From the time he was 18 until well into his 60s, Johnny Brennan’s all-consuming ambition was to create and build up a museum in his Limerick home containing artefacts and items of interest from just about every corner of the rugby world.
No touring team, no outstanding player or administrator visited the city without Brennan making himself known to them and politely asking for a jersey, a pair of socks, a pair of boots, a tie, a ball, a scrum cap, just about anything at all that would enrich his growing collection. Invariably, the response was favourable and lasting friendships were made in the process.
Famous players and teams the world over contributed generously until the pile grew so high that he had to build an extra room on to his home in Hyde Rd in the heart of Young Munster territory. As time moved on and more people visited the house and marvelled at Johnny’s achievements, the home had to be extended yet again.
“My mother came home one time after spending a few days in Dublin and could hardly recognise the place,” says Brennan.
“I was always a great Young Munster supporter, why wouldn’t I be, considering that Danaher Sheahan, who played scrum-half for Ireland [and] was a member of the legendary Munsters team that won the Bateman Cup in 1928, was my uncle?”
For some time, the Brennan collection was in cold storage in the Parnell Plaza Centre in Limerick, carefully protected by owner Murrough O’Byrne and financial officer John Le Gear.
Over the last few years, the collection has been closely examined and items considered to be of most interest taken out and, where necessary, restored to mint condition.
“We electronically scanned all the photographs and preserved all the other objects in archival boxes,” said William O’Neill of Limerick Museum and Archives. “We kept our choice of the wide and magnificent array on offer as diverse as possible and are really proud of the result.”
The museum was officially opened yesterday when a large number of rugby fans and others came to see how superbly the Brennan Collection has been presented.
You will be attracted to a pair of boots donated by Peter Stringer; jerseys by Tony Ward; Donal Lenihan’s Lions tracksuit; and the ball used in the 1950 Lions Test against New Zealand in Auckland, featuring Johnny’s Young Munster hero Tom Clifford.
There are photographs of John Bruton (taoiseach at the time) slipping on his Young Munster tie, and of the captains of four Limerick cup-winning sides in 1980: Munster Senior Rugby Cup winner, Richie Daly (Young Munster); Munster Junior Cup winner Brian Flanagan (Thomond); League of Ireland winner Joe O’Mahony (Limerick); and FAI Cup winner Al Finucane (Waterford). You also just have to love the shot of John B Keane welcoming 20 or so Young Munster supporters to Listowel for a Munster Junior Cup match in the 1960s.
Programmes abound at the museum dating as far back as the 1928 Munster Senior Cup final between Young Munster and Cork Constitution at the Markets Field. These are all elegantly displayed in glass cases along with numerous newspaper cuttings that can be perused — and before very long an entire day will have passed.
And then there’s the Tankard presented to Brennan by Tom Kiernan along with the following delightful note: “To Johnny, a great Young Munster man in good times and bad. For your souvenirs — and in memory of your getting me out of Belfast some time in the early 80s. All the best always — Tom Kiernan.”
The Johnny Brennan Rugby Collection Exhibition is on in Parnell Plaza, Limerick.
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