FRANCIE BROLLY – A TRIBUTEWhen asked to write a piece about the late Francie Brolly the first thing we realised was that it would be impossible to capture the true qualities of the man in anything less than a book. So we can only share the following reflections in the hope that they will do some justice to Francie’s legacy. The first thought that came to our minds was that Francie was that rare combination of being ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’. Those who met Francie will readily identify the down to earth and humble nature of the man. He had no airs or graces and just came across as ‘one of us’. Every time we saw him, he was in good humour and always ready with a friendly greeting or comment. We know as well that Francie had strong political principles which was what drew him into leaving Sinn Fein which he had been part of for many years and becoming a founding member of the new political party Aontú.
Francie was a very strong advocate for protecting our unborn children from abortion and he and his wife Anne worked closely with people from across the political and religious spectrum in opposing the various moves to legalise abortion both in the Republic of Ireland and here in the North. Francie was very much at ease in the company of Unionist and Protestant people as he himself did not have a sectarian vein in his body. Political differences often lead to relationships being damaged but we know from witnessing Francie standing outside polling stations that he never allowed a political opponent to become a personal enemy and Francie’s relationships with former colleagues remained warm, cordial and friendly.
Most of us will be lucky to achieve one area of expertise or talent in our lifetimes but Francie excelled in many. He was a very talented musician, a gifted song writer who wrote the H Block song, a talented Gaelic footballer, a fluent Irish linguist and a gifted teacher. Francie was like an Irish Language evangelist taking Irish Language classes right up to before his death. Travelling in the car with him you would often hear comment on an Irish townland that you were passing through. His commitment and love for his wife Anne and family, his love for his Catholic faith and the ideals of Irish Republicanism were hugely important in his life. Francie was a regular pilgrim to Lough Derg and despite the routine of difficult penances, he enjoyed the craic with the many people he met there from across the island of Ireland. How such a man could be described as ordinary and humble is difficult to understand but that is exactly what he was.
The greatest inspiration and influence on Francie’s Republicanism was that of the United Irishmen and it was Francie’s suggestion that the newly formed Aontú Cumann in Dungiven be named after one of the leaders of the United Irishmen Henry Joy McCracken, the Presbyterian Republican leader involved in the 1798 rebellion. Francie understood the path to a united Ireland lay in the shared values of our Society built upon the principle of protecting the vulnerable and the weakest. The Cumann that Francie helped found has now been renamed the Francie Brolly Aontu Cumann in his honour and three of the members Francie helped to recruit have now been appointed Aontu Local Area Representatives with a view to providing assistance to the many people in our community who are in need. These local area reps are as follows: Liam McElhinney from Dungiven town, Denis McHenry from Drumsurn and Gemma Brolly from Ballerin. These representatives are committed to following the principled leadership provided by the late Francie Brolly.