Browne, Kathleen Anne (1878–1943), agriculturist, writer, and politician, was born 1 October 1878 in Wexford, eldest among five children of Michael Browne, farmer, shopkeeper, and local politician, of Rathronan Castle, Bridgetown, Co. Wexford, and his wife (and cousin) Mary Eleanor, daughter of John Stafford of Baldwinstown Castle, Co. Wexford. The Browne family, of Norman extraction, had lived at Rathronan Castle since the thirteenth century and had been deeply involved with the history of the area. Michael Browne was a poor law guardian and member of Wexford's first county council; he was a supporter of home rule and had worked with Isaac Butt (qv) and Charles Stewart Parnell (qv).
Educated locally at a convent school in Wexford, Kathleen Browne became a keen agriculturist and an expert in dairy management, lecturing for seven years with the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction. One of the first sugar-beet growers in Co. Wexford and a member of the executive of the Beet Growers Association, she took over the management of the family farm on the death of her father (1912). A member of the managing committee of the Loch Garman Cooperative Society, the Wexford Agricultural Society, and the Irish Farmers' Union, she was the Union's delegate to the 1930 World Poultry Congress in London.
Influenced by her father, she became immersed in the language revival and separatist movements at an early age and was secretary of the county committee of the Gaelic League for three years. She was imprisoned for a short time in Wexford jail for flying the tricolour over Rathronan Castle during Easter week. Prominent in the anti-conscription campaign, she wrote articles for newspapers, addressed political meetings, helped to organise Sinn Féin cumainn, and assisted both Cumann na mBan and the Irish Volunteer organisation. Reputed to have been a leader of separatist thought in the Sinn Féin movement, she canvassed widely in the election of 1918 and subsequent elections.
A strong supporter of the treaty, she was a personal friend of Arthur Griffith (qv) and William T. Cosgrave (qv). Elected to the seanad in 1929 to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Alice Stopford Green (qv), she served until the abolition of the seanad in 1936. She was outspoken and uncompromising; few women gained the prominence in Irish politics that she achieved. A member of the United Irishwomen (a society for the promotion of rural industries), she actively promoted afforestation. A peace commissioner and branch secretary of Cumann na nGaedheal/Fine Gael, she was a key organiser in the Blueshirt movement, gaining notoriety for herself by wearing a blue blouse into the seanad. She was ever alert to the presence of communists among her political opponents; critics decried her tunnel vision and her refusal to acknowledge any merit in her opponents’ viewpoint. In 1934 she told the seanad that ‘if the men . . . who visioned a national and free Ireland could have grasped what would have come about in a free Ireland . . . they never would have lifted a finger to make this a self-governing country’ (Seanad Éireann deb., 12 July 1934, cols 1963–5).
A member of Wexford Library committee, the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, the Society for the Preservation of the Memorials of the Dead, and the Ui Cinnsealaigh Historical Society, she wrote widely on the history and antiquities of Co. Wexford. She was particularly interested in the Norman period and was an authority on the Yola language, a dialect spoken by the Welsh and Flemish followers of the early Norman invaders, which persisted in the Wexford baronies of Forth and Bargy until the mid nineteenth century. Over many years she contributed articles on historical subjects to the Free Press, most notably on the castles of Co. Wexford. Her short history of Co. Wexford was approved as a textbook for schools by the Department of Education in 1927. A keen naturalist, she was instrumental in having the Great Saltee Island conserved as a bird sanctuary (1938). A fine horsewoman, she promoted hunting as a national sport and industry. Kathleen Browne was a sister of James Browne, registrar of the National Bank, and aunt of Ivor Browne, psychiatrist. She died 9 October 1943 at the Co. Wexford nursing home which she had entered only weeks earlier. A photograph of her is on the members’ pages of the oireachtas website.