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: Doctor Noel Browne is still a hero to the Left and Liberals in Ireland, mainly because of his hatred of the Catholic Church. The strange thing is that Browne's attitude to the Church is mirrored by his hatred of everyone else he fell out with during his life - including plenty of "liberals".


Extract from "Against the Tide" by Noel Browne (1986)

"The bishop had a round soft baby face with shimmering clear cornflower-blue eyes, but his mouth was small and mean. Around his great neck was an elegant glinting gold episcopal chain with a simple pectoral gold cross. He wore a ruby ring on his plump finger and wore a slightly ridiculous tiny scull cap on his noble head. The well-filled semi-circular scarlet silk cummerbund and sash neatly divided the lordly prince into two.

He handed me a silver casket in which lay his impeccable hand-made cigarettes. 'These cigarettes', he intoned. 'I had to have hand made in Bond Street'. He then offered me a glass of champagne. 'I always like champagne in the afternoon', he informed me in his rich round voice. He appeared ignorant of the social solecism of mixing cigarettes and champagne. My feeling of awe was mixed with a sense of astonishment that this worldly sybarite considered himself to be a follower of the humble Nazarene."

Extract from review of 'Against the Tide' by Bishop James Kavanagh
from The Furrow, February 1987

"[Noel Browne] was immature and naive in ignoring the political process of ensuring the support of his Cabinet colleagues. He antagonised the leader of his own party, Sean MacBride, on other issues than the Health Bill. The savage portraits he paints in 'Against the Tide' of some of his cabinet confreres, while masterly in their satire, are not in accordance with reality, and anyway, while having these views of these men, it is hard to conceive how he could win their support when the chips were down.

"... [Bishop Browne's] housekeeper has written to the newspapers: 'The Bishop never smoked cigarettes rolled in Bond Street or any other street. He only smoked a pipe. Also he did not drink champagne or any kind of spirits. I should know the truth because I worked for the Bishop for nearly forty years'."

MY COMMENT: Some 'liberals' will admit that Noel Browne is not a trustworthy witness but basically they don't care because they share his hatred of the Catholic Church. Thus any lie told against a Bishop is fine with them. The trouble with this attitude (apart from any ethical considerations) is that Noel Browne treated any left wing or 'liberal' enemy of his in precisely the same way.

(2) WILLIAM A. NORTON (leader of the Irish Labour Party)

Extract from "Against the Tide" by Noel Browne (1986)

"With the formation of the first coalition government, William A. Norton, leader of the Irish Labour Party, had become Tanaiste (deputy Prime Minister). ...

Norton was a man of many talents, all dedicated exclusively to his own betterment in society. He was persuasively articulate and could simulate sincerity and pretend concern with impressive and misleading conviction. ....

Norton wallowed in the sumptuous banquets arranged for visiting foreign dignitaries. His childish enjoyment at table evoked feelings of amusement and revulsion. My wife and I would watch incredulously as he would call for a second helping of his favourite sweet, a spun sugar confection which stood about four inches high and was shaped as a birds nest.With his table napkin tucked firmly into his straining collar, his flickering brown monkey's eyes would lovingly follow the waiter and his spoon as he loaded the plate down for the second time. Spoon and fork filled the sugary syrup into his mouth until there remained only the melted warm honey mixture on the plate. This too was greedily scooped into his now slobbering mouth. Like a hungry suckling piglet, frantically probing the fat cow's belly, spoon and fork were followed by his chubby fingers and last of all by his thumb, each of them lovingly and lingeringly sucked dry. Fingers licked clean, he would hold a lighted cigar and gold-labelled Havana in one sticky hand and caress his well filled brandy glass in the other."

Extract from "Against the Tide" by Noel Browne (1986)

"Thornley yearned for Cabinet office at any price and on any terms, preferably in a Fine Gael coalition. ....His dedicated zeal was to help to achieve this objective for all of that cabal with the exception of Thornley himself, who was shed by the Labour leadership with chilling indifference when they failed to appoint him to a ministry...He had deserted all his formal radical postures and friends for their interests. Those of us who retained our affection for him, and for his self-sacrificing devoted and loyal wife, Petira, shared their distress.

Thornley appeared to have resolved to bury himself and to disappear within a grotesquely altered human being. Rapidly he became the exact opposite of the mildly vain, impeccably dressed, scintillating intelligent young Trinity don all of us had known. We were at the Labour Party Conference in the Leisureland centre in Galway sometime after this. We had already passed this hideously distorted creature when my wife, shocked murmured 'That was David'. Between heavy drinking, illness and neglect of his appearance, Davis had taken on the form which is known sometimes as a variant of the 'Pickwick boy' syndrome. His eyes were scarcely visible, buried as they were in the great distended blubber of a once handsome face."

CONCLUSION: Some will argue that Doctor Browne was only telling the truth as he saw it, even at the risk of wounding the families of the people he described. However it is quite clear that he was lying about Bishop Michael Browne. In any case would it have been acceptable for Noel Browne's nemesis, John Charles McQuaid to have behaved as Doctor Browne behaved, in relation to people he disliked? The Archbishop left an extensive and well organised archive. It is clear that he NEVER referred to his opponents in the manner constantly used by Noel Browne. He did not do so in private, still less in public.Why do historians continue to make excuses for Noel Browne??

Rory Connor
11 September 2006