Gerard Bracken, Newport (1920 - 2005)
Journalist, Editor, Community Man
Gerard Bracken was born in Newport on May 8, 1920. He died on May 5, 2005 after a full and distinguished life in his native place and is buried at Kilbride, Newport. He was a man of many parts. He was a hackney driver and a band member before he found his true vocation in journalism. He was a musician and impresario producing and directing plays, concerts, pantomimes and revues and was, for more than 50 years a member of the Newport Church Choir. He spent his entire journalistic career in The Mayo News, first as reporter and later as a distinguished editor. He retired from the post of editor but continued to provide notes from the Newport/Mulranny area and special stories and comment right up to the week of his death at the age of 85.
For all that journalism was his career and the Mayo News his working life, his family, his faith and his football took pride of place in his every thought. He was a committed community man and there were few aspects of the development of Newport and its various community and sporting organizations that did not command his attention and support.
Gerry, as he was familiarly known by all, lived his entire life in his native place. He was married to Elizabeth (Baby) nee Cusack and they had two daughters, Geraldine and Dolores.
Gerry Bracken started his career in journalism in the Mayo News. He became editor in 1975. He never felt the need to leave his native place to work in the national media. He acted as correspondent to the national daily and Sunday papers and the broadcast media. He also contributed to many of the English titles. Journalism was a career he practiced with dedication, commitment and, above all, integrity. He was a member of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) throughout his working career and, on his retirement, was made an honorary life member of the union.
He was an outstanding journalist covering all of the major stories arising in Mayo. He was an editor of the utmost integrity. His word was his bond. He used his editorial chair quite unashamedly to promote Mayo and whenever he felt the county was being neglected or not being according a fair share of the national cake he was never slow to use his pen to hold officials and politicians to account.
When he vacated the editorial chair, on his retirement, he continued to contribute local notes from the Newport and Mulranny areas to the Mayo News. It was his continuing contribution to the development and promotion of his own place and again, he regularly used his pen to highlight any perceived failure on the part of officialdom to attend to the proper planning and development of the area.
His greatest “scoop” was, unquestionably, his exclusive interviews with Princess Grace of Monaco who came to Drimulra, Newport during the 1960s to visit her ancestral home. The former film star and her husband Prince Rainier attracted huge media attention. Because of his integrity and the trust he built with the visiting royals he was granted special status. Indeed, not alone was he granted exclusive access, he also, with other members of the Newport choir, entertained the visitors with music and song during their stay in Newport House. He wrote and published a booklet “Princess Grace – the Newport connection”, a copy of which has pride of place in the Grimaldi Royal Library in Monaco.
Other high profile stories he covered exclusively was the visit of John Lennon and Yoko Ono to Mulranny and the tragic drowning of a foreign TV crew who were working on a project in Clew Bay.
He was an editor in the style of his day, providing even and balanced coverage of stories and editorial comment. He had his political convictions, but he never allowed those convictions to cloud his editorial judgment. He was a well-read man and had a keen sense of national and world issues but his local area was his oyster.
Music and entertainment
Gerry was a well-rounded man. His love of music led him into the band business. He was a member of the Moonlight Serenaders and played in halls up and down the country at a time when there was little profit but marvellous experience to be gained. Among his colleagues in the band was Tony Chambers who went on to achieve fame in the “Ballroom of Romance.” He combined his band career with a hackney business.
He joined his local St Patrick’s Church choir in Newport as a schoolboy and remained a member of the choir, performing at Sunday mass and funerals, a tradition he carried on up to the time of his death.
He also had a great love for drama and theatre performances, acting, directing and producing many memorable events staged in the local town hall. He enjoyed variety, developing young talent and putting them on the stage. He was to the fore in the John Player Tops of the Town competitions producing concerts and revues while putting young and old on the stage in colourful and entertaining performances and bringing them to competitions all over Connaught.
Gaelic games were another abiding passion. He was a founding member and life-long supporter of the Burrishoole GAA club and was, for a number of years, registrar of Mayo GAA Board. His commitment to Burrishoole was such that his normal capacity for fair play and objective reporting often deserted him and, in this one aspect, his reporting might not have lived up to his own usual high standard. It was a fault for which he was readily forgiven by his GAA contemporaries who understood that club prejudice was a badge of honour and something to be proud of.
Died at Mayo General Hospital
Gerard Bracken died at Mayo General Hospital, following a brief illness, on May 5th 2005. His Memorial Service Mass was held in St Patrick’s Church, Newport where he had spent more than 60 years in the choir singing at Mass and at the funerals of so many local people. His cortege was flanked by the Burrishoole GAA Club members, the staff of The Mayo News, members of the National Union of Journalists and a host of local people with whom he had worked on so many local developments, social and cultural projects. The choir of which he was such a committed member sang the Mass and also delivered an appropriate send off at the Kilbride cemetery.
Sean Staunton who replaced Gerry Bracken as editor of The Mayo News, in the course of a eulogy delivered at the funeral Mass had this to say: He was a true gentleman and a great county man with countless voluntary hours committed to his native place. His commitment to The Mayo News was such that less than twenty four hours prior to his sudden demise his customary local Newport News item was delivered to the Mayo News office, marked Urgent!
“A good and honourable man, a real gentleman in the true sense of that term, has departed this life, a devoted husband, a loving and much loved father and grandfather, a great community man whose countless voluntary efforts over the years did, indeed make a difference. Gerry was in all aspects “the good and faithful servant’ who gave so generously to others without ever counting the cost to himself.”
James Laffey, Editor of the “Western People” wrote: “Gerry Bracken was a gentleman in every sense of that oft-used word. Indeed, it could be said that he was a man from another era, a gentler time when journalism was a far nobler and a more honourable profession than it is to-day.”
“If this writer were asked to describe Gerry Bracken in a single sentence I would say that he was one of the sincerest men I have ever known. There was nothing phony about Gerry and there nothing pretentious. Nor was there a shred of hypocrisy in his body. The face was open and honest. What you saw was what you got and you always knew where you stood with Gerry.”
Christy Loftus, former President of the National Union of Journalists also paid tribute: “He was, in his own way, in his own area, a legend in his time. He was a man who did not admit weakness. He was a man of great integrity; he was a man who believed in doing things for himself. He was a member of the National Union of Journalists up until he retired from his post as editor and he was made an honorary life member in his retirement. Of course he never retired. He continued to work right up to the day he went into hospital for the last time.”
“He had three great, simple loves in his life, his family and friends, his football and his faith. His three Fs. They are not listed in order of priority as the priority changed depending on the season. When the football season was in, it vied with the family, and even Baby, for priority.
“Because he was generally a quiet man, when he raged, he was effective and officialdom took notice. Things did not always get done immediately but they were put on the agenda and he was the persistent type who kept his eye on the agenda. Advancing years did not dim his commitment. He went to his reward still battling, still unbowed, still independent, still loving his ‘Baby and family’, still loving his football and his native place. And with his integrity totally intact.”
In ‘The Mayo News‘ 9th June 2020 edition Gerard Bracken was referenced in the ‘Times Past’ column (compiled by Daniel Carey) that he had been editor of the newspaper from 1960 until his retirement on June 5th 1985 – a span of twenty – five years. (NBC)