I was away from Galway when Pat Bracken, puppeteer, stonemason and ceramicist suddenly died and only got to know of his death when I read his obituary in the Irish Times on last Saturday. I am really sorry I missed his funeral in St Nicholas' Collegiate Church.
I knew Pat reasonably well, and yet not well enough. My first encounter with him, with his art, was on Saturday mornings in Galway in 1992 when I would take my children in ( but mainly myself) to see his puppetry performance on Shop Street. He was fantastic and particularly in the way he controlled ( if he ever did control them) his character puppets in those brief moments as they retreated from the interaction with the crowd. There was such rawness to those receding gestures, such a nakedness of soul, that they captured the essence of Pat himself.
Sometime later the very first book I published under the Wynkin deWorde imprint was a work by Galway-based playwright Max Hafler. The book was called Waking the Woodboy and its central character, in a very adult book, was an angry malevolent puppet. Although Max would never admit to basing much of the book on Pat ( and I did not press him on this), I felt it had to have been. To such an extent that when I was designing the book cover in order to assuage possible legal threats I asked Pat for the loan of one of his puppets for the photograph. I gave him a copy of the book to read and if he did have any reservations he never expressed them to me. He would have never stood in the way of what he considered a worthy artistic venture. The fee was agreed and a pint bought. I collected and brought back that puppet as if it were a Rodin.
Pat had an old world politeness and grace about him. Part of this politeness stemmed from being a third generational artisan, and the mutual recognition that that the relationship between patron and artist is always a delicate balancing act between admiration and utility. But more than that whenever we met accidently for a drink and he talked about his love for his son and his love of going back to college to study ceramics his gentleness and spirit nestled in the palm of care-worn and stone-battered hands.
Those hands are now prematurely still and the tools that he inherited from his father lie idle. I hope they will find a good home. They carry an enormous legacy.