Gill Kenny is a writer and mother of two who has
lived in Perth for over a decade. A native of Cork,
Gill has had news articles, travel reports and
interviews published in various publications
including The Cork Examiner, as it was known
then and Hello! Magazine. Gill worked for many
years in publishing but now concentrates her
efforts on writing books, She writes a regular
blog which can be found online at gillkennywriter.com

I can still smell the enticing aroma of freshly baked soda bread wafting
from the kitchen of the B&B run by John Francis Brosnan and his wife,
Eileen. A warm feeling washes over me every time I think of the
affectionate welcome extended to everyone and anyone who passes the
threshold of this homely place in the heart of Dingle.
It was a real treat to catch up with John via Zoom recently as I’d been
having withdrawal symptoms from all things Irish, what with not
having been able to travel back to the motherland for the past two years
because of the dreaded COVID. John had just celebrated his 75th
birthday and explained that he’s handed over the running of the B&B
to his daughter, Melanie since I last visited.
Things have been quiet for them in recent months but they’re looking
forward to a busy summer ahead now that more people are travelling

again. I reconnected with John because I often think about his heart-
warming and funny stories – all true, mind. I wanted to capture them on

paper lest they are forgotten. With me in Perth and John in Dingle, we
had a great chat through our computer screens. We both agreed that
Zoom and Skype are brilliant in the way they allow us to see one
another as we talk. John says an awful lot with his facial expressions.

He has a smile as wide and as welcoming as the ocean on a warm day,
and his eyes are overflowing with kindness. He retold two of his best
stories with all the animation of the first time I’d heard them, and I’m
pleased to be able to share them here with you, dear readers.
Some years back, John answered the door to a man who had travelled
from France in the hope of swimming with the famous bottlenose
dolphin, Fungie. The dolphin had made his home in the harbour in 1983
and had been bringing joy to all who encountered him ever since.
The Frenchman had heard that John might lend him a wetsuit and set
him in the right direction to find what the Guinness Book of Records
later declared to be the oldest solitary wild dolphin in the world. It is
believed that, at his death in October 2020, Fungie had lived for at least
forty years. It was no wonder people travelled from far and wide to see
this phenomenon.
In the true spirit of Irish hospitality, John not only provided the man
with a wetsuit, but he also offered to drive him to where he could catch
a boat out to the rippling blue waters where Fungie lived and played.
‘Erra shure, I took him for an aul’ spin around the place, you know…
to show him the sights.’ We even went for a cuppa tea to a hotel in
town. We were chatting away when all of a sudden, he started asking
me about my health. He could tell just by looking at me that something
wasn’t right.’ John’s voice quivered slightly as he told me about that
day.
By the time they’d returned to the B&B, the Frenchman had learnt all
he needed to know about John’s failing health. John told him that he
was in fact on a waiting list to have a heart operation, but he wasn’t
sure how long he’d have to wait.
The Frenchman then revealed that he was a cardiologist in France and
expressed deep concern for John’s condition. ‘I want you on the next
plane to France’, was what he said to me in his lovely French accent’,
John told me in all seriousness. ‘He said my heart needed urgent
attention.’

Within days, John found himself on a flight to France! He arrived at the
airport with a little sense of trepidation, but it wasn’t for long. ‘He was
an amazing man really. I was kind of worried to be honest. My wife,
Eileen, and the family were worried too. But I told them not to worry
about me. But fair play to the guy, he was there waiting for me when I
arrived and brought me to his home. The following day he took me
into the local hospital and introduced me to a good friend of his who
examined me and told me he was willing to do the surgery on my heart.
And I didn’t need to worry about cost what with us all being in the
European Union and everything.’
Soon after, John was wheeled into surgery and, just moments before
the operation began, the surgeon came to him and said, ‘John, today
I’m going to put a piece of Irish into you.’ John was confused and asked
him what on earth he was talking about! The surgeon, with a broad
smile on his face, said, ‘I’m going to put three stents into you. Do you
know where they’re made John?’
It turned out that they were made in Galway, at Boston Scientific.
‘I thought that was so funny.’ John said through a giggle.
Asked if the surgeon spoke good English, John said ‘Ah it was alright
you know. We got by. It was certainly better than my non-existent
French.’
He was a brave man, I commented, to let himself go under the knife in
a strange hospital in a foreign land he had never been to before, with
people who barely spoke his language and perhaps might have even
struggled with John’s thick Kerry accent! But John reassured me that
it didn’t require bravery on his part because they were such lovely
people who treated him so well. ‘My new friend, the cardiologist, made
me feel right at home and all the people he introduced me to were kind
to me.’
After a successful operation, John was recovering in hospital when he
came across a lady in the corridor one day who was in floods of tears.
John couldn’t help but reach out to her. She sobbed that she had just
lost her husband. ‘She was French but spoke good English. And wasn’t

