Charlotte Brooke – “One of the brightest literary ornaments of this country”. Her association with the Killybegs estate and Prosperous village. We are all only too familiar with the crash of the Celtic tiger and the ruination of so many people and businesses. And we are sure there are many stories of hardship and emigration associated with it, what seemed to be the right decisions at the time, that subsequentially proved otherwise. We present here, a tragic story of abandonment by family and friends, in a time of most need, that occurred in Prosperous 240 years ago. This is the story of a beautiful talented scholar, manuscript translator, author and artist - Charlotte Brooke.
Born in County Cavan circa 1750-1760, Charlotte took a keen interest in the Irish language and Gaelic antiquity.
It was said that in her early years, after her family would retire for the night, she would leave her bed and tiptoe down to her father’s study to read. Her fascination of antiquities, eventually led to her to the study of the Irish Language, which it was said she had mastered within just two years. A number of years after her mother passed away (1772) she moved from Cavan to live in Killybegs Prosperous with her father Henry, to her cousin’s home –(Robert Brooke the founder of Prosperous).
The rural setting of Prosperous seems to have excelled her interest in the Irish Language. It was also an important time for her in socialising amongst the literary eccentrics in Dublin, as Robert also possessed property there - No 11 North Cumberland street.
Her father Henry,(novelist and dramatist) also found inspiration in Prosperous, writing many of his finest works there, such as the “Earl of Essex” which made it on to the stage at the Theatre Royal and Drury-Lane. Certainly one of his most recognised works is that called “Gustavus Vasa”. Charlotte’s first publication was a translation of a Gaelic song by Carolan.
“Monody on the Death of Mary MacGuire.
Adieu, each gift of nature, and of art,
That erst adorn’d me in life’s early prime.
The cloudless temper, and the social heart,
The soul ethereal, and the flight sublime.
Thy loss, my Mary, chas’d them from my breast.
Thy sweetness cheers, thy judgement aids no more.
The muse deserts a heart with grief opprest,
And lost is every joy that charm’d before
While modest and unobtrusive, her friends described her as a person of a studious and retired character, whose life was a life of incessant reading and thought. She was also described as a woman of the most elegant manner and refined sentiments, with a strong comprehensive and active mind. Yet, she lacked in confidence and was somewhat modest in her opinion of herself, thus her early works were published anonymously. Apparently, she required a great deal of encouragement from her male colleagues to publish her works, which they claimed she was more than capable of doing. She may have just been seeking their approval or endorsement, well, It was a man’s world after all!
Charlotte suffered with severe depression at the loss of her father, Henry, who passed away on the 10th October 1783. Her state of mind worsened by the failure of the Prosperous cotton Industry, just three years later, in 1786. She had invested most of her inheritance in the development of the cotton industry in Prosperous, it’s failure drove her to even deeper despair, almost to the edge of a nervous breakdown, as she was now deprived of all her property. Her cousin, Robert Brooke, declared bankruptcy and was forced to sell his properties In Dublin and the Killybegs Estate, leaving Charlotte both homeless and without financial support.
She wrote to a friend;
“Deprived of my father, of my brother, of my fortune and of my health, disappointed in friendship and betrayed in trust.
My affairs ruined by those in whom I most confided and the best and dearest affections of my heart torn up, as it were from the very roots. My health, though not so bad as formerly, is in a fragile state, and my fortune, though not utterly lost, is still no more than what others would account as nothing. Yet notwithstanding this, I AM HAPPY, Yes O my gracious God, with humble and joyful gratitude, I owe that I am blessed as this earth can make me – that if I sigh heaves, or a tear flows from me now, it is only from the grief that others are not equally happy with myself”
While the founder of Prosperous, Robert Brooke, set sail for the Island of St. Helena, eventually becoming Governor in 1788 and gaining prosperity once again, many others didn't. It also appears to be the case that he offered Charlotte, neither comfort or financial support. In 1787 Charlotte applied to be the housekeeper of the Royal Irish Academy (RIA). This of course would not only provide her with a roof over her head, but it would give her access to endless amounts of manuscripts and books – the only real love of her life. In her address to the RIA she stated; “The death of my father, and of my brother shortly after, deprived me of my only protection and also a considerable share of my fortune: a principal part of what remained, was involved in the failure of Captain (Robert) Brooke. I find myself stripped both of friends and fortune, in a world of which I have little knowledge.
I request to be intrusted with the care of a House (RIA) destined to the purpose and dedicated to the Genius. I will undertake it, if so required, without salary”.
While she failed to acquire the position, she did go on to publish other works such as, The “Reliques of Irish Poetry” which was released in 1789 to much acclaim. After the sale of the Killybegs estate and her failure to find employment, she retired to Longford and shared a rented cottage with a friend. Charlotte Brooke passed away on the 29th March 1793 of malignant fever.
The woman who is said to have influenced such writers as Thomas Moore and Yeats, in her final years, found comfort in her Bible which she said was her companion and her friend.
Charlotte Brooke is almost forgotten today, but by those who truly cherish the Irish language and culture.
Many of the cotton industry workers remained in the town of Prosperous, long after the industry collapsed.
Disillusioned by the lack of financial support from London, the situation in the town was allowed to fester to a point which proved a fruitful recruitment ground for the newly formed “United Irishmen”, even amongst the many English artisans that settled there for employment... that story is one well told.