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May 21, 2012

Buy a Book for Jack & Jill Foundation

My Uncle Frank Friday 25 May 2012 will see the launch of a book in aid of the Jack & Jill Foundation, at 6.30 p.m. in Riverbank Arts Centre. It is a republication by Kildare Library and Arts Services of Thomas Bodkin's, 'My Uncle Frank'. All proceeds will go to the Jack & Jill Foundation so you simply buy the book as a way of supporting one of the best known and best loved charities in the country.

Thomas Bodkin, Professor of the Barber Institute in Birmingham, originally published his light-hearted memoir of his days as a child in the company of his uncle in Co. Kildare, in 1941. It is set in the fictional house Beauparc in the fictional Village of Kilcolman, near Newbridge around the turn of the last century — it was in fact Newpark House, near Kilmeague, in Co. Kildare. The uncle in question, identified as Dr. Frank MacMahon in the story, was Francis Joseph McDonagh, M.D., Medical Officer for the Kilmeague and Robertstown District.

In 1940 Thomas Bodkin was in Birmingham. The world was in turmoil as WWII raged. He wrote My Uncle Frank as a distraction to alleviate the boredom of ‘fire-watching. Bodkin tried to do his own drawing but he was a very average artist and he turned to his friend Jack B. Yeats, who had at one time made a career as an illustrator. The drawing of Uncle Frank driving his spirited horse, Black Jack, with the Hill of Allen in the distance and the swallows wheeling in the evening air.

Eventually the drawing passed from Emma Bodkin to her nephew and godson, Dick Robinson. In late 2010 Dick Robinson sold Newberry Hall and gifted many fine paintings to the Friends of the National Collections, but Dick was adamant that the Jack B. Yeats drawing would go to Kildare and be put on display where the people of Kildare could enjoy it because it had a unique Kildare connection. His friend and neighbour, Cecil Potterton, organized everything.

As part of the process of honouring Dick for his wonderful gift and to explain the reasoning behind the gift, Kildare Library & Arts Services committed to republishing the long-forgotten memoir by Thomas Bodkin, My Uncle Frank. The book is now as much a part of the story of the drawing as the drawing was a part of the story when it was first published in 1941. Its republication is also part of the commitment of Kildare Library & Arts Services and Kildare County Council to promoting the unique and varied history of the county and making it accessible.

We thank Dick Robinson from the bottom of our hearts, and the people of Kildare will thank him as they come to view the drawing which is displayed in the Riverbank Arts Centre for all to see. It will remain within the care of Kildare Co. Council and will become a feature of the County Kildare Municipal Art Collection.

It is a ‘charming’ book; not a word we use much today but a word that conjures good memories of days gone by – the Irish Times of 1947 called it, a ’gentle pleasure’, while the Clongownian of 1961 described it as ‘a delightful book of reminiscences, which takes the reader back in time to a county Kildare now gone from memory'. Thomas Bodkin preserved that memory for us and Dick Robinson reinvigorated our interest with his gift of the drawing, done for ‘My Uncle Frank,’ by Jack
B. Yeats.