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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Members of the Fourth Dáil - Bryan Cooper

Markree Castle - The Coopers Ancestral Home

Bryan Ricco Cooper
Bryan Ricco Cooper (17 June 1884 – 5 July 1930) was an Irish British Army officer, writer and politician from Markree Castle, County Sligo.
Cooper's ancestors, Protestant landlords, had been involved in politics in Sligo since before the 1800 Act of Union (which they opposed). His father, Francis, was a major in the British Army stationed at Simla, India, where Bryan was born. His mother was the daughter of another Irishman serving in India, Major-General Maunsel Prendergast, who had married a Swiss woman there. The family returned to Ireland before Bryan was a year old, and then spent several years in postings around Britain, until his father was sent to South Africa at the start of the Anglo-Boer War. Bryan was educated (but not particularly happy) at Eton College. His father died after the war and Bryan came into his inheritance in Sligo.

Cooper joined the British Army and, following his father's advice, trained as a gunner at Woolwich (1902-1903). A fellow-cadet ("R. T. H.") described him as "cheerful, well-mannered and pleasant", but more interested in books than in military matters. He resigned his commission a few years later and returned to Ireland, intending to enter politics - he once said that he entered politics to cure him of his shyness. In his spare time he wrote poetry strongly influenced by W. B. Yeats and Celtic imagery and started work on a novel. In January 1910 he was elected Unionist MP for South Dublin, defeating his nearest opponent by only sixty-six votes. During his election campaign he got to know a young lady of Irish ancestry from Fulmer, Buckinghamshire, a Miss Handcock, whom he married shortly afterwards. They were to have a daughter and three sons.

He lost his seat at the December election later that year. Aged only 26, he was one of the youngest ever MPs to leave the House of Commons. He resigned his commission as a captain in the Reserves in May 1914, stating publicly that he had done so in sympathy with the officers in the Curragh, but he wrote in his private diary (Uncensored Memoirs) that he had for years been fed up of the regime in the Reserves, and had been intending to quit. After the start of World War I he joined the Fifth (Service) Battalion of the Connaught Rangers. He saw action in Gallipoli, Thessalonika and Stavros. After the war he became Press Censor in Ireland and wrote Ireland Under Sinn Féin. He got to know many writers and intellectuals active in Dublin at the time.

Major Cooper was first elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1923 general election as an independent Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin County constituency. W. B. Yeats was one of his chief supporters (of whom Cooper wrote: "since I was a boy his writings have been one of the strongest influences on me, and helped to make me the good Irishman I hope I am."). He was re-elected at the June 1927 general election. He was elected as a Cumann na nGaedhael TD at the September 1927 general election. He died in July 1930 and the subsequent by-election on 9 December 1930 was won by Thomas Finlay of Cumann na nGaedhael. He was one of the few people who served in the House of Commons and in the Oireachtas.

In 1931, his widow presented a half size reproduction of the ancient Lough Lene bell to Dáil Éireann and it has since been the bell of the Ceann Comhairle (Chairman) of Dáil Éireann.

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