Bracken, Joseph K. (1852–1904), monumental sculptor and builder, local politician, and a founder in 1884 of the ‘Gaelic Association for the Preservation and Cultivation of National Pastimes’ which evolved to become the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), was the second of seven sons and three daughters born to Patrick Bracken (1830–97) and Anne Bracken (née Hennessy; 1828–93) of Templemore, Co. Tipperary. He was baptised (29 February 1852) Joseph John, but appears as Joseph, Joseph Kevin, or J. K. in published sources. Nothing is known of schooling; there was a choice of schools available in the town during his boyhood. Patrick Bracken, a native of Borrisokane, Co. Tipperary, and a stonemason by trade, established a business in Templemore in 1849. His father-in-law, Thomas Hennessy, owned a considerable amount of property in the town. The substantial house in Church St. that became Patrick's and later J. K.'s residence had been a Hennessy home since the late eighteenth century. J. K. was a national vice-president of the GAA 1885–7, and in that capacity chaired the February 1887 meeting that adopted the rule barring members of the RIC from joining. He contributed enormously at national and local level to the spread of the GAA in its early years. As a member of the IRB and the later Irish National Alliance, he came under sporadic police surveillance. A dossier and photograph survive in the ‘crime branch special’ records. He was a tall, well-built, handsome man with wavy hair (described as reddish-fair) and a moustache. He married (1889) Agnes Matthews (1870–92) of Newtownmahon, Limerick city; they had two daughters. He married secondly (1897) Hannah Agnes (1872–1928), daughter of Peter Ryan, merchant and farmer, and Margaret Ryan (née Frewen) of Borrisoleigh, five miles south of Templemore. They had three sons and one daughter; their third child was Brendan Bracken (qv).
As a member of the Trade and Labour League in the 1899 inaugural elections for county and district authorities, J. K. headed the poll for Templemore urban district council and became its first chairman. However, he had to resign the seat on the technicality that the road repair contracts he had held with the previous county authority, the grand jury, debarred him from being a councillor, as some of the roads lay within Templemore urban district. His fellow councillors then coopted Hannah Bracken to the seat and unanimously voted her in as chairman. External and internal factors soured the relationship between the Brackens and the council; neither husband nor wife sought reelection when the three-year term of office expired.
The family stone-cutting and monumental sculpting business expanded under Bracken's management to include building and road contract work, a quarry in Templemore, and work yards in Clonmel and Tipperary town. Examples of the firm's design and work include Kilmallock catholic church; an extension to St Flannan's college, Ennis; the 1798 memorial in Clonmel; and one to the ‘Manchester martyrs’ in Kilrush. Bracken and his family left Templemore in 1902 for Ardvullen House, Kilmallock, which he had leased. He was already suffering from the cancer that brought about his death 2 May 1904, aged 52. He is buried in Tankardstown close to Kilmallock. A Celtic cross marks his grave. In 1984 a local committee had an additional plaque erected to mark his contribution to the GAA.
His daughter Eileen married the civil servant Thomas Barrington (qv) (1881–1930); two of their children are Donal P. M. Barrington (1928– ), supreme court judge, formerly a judge of the court of first instance of the European Union; and Thomas J. Barrington (qv) a founder (1957) and first director (1960–77) of the Institute of Public Administration.