Brown, David (c.1485–c.1559), Dominican priest and provincial, probably belonged to the Kerry branch of the Norman-Irish Brown family. The description of him as a distinguished filius of the Dominican priory of Tralee indicates that he entered the order there. The student rolls of Cambridge university attest that he became a bachelor of divinity in 1513–14, and it is very likely that he was the person named Brown admitted to lecture on the Sentences of Peter Lombard at Cambridge in 1515. In that year he accompanied the provincial of England as definitor (magister socius Angliae) to the general chapter of the order at Naples, where he was conferred with the degree of master of theology. Subsequently, it was said that as an agent of Henry VIII, he was sent to Italy on unspecified business, possibly to Rome in relation to the king's divorce petition.
After the Henrician suppression of the English religious houses, Brown gave up his career as a courtier and returned to Ireland. He devoted the remainder of his life to securing the autonomy of the Irish Dominicans (Hibernia Dominicana) from English control and the promotion of the Dominican Observant reform of Munster. In 1536, the year in which the Act of Supremacy declared Henry VIII supreme head of the catholic church in Ireland and brought about the creation of a state church, ‘as by law established’, Brown was active in Rome, seeking to preserve the Dominican order in Ireland from state expropriation and spoliation. In a direct appeal to Pope Paul III, he succeeded in obtaining the establishment and formal constitution of a separate Irish Dominican province; the papal decree, which also nominated David Brown as provincial of the Irish Dominicans, was later accepted by the master of the order and ratified by the general chapter of Rome in 1558. Thus the disastrous legacy of medieval Irish Dominican divisions was overcome in principle, opening the way for the remaining obstacles to fraternal unity, among Norman Irish, Gaelic Irish, and Old English, reformed Observants and unreformed Conventuals, to be slowly and painfully surmounted in the course of the sixteenth century.
Master David Brown remained provincial of the Irish Dominicans from 1536 for most of his active life. He travelled to Rome again about 1549 in connection with the troubles of his province and country, and returned to Ireland with a jubilee bull (presumably for the holy year 1550). By his preaching and witness he reconciled very many people to the catholic faith. In letters to Stephen Usodimare, master general of the order (1553–7), and in a lengthy report submitted to the general chapter of 1558, he spoke of religious persecution in Ireland under Henry VIII and its desolating consequences for the order. He listed twenty-seven ruined houses that had suffered from the ravages of the times. Apart from eighteen of the twenty officially suppressed houses, he mentioned nine in Connacht, Munster, and Ulster which had suffered decline before the close of Edward VI's reign. These included the favoured houses of the Desmond family, namely Tralee, Limerick, Kilmallock, and Youghal.
With the accession of Mary Tudor in 1553, a catholic restoration, subject to certain political considerations, occurred. As a result of the intervention of James fitz John FitzGerald (qv), earl of Desmond and royal treasurer in Ireland, revenues due to some Dominican houses were restored. With the added financial support of the earl, the Dominicans managed to recover and repair important houses that had been sold with their contents, or leased, notably Tralee, Limerick, Kilmallock, Youghal, and Ballinegaul, all within the Desmond sphere of influence. The attempted recovery of Cork, however, failed. Strict observance of the Dominican rule and constitutions was begun by David Brown in these revived houses, which were the carefully planned nucleus of the restored province. However, there were too few Dominicans, and these could scarcely minister to the pastoral needs of the newly reconciled faithful. Death claimed many young Dominicans.
Brown's declared objective was to further the growth of the nascent united province then canonically established in five houses within the Desmond territory, but it met with only qualified success. The earl of Desmond regarded Brown as the sole catholic doctor, the guide and consoler of the Irish, in his time. An eighteenth-century Portuguese hagiographical work described Brown as ‘visitator general’ for both the English and Irish provinces of the order. It eulogised his zeal in upholding the catholic faith, his courageous role in strenuously and publicly opposing the protestant reformation in England and Ireland, and his pastoral ministry to the discouraged faithful. Master David Brown had become an effective champion of the Dominican Observant reform ideals and would be proved right in his perception that the Irish province could only be reinvigorated and kept alive by Observant brethren. David Brown was still living in 1558 and presumably died shortly afterwards.