Service remembers Mayo inventor buried in London

Wednesday 12 March 2014 09.48

louisbrennan-memorial2

By RTÉ’s Political Correspondent David Davin-Power

By any standards, Louis Brennan had a remarkable life.

Born just after the Great Famine that carried away five of his siblings, his parents emigrated to Australia with the ten-year-old and what remained of his family.

He proved to be a gifted engineer while still in his teens, and in his 20s invented the device that was to make him a fortune, Brennan’s torpedo.

Steered by fine steel cables, it was taken up by the British government and used for harbour defences across the empire.

Indeed some of the shore-based apparatus the device required is still visible at Camden Fort in Cork.

He was handsomely rewarded and was appointed to manage the factory in Kent where the torpedoes were manufactured when he was still just 28.

As the Great War loomed, he moved to the Department of Munitions to work on his plans for a prototype helicopter.

But his vision was for a form of land-based transport – a tilting monorail that was virtually a century ahead of its time.

It looked so promising that Winston Churchill told the Irishman: “Sir, your invention promises to revolutionise the railway systems of the world.”

He sank his fortune in perfecting it, but the British government cooled on the idea, and the project foundered.

He died after a motor accident in 1932 and was interred in St Mary’s Cemetery in North London.

There he lay, unmarked and forgotten until this week.

A group of Irish expatriates worked for years to honour Brennan.

Their plans came to fruition this week when Taoiseach Enda Kenny unveiled a handsome headstone fashioned in his native Mayo, and shipped to London in the days ahead of the ceremony.

Gathered there were diplomats, representatives of the Irish, British and Australian military as well as Brennan’s descendants who had made the journey from the United States.

In the thin spring sunlight, they heard Mr Kenny pay tribute to the enterprise of his countyman – pioneer of torpedo, monorail and helicopter.

And then, amazingly, as the strains of the Last Post drifted across the down-at-heel North London cemetery, of all things a helicopter clattered into view, passing directly over the grave party in an apt if unscheduled flypast.

How Louis Brennan would have relished the moment!

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