to travel. He assured the enquirer that the whole team was in his car!"

"While in Glenroe Parish, in January 1957, Father Denis acceded to the position of Chairman of the Limerick County Board of the National Athletic and Cycling Association. He held that position for a number of years. He also held the position of president of that association and his brother, Father Davie, also held those positions in the association."

"It was while in Rockhill/Bruree Parish that his love for active running was rekindled. Father Denis began to assist with the training of the youth of the parish right from his arrival. At the start of a training session in September 1980, prior to the commencement of rounds of the field, he warned his youthful athletes 'Don’t go racing!' Knowing that they would not heed him, as he recalled – 'I took off my shoes and threw off the collar and told them I was going in front for two rounds, and you continue on then at the same pace'. What transpired was that he completed ten rounds and after a lapse of twenty-seven years, he was hooked on running all over again. In October of that year, the first ever Dublin City Marathon was staged. When one of his twelve-year-old athletes, a Jer McCarthy, suggested that they should run the race the following year, Father Denis’s initial reaction was 'not in a hundred years!' Young Jer was persistent though and with the ban on priests running competitively long since gone, Father Denis, at the age of 52, ran his first marathon in a sub-four hour time (3:48:42) – with Jer finishing twenty-seven minutes later. Father Denis completed another twenty-two marathons between then and 2003, when at the age of 74, he completed his final race in 6:12:03, after which he quipped, 'I wasn’t a bit sore after it'. Of the twenty-three marathons completed, twenty-one were in Dublin where he stayed with his brother, John, on the eve of each event. He celebrated Mass at John’s house on the morning of the marathon and then John drove him into the city to take his place on the start line. After a marathon, he stayed overnight with John before taking a train to Charleville, where his older brother, Jimmy, awaited him. The other two marathons in which he partook were held in Cork, in 1982 and 1985."

"Over the years, Father Denis won thirteen All-Ireland medals at 400, 800 and 1500 metres track and field events in Tullamore. The Castletown Ballyagran notes in the Limerick Leader of 4th September 1999, recalled that “In the All-Ireland Veterans Track and Field Championships held in Tullamore, parish priest Father Denis Browne won three medals, two gold and one silver, first in the 800m, first in the 1500m and second in the 200m”. The story concluded by stating that “St Michael’s Athletic Club will always treasure the achievements of Father Browne”. He was 70 when he won those medals."

"As his sister, Cassie, recalled 'Every summer Father Denis would spend two to four weeks holidays in Grange. Initially, this was in August but he changed to July so as to get more daylight hours! He loved Grange and particularly Lough Gur. The family home, beside the stone circle, has a field at the rear that backs onto the shores of the lake. When Father Denis would go for a run, he would do some laps on the field so that he could take in the views of the lake. It was a place where he found so much peace in the beauty of the surroundings'."

"People still speak of Father Denis with genuine warmth and affection. Cassie recalled that 'People were just drawn to him, and they simply loved him'. Not many people have that gift of natural appeal to others. He especially loved the youth, and he loved to bring a smile to their faces. Many people have recalled how he brought children to sports events, not just all over the county, but all over the country. One such occurrence was when be brought a group of children to an event in Donegal and on the way home it was snowing heavily. The children wanted to run in the snow, so he stopped his car and let them run and enjoy the fun and innocence of the moment."

"In 2013, Father Denis, due to failing health had, unfortunately, to leave Grange, and he moved to Milford House. On December 11th of that year, he gently passed to his eternal reward. He is sadly missed by the people of Grange, who knew him. He is interred in Ballyagran Cemetery, the last parish that he actively served."

The book article Canon Denis Browne may be read HERE.

Canon Denis Browne - The Full Version - may be read HERE.

Next Week (week 28) we will suggest another book article for reading.

Kind Regards to All.

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