Christy Brown exhibition opens at Little Museum of Dublin

Archives of man who wrote ‘My Left Foot’ bought for the nation at €44,820

Christy Brown’s personal archive featuring letters, unpublished poetry, artworks and artefacts goes on view in Dublin for the first time at the Little Museum of Dublin. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

Since the film My Left Foot became an Oscar-winning sensation 25 years ago, the real Christy Brown has become obscured by the fictional one played by Daniel Day-Lewis.

The Little Museum of Dublin is seeking to redress that balance with an exhibition about the man who overcame disabilities to become a world-famous author.

Mr Brown’s archives were saved for the nation following the intervention of the Athlone-based Direct Medical and the National Library of Ireland who between them paid €44,820 for it last year.

Mr Brown had cereal palsy at birth and was able to write and paint with his left foot. He received a scant education yet produced outstanding novels, poetry and paintings. His best known works, the autobiographical My Left Foot and his masterpiece Down All The Days, were international bestsellers.

Mr Brown would not have become a figure of international renown but for the intervention of many people, most notably his beloved mother Bridget Brown whose death in 1968 left him bereft.

Another critical champion was his social worker Katrina Maguire (née Delahunt) who was working in the Rotunda Hospital when she first met Christy Brown as an 11-year-old. Ms Maguire was played by the actress Fiona Shaw in the film.

Now 92, she was guest of honour on Wednesday evening at the launch in the museum. Speaking on her behalf, her daughter Cliona Fox said Ms Maguire was “struck by his presence and the greatness of this little boy’s mind. I could never forget him.”

Ms Fox said her mother was “enormously grateful” to Trevor White, the director of the Little Museum of Dublin, for showing the Brown archive. Ms Maguire believed Mr Brown would have been “astonished” to have been the subject of such an exhibition.

Another prominent visitor to the opening was Ann Jones, one of four surviving Brown siblings from a family of 13. She was 11 years younger than Christy.

Ms Jones said she was “delighted to be alive to see this. It is so seldom that you get to see an archive belonging to your family. I’m absolutely thrilled.”

She remembered her brother’s sense of humour and how he improved the education of them all by getting them to transcribe his writing.

The exhibition includes paintings, typed original poems and first editions of his best-known works. His correspondence frequently showed his scatological side.

My Left Foot ended with the marriage of Mr Brown to his nurse Mary Carr, but there was no happy ever after and the exhibition does not shy away from that. Mr Brown had an unhappy marriage and descended into alcoholism and loneliness in his final years. He died in 1981 at the age of 49.