21 SEP 2020
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Eamon’s headstone makeover to beat the lockdown boredom

16 September 2020

A Reporter article exploring the life of a Newry MP in the 1830s inspired a retired mechanic to overcome lockdown blues by completely rejuvenating the politician’s dilapidated headstone. 

Eamon Burke brought the grand headstone of Denis Caulfield Brady in St Mary’s Cemetery back to life with a painstaking paint job that took over a month to complete. 

Brady was elected MP for the Newry borough in 1835, becoming the first Catholic to represent any borough in Ulster since the reign of James II. 

An article by Seamus Laverty on his life appeared in the Newry Reporter history pages in November last year. A photo of Brady’s headstone featured in the article and Eamon immediately recognised the grave thanks to a white railing in the background that sits next to his parents’ plot. 

Dirt and time had rendered Brady’s headstone completely unreadable, so Eamon scrubbed the marble clean before intricately painting each letter bright white – with phenomenal results.

So what spurred him to do it? “I like cleaning things up,” joked Eamon. “I recognised the headstone from the photo in the paper because my father’s grave is behind it and I noticed the white railing close to it.

“It was during the lockdown and it gave me something to do. I had read the article in the Reporter about him which included the picture of the headstone. I also wanted to see if it said that he was MP in the headstone – and it doesn’t. So I decided to clean it up and rewrite it again. I painted every letter on it.”

Denis Brady was born in 1802. His father Thomas was a whiskey dealer and his mum Rose was sister to famous Newry merchant Denis Caulfield. 

His parents passed away when he was relatively young and he also lost his two younger brothers, Patrick and John.

When Denis Caulfield passed away in 1819, he left his inheritance to his nephews Denis Brady and Denis Maguire, with Denis presumably taking his uncle’s surname as part of the will agreement. 

The money enabled him to study at Trinity College in Dublin and he later ran for MP in Newry after the Catholic Emancipation Act was passed in 1829. He was unsuccessful in his first two attempts in 1831 against John Henry Know and the following year when he lost out to Whig Lord Arthur Hull. 

In 1835, he contested the borough again as a Radical reformer against the Conservative Sir Thomas Staples Bart. 

Brady won the contest and became the first Catholic to represent any borough in Ulster since the reign of James II.

After failing to get elected again in 1837, Brady became a judge at Newry and Rathfriland Petty Sessions and was a Member of Newry Workhouse and Mendicity Society.

He passed away in 1886 and his name is the last of a list of relatives scrawled on the headstone in St Mary’s Cemetery. 

And all those names can now be clearly viewed after Eamon’s lockdown makeover.

He used simple white gloss paint to carefully repaint each letter individually. He painted a number of lines on the headstone then left it for a few days to dry before returning to continue, finally finishing after a month. It was the second grave he restored in the cemetery having revitalised a nearby grave owned by Dr John Savage.

With help from a few friends, Eamon used crowbars to lift a large stone plate on the surface that was sinking and filled the gap in with soil.

They re-erected a large Italian marble cross that had fallen onto the grave, as well as replacing missing railings around the plot. 

All in all, the two graves took almost four months to complete. And will he be doing any more grave makeovers?

“Ah, I don’t know,” he says.

“As long as I don’t get into any trouble for doing it I suppose.”

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