Recalling a boy named Damien

Ed Forry

BY ED FORRY, BIR Publisher
The new year brought sad news for local Hibernians: The death of Damien Brennan, a 24-year-old youth worker who lived and worked in Belfast, N.I. Damien was five years old in 1992 when he became the victim of a vicious crime: he was attacked at a Portadown playground by three older boys.

Calling him “a Fenian bastard,” they doused the child with paint thinner and set him on fire.Damien suffered horrible wounds in the savage attack, especially his upper torso, back, and shoulders. He survived but his face was badly disfigured, and treating the wounds would require a lifetime of plastic surgery and medical treatment.
His father, Jonny Brennan, found help at Boston’s Shriners Hospital, and when then-Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle told his story in a 1996 column, “A child scarred by the madness,” Damien became a local celebrity as the Boston Irish community gathered around to provide assistance.
Mike Heffernan and Mary Devlin, owners of a West Roxbury Irish shop took up his cause, joined by scores of local Hibernians. Hundreds turned out at the Irish Social Club for a 1996 fund-raiser to help pay the family’s transportation and living expenses.
“He goes through a lot of pain for a few days after the grafts, but his spirit is amazing,” Jonny Brennan said in a 1999 interview in the Irish Echo. “He loves coming here. Most people here treat him like their own son…It’s been tough emotionally and financially for the whole family,” Brennan said.
Damien was made an honorary member of the Watertown AOH, and one year he marched in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. “When we looked up and saw those banners hanging from the windows and the placards that said, ‘Welcome, Damien, to South Boston,’ I swear to God it was very touching,” Jonny Brennan said.
In an e-mail to the BIR last month, the grieving dad said, “I’m writing to thank the people of Boston for the generous help they gave us throughout the years that we visited Boston. The readers of your paper and so many more people opened their hearts and homes to both Damien and the family.
“Sadly Damien passed away on the 21st of December at the age of 24. He had met so many friends in Boston and, indeed, the USA. I don’t think Damien and the family would have got through them difficult years, only for the help and kindness of the people of Boston, especially Michael Heffernan and Mary Devlin, who opened their home to us, the AOH in Watertown, who made him an honorary member, Jack Meehan, Paul Doyle, Kathleen Savage for their help and friendship, and to the doctors and staff at the Shriners Hospital where Damien got his treatment.
“[Those are] only a few out of a long list I wish to thank. We had some lovely memories of Boston, the Irish community who we have met. So from the bottom of our hearts again I would like to thank everyone of them and may god bless you all. “(Damien Brennan 1987-2011. RIP)”
Damien was buried on Christmas Eve in St John’s Cemetery, Lylo, following a requiem mass at St Anthony’s Church. His Boston friends were heartbroken to learn that his death was at his own hand.