Christy Brown Memorial Site

The legacy of the Irish Novelist & Poet Christy Brown



When I first watched the movie “My Left Foot”, I was awe-struck like any person would be.

Living with a disabled husband myself, I still vividly remember my relief when Christie Brown appeared to have found a nice woman who was able to look after him properly and apparently was very sweet and understanding with him.

After doing some considerable research, I quickly found the apparently happy ending shattered by a very different kind of truth. And visiting Parbrook, the small village in Somerset, where Christy Brown came to his death …unfortunately only underlined the shocking truth, that back then, I found so hard to believe.

Living on the outskirts of Bath myself, Parbrook is merely 20 minutes drive from here. For a long time it was my aim to take a look at the small village that on maps appeared to be consisting of only a handful of houses.

So it was on that Sunday when I drove my husband’s electric wheelchair in the back of the van … made sure I had everything, from medication to food and oxygen machine and off we drove.

We approached the village by following the satnav - from the city of Wells, turning right before getting sided to the main road that leads into the centre.

From there it seemed like even though narrow but pleasant country roads were trying to find their way onwards towards Parbrook. We drove on and on and I started to get restless. Constantly in my mind years of despair and distress of battling with my husband’s lost independence and his being entirely dependent on mine and other peoples’ help.

My mind kept frantically scanning the skyline for Parbrook. Hilly scenery and narrow uneven roads with countless potholes covering the scattered edges of the rough tarmac made images of road-unworthy manual wheelchairs flash up in my head.

I panicked, being passionately devoted to my husband’s care, alarm bells were going off in my head in droves! We have travelled miles and miles and Christy was completely unable to manoeuvre and move his own wheelchair.

If the facts in Georgina Hambleton’s book are true and his wife Mary disappeared for days on end … he would have been left to his own devices. There was no way that he could have coped. My protective instincts and my natural desire to nurture and assist was going haywire. 

There is no way he could have managed. He could have not have left the house on his own, or driven his wheelchair and himself anywhere.

My mind was working overtime and I must admit that my feelings towards his wife Mary were not of a kind nature. Naturally siding with the weaker person in the relationship I felt that this was purposely set up to isolate Christy.

At long last Parbrook appeared. My husband had fallen asleep with his seat in lying position. With my mind still boggling I slowly drove into what appeared a very conservative and equally small village. Parbrook was very picturesque, exceptionally quiet with an idyllic little stream parting the village into two halves.

I drove up and down the lanes … once … twice … and stopped. There was no shop, no pub, no doctor…. Horror spread through my entire system. I sat behind the steering wheel … seemingly frozen on the spot. How did he survive … who looked after him when she was absent? What if there was an emergency … and we are looking at 1980 that’s almost 32 years ago from the time of writing this.

The village itself appeared completely uninhabited. Not a single person was to be seen … no dogs, cats, chickens or cars, bikes or farm equipment … only silence and neatly cleaned forecourts of expensive-looking properties.

In contrast, please try to imagine the life Christy was living in urban Dublin. Everybody knew him there. He was a prominent part of a strangely dysfunctional but close-knit community that knew Christy and his family from a very early age onwards into mature adulthood.

Pubs, which appeared to be Christie’s life line in coping with his physical situation and the immense restrictions that rose from it, where everywhere in the neighbourhood … always willing to give Christy the social background he needed and which quite a few of his novels and plays were based on.

This was what turned Christy into a writer, this was his life blood that fed his passionate and often volatile nature. This was what fed his outstanding will power and his creative mindset.

Always surrounded by people and a very busy lifestyle … and now … I am standing here looking at a highly conservative community that might find it very hard to embrace or even just welcome a severely disabled person and his often absent wife both troubled by a considerable drink problem.

Considering all I saw, Georgina Hambleton’s findings regarding the truth of Christy Brown’s death appeared in a very believable light.

Taking the shortest way back from Parbrook to Glastonbury … it still took 15 minutes by car … no place to be for a disabled man with no consistent care. I was in shock and remained in shock for a considerable number of days.