Ring of Kerry – Lady Albina Broderick
The collection of ruins at Westcove, near Caherdaniel on the Ring of Kerry, is a prominent reminder of the fascinating life and time of Lady Albina Broderick, an Englishwoman who embraced Irish republicanism early in the 20th century and who spoke the Irish Language with an Oxford accent.
The ruins are of some houses and a hospital and shop which she built as a service to the community which she adopted after her arrival in Ireland from Surrey. The hospital was to provide community care many decades before health boards came into being and the shop was co-operatively run at a time when Sir Horace Plunkett was trying to establish and promote the co-op movement. The co-op shop was an outlet for locally grown vegetables and local handcrafts. She carried seaweed by donkey and cart for fertilizing gardens for vegetable production. She supervised land drainage for turf cutting and promoted her own Buy Irish Campaign. She estimated that if Irish sweets alone were eaten, instead of British imports, 3,200 more Irish people would have jobs.
Lady Albina become so Irish that she preferred to use the Irish version of her name – Gobnait Ni Bhrudair. Gobnait built the hospital in 1914 and is reputed to have put 3,000 pounds of her own money into it. The building contained two six-bed wards and 22 smaller rooms – plus operating theatre, surgery and dispensary and a large community room. The room was used as a centre for adult courses in the Irish language and for talks by Gobnait on matters of diet and hygiene. She organized parties for the elderly and occasionally gave boxes of apples and oranges to the pupils of the local school. In fact she introduced free meals to the school in the Twenties. Gobnait was a member of Cumann na mBan and of Sinn Fein and did some time in jail as well as being wounded by gun-shot. She opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty which her brother Lord Midleton, had a hand negotiating. He had acted as a link between De Valera and Lloyd George in a bid to secure the truce and brought and end to the war between their two countries.
Gobnait’s thrift was legendary. Her castaway clothes were so threadbare and anybody else would be ashamed to wear them. She would rinse out the jam jars and use the rinsing water to make a kind of bread pudding and she baked all the week’s bread on Monday to cut down on fuel costs.
Lady Albina Broderick, who trained as a nurse, came to Derrynane area in 1901 to care for a mentally handicapped person. The poverty of the area struck her so forcibly that she decided to stay. When she died in 1955 at the age of 93 she left her property at Ballinacoona, Castlecove, to ‘the Republicans of the time according to the objects of the Republicans as they were in the years 1919 to 1921’. However, the Irish High Court in 1979 declared the will void and so the place where she lived and built her dreams for a community now lie in ruins.
Lady Albina’s grave in the Church of Ireland Cemetery in Sneem is marked by a large Celtic cross.
Written by Seamus McConville