her late husband Irish! I felt awful for her. I had these rosary beads in
my pocket that my wife gave me… they were supposed to have been
blessed by the Pope. I gave them to her.’ John’s eyes filled with tears
as he remembered what followed. ‘The next day her family came to me
and said that I had no idea what peace those beads had brought to their
mother. I get very emotional when I think of it.’
John reminded me that it costs nothing to be kind, and that being kind
can save your life!
From Surgeons to Sturgeons
John’s second story was one that made the news headlines when it
happened, back in April 1966, because it involved a royal fish or two.
Under ancient British law, sturgeons are deemed to be royal fish. If
caught, they become the personal property of the monarch of the United
Kingdom or in the case of modern-day Ireland, the property of the head
of state.
John was only 19 years old in 1966 and had just returned from work as
a fisherman. He had been working on trawlers since the age of 14 after
losing his father to cancer at the age of 53. ‘You know, looking back at
it now, I think how lucky I was that I could support my mother. They
were hard times; people were very poor. But the fishing was great, and
I remember one week bringing home £70 which was a lot of money in
those days.’ In his five years of fishing until then, he had never seen a
sturgeon as they’re mainly found in rivers.
On the day in question, as he disembarked the fishing trawler, John
noticed a commotion building on the other side of the pier and a crowd
gathering. Being the curious sort, John dashed over to see what was
going on.
That was when he saw the large, ugly alien-looking fish lying on top of
the hessian sacks, wriggling as the young fishermen poured water on it.
John jumped down into the boat just as somebody shouted: ‘throw him
out’ and, oblivious to the significance of the fish, he instinctively
grabbed it and chucked it over the side.

‘In a split second this happened. I just picked it up and threw it into the
water and I see him swimming away,’ John says with a laugh. ‘And
there was holy war. I looked up and everyone was looking back at me
with their mouths open… thinking what is he after doing?? They were
aghast. They were running with long hooks trying to catch the fish. I
got such a fright that I jumped from the boat to my own boat. I must
have broken the long jump record that day! The skipper looked like he
was fit to kill me.’
Unbeknownst to John, the fish he had just thrown overboard had been
destined for the dining table of President De Valera!
Four hours after the event, while John was still in hiding, history was
made. In a weird twist of fate, another fishing trawler rocked up
carrying yet another sturgeon on board. The skipper of this trawler had
once been a member of the IRA and had been imprisoned some years
earlier by the then Taoiseach, De Valera. The skipper had a bone to
pick with De Valera and was seething at the thought of his catch going
to the president. There was great relief upon hearing that the Poor
Claire nuns in Kenmare were to be the beneficiaries after they received
a phone call from Áras an Uachtaráin.
‘They were very excited and invited all these dignitaries to attend the
meal. But what do you think happened! Didn’t the fish seller who was
meant to deliver the fish to the nuns, decide to replace it with a box of
other fish instead and sell the sturgeon at Billingsgate market in
London. He knew only too well that it was worth a lot of money. In
today’s money it would’ve fetched two or three thousand Euros. And
where do you think the fish ended up? Well didn’t it end up on the
dinner table of Queen Elizabeth II.’ The nuns knew as soon as they saw
the cod that they weren’t going to be serving any royal fish to their
special guests.
John chuckled as he recalled the historical occasion that had the whole
town talking for decades. ‘Never before, and never after, were two
royal sturgeons brought into Dingle harbour within hours of each
other.’

Just to add to the wildness of the plot, the skipper who caught the
second sturgeon was also called John Brosnan but no relation to our
protagonist in this tale. Upon enquiring how the skipper reacted to the
news that his catch had made it to the Queen’s table, John told me that
he didn’t find out for a long time afterwards because those who knew
the truth were always reluctant to tell him!
To this day, John Francis Brosnan thinks about the one that got away
with a sense of bewilderment. Then he remembers with awe how his
namesake saved the day and often catches himself asking ‘well, what
are the chances?’.
‘Twas just another day on the Wild Atlantic Way!
This story caught the attention of RTE and became the subject of a
Radio documentary that was broadcast in 2013 and can still be listened

to online at https://www.rte.ie/radio/doconone/647554-doconone-
podcast-dingle-sturgeon-documentary

If you have any wild stories of your own that you’d like to share with
us, please do write to us by email to journal@irishheritage.com.au

Below: Dingle folk with one of the sturgeons

(1966)

